By Wayne Witkowski
It was no April Fools’ joke when Allentown High School’s baseball team, down to its last out, opened its season with a comeback victory over West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, 4-2, April 1 — something not expected of a team decimated by 13 graduations from last season.
“We’re talented but young and inexperienced,” said coach Brian Nice, whose team includes six seniors. “They work hard — a lot of baseball guys (one-sport players) who love playing baseball. They make practices fun and scrimmages fun. Inexperience mistakes will hurt us. But as they get game experience, they’ll get better as the year goes on.”
Certainly, it wasn’t fun when the Redbirds were trailing, 2-1, with two outs in the top of the seventh in their opening game with the lower part of the lineup hitting. Chris Reeder, a sophomore jockeying for the starting catcher spot with senior Ryan Gould and junior Francesco Albarella, shrugged off a quiet game when he lined a game-tying double to right field. Frank DeGuercio, a junior pitcher and first baseman who was the lone hot hitter on the day, smashed a two-run single for his third hit.
Allentown had seven hits.
Jimmy Frein, a sophomore left-handed pitcher and first baseman, got the win as the third reliever for senior Kyle Lysy, who allowed one hit over the first five innings but walked seven. He struck out six.
Afterward, players called it a confidence booster for the season ahead, which they’ll need for a challenging week early in the schedule that includes games at Hightstown High School April 4, at home against Lawrenceville School April 6 and at Robbinsville High School April 7 before a break in the schedule leading up to an April 13 game at Ewing High School.
Jordan Winston, a hard-throwing, left-handed pitcher who also plays center field, has committed early to Oklahoma State University and is one of the players to watch in Mercer County coming into the season after missing much of the past two seasons with injuries.
Brandon Munoz, a senior and proven returning starter, shifts from second base to shortstop, and junior Adam Chavis moves into the second base spot. Nice said Chavis also can play in the outfield, which is typical of a rebuilding lineup in flux where players are tested in different positions as it tries to find its identity.
They lead a team filling many gaps, particularly with the departures of graduated first baseman Hal Shaw, shortstop Brett Sanford and third baseman Tom McCarthy. Nice put together a demanding scrimmage schedule preparing for the season with games against Brick Township High School, Shawnee High School, Jefferson Township High School, Riverside High School, Florence Township Memorial High School and Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
“Things are not exactly what we expected with some ups and downs. But if things pan out the way we think they should, our pitching will be strong and keep us competitive,” Nice said.
Nice said Lysy is a big part of the rotation — a right-hander throwing a standard fastball-curveball mix with a little bit of a changeup thrown in.
“When he has command, he’s good,” Nice said.
Then, there’s Winston and junior right-hander Ryan Huth, who will start at first base when he isn’t on the mound, and senior right-hander Luke Newman, who Nice said could develop into a leading pitcher. There also are opening-day winner Frein and junior Adam Silverman, another of the many left-handed pitchers. Junior left fielders Matt Coiante and Colton Johnson are two other left-handers who can share in the pitching.
As for the closer, Nice said that’s by committee right now.
Third base is being filled by sophomores Giuseppi Arcuri and Austin Ferrier, who also can play at second base.
In the outfield, junior Ryan Barber is the front-runner in center field, and senior Rob Matos has been starting in right field.