Pitching, offense carrying baseball team at Brookdale

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By Tim Morris

With a roster loaded with freshmen, Brookdale Community College baseball coach Johnny Johnson wasn’t sure what to expect from his team when the Jersey Blues made their annual March sojourn to Florida.

It didn’t take him long to find out, however.

“We’re really young but when I see their work ethic [and] their respect for the game, this is one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve ever coached.” he said. “They’re all baseball players.

“I’ve never had a team work harder. They really battled in Florida.”

They battled and won against tough competition, bringing a 15-3 record into the Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) and Region 19 play.

Brookdale’s success begins in the field, where the team has been outstanding backing up its pitchers.

“Defensively, we are so much better than last year,” Johnson said.

The additions of Alfred Molina Jr. (Red Bank Catholic) at shortstop and center fielder Mike Santaromita (Marlboro) have elevated the defense to another level.

The Jersey Blues’ outfield, which is anchored by Santaromita in center and flanked by Mike Russell (Staten Island) and Nick Martinez (Wall), has great range and all have fine arms. Many would-be extra-base hit finds their way into their gloves. Runners also know not to try and take the extra base.

All season long, the Brookdale offense has been on fire. The team is averaging just over eight runs a game and has a team batting average of .364 and slugging percentage of .567.

Russell and infield/catcher Joe Sadler have been the club’s power hitters and share the lead in RBIs with 21 and are tied for second in runs scored with 17.

Russell, a freshman, is batting .466 with a team-high three home runs and a .741 slugging percentage.

Sadler, a sophomore, is batting .436 with a .762 slugging percentage. He has smacked 12 doubles and a pair of home runs.

Molina, a sophomore who hails from Freehold Township, is batting .413 and slugging .762 with seven doubles, six triples and a home run. He leads the Jersey Blues with 24 runs scored and has 16 RBIs. He is also the top base-stealer with five. Overall, Brookdale has swiped 26 bases in 27 attempts.

Santaromita, a freshman, is batting .383 with 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored and has a .583 slugging percentage.

Martinez has scored 18 runs and has a .450 batting average and is slugging .825 with half his 18 hits being for extra bases. He also has 10 RBIs.

Freshman Ryan Orender (Wall) is batting .381 with 14 runs scored, and Nicholas Blaney (Shore Regioal) is hitting .368 with 10 runs scored.

“Our hitters have really carried us,” said Johnson.

The Brookdale pitchers haven’t needed that much carrying. They have a combined ERA of 3.36 and are giving up fewer than a hit per inning while fanning more than one an inning.

“Our pitchers have been lights out,” Johnson said. “They’re pounding the strike zone and don’t walk anybody.”

Jackson Liberty High School graduate Danny Serreino has been the ace of the starting rotation. The 6-foot-3, power-throwing right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA. His fastball hits 93-94 m.p.h. With 31 strikeouts in 20 innings of work, that translates to a 13.95 strikeouts per game average. If that isn’t impressive enough, he’s only walked one batter.

“We knew he had talent, we knew he was good,” Johnson said.

Serreino was named the Division III GSAC Player of the week for the week that ended March 29.

Sophomore lefty J.R. Hilcher (St. Mary’s Bloomfield) is 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA; freshman lefty Pat Knight (Cranford) is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 14.25 strikeout average; and freshman right-hander Joe DeCelie (Freehold Township) is 2-0 and has one save and a 1.23 ERA. They have been at the top of the starting rotation.

Mike Imperato (Marlboro), a sophomore, is 2-0, and freshman Kyle Fenton (Freehold Township) is also 2-0 with 2.61 ERA.

“I never expected that from our starting pitching,” Johnson said.

The 15-3 start is great, and Johnson admits he has a good vibe about the Jersey Blues this year. He believes the hard work is just beginning.

The Jersey Blues must now go through a tough GSAC and region schedule where Brookdale will look to play for seeding for the season-ending tournament that will determine who goes to the Junior College World Series — a destination that has become the goal for the 2016 Jersey Blues.

The Region 19 Tournament is May 13-15 at Cumberland County College.

Cumberland (17-6 and already 5-1 in the region) and Middlesex County College (13-6 and 4-1 in region play) loom as Brookdale’s chief hurdles this spring.

The Jersey Blues are 1-0 in region and conference games.

On April 7, Brookdale will open a seven-game home stand playing Rowan College at Gloucester County (3:30 p.m.). On April 9 there’s a doubleheader starting at noon with Camden County College, followed by another twinbill April 10 against Monroe Community College Community College (12 p.m.).

The Jersey Blues close the home stand with single games against Bergen Community College April 12 (3:30 p.m.) and Cumberland April 13 (3:30 p.m.).