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Veteran Huskies trying to remain in contention for tournaments

By Wayne Witkowski

Matawan Regional High School’s baseball team plays for a spot in the NJSIAA tournament and to stay in contention for a return to the Shore Conference Tournament that it missed last season with some important games this week.

The Huskies, perhaps one of the oldest teams in the state with 15 seniors on the roster, come into this week 5-6. They need to win three of four games this week to make the state tournament, where Matawan has been moved from Central Jersey, Group II to North Jersey, Section II, Group III. The state tournament cutoff goes by the team’s record over the first 15 games. The Shore Conference Tournament cutoff is May 15.

“That’s awful; it’s stupid. We’re the only Shore Conference team in the bracket,” coach Bob Carnovsky said of the move into the tough bracket that includes Cranford High School, Carteret High School, South Plainfield High School and Summit High School. “We’ll be OK. We play in one of the toughest divisions in the Shore Conference and see great competition all year long in perennial powers Colts Neck, Ocean — teams that have huge reputations as good baseball schools. So when we come to playoff time, we’re fine. But the only thing is we’re playing Group II schools, and those teams [in the Group III section] have been playing Group III schools.”

The Huskies were scheduled to play Academy Charter High School April 25 and Wall High School April 26. They host Neptune High School April 28 and visit Colts Neck May 2. Earlier in the season, the Huskies beat Wall, 6-3, and lost, 7-6, to Neptune, which rallied for six runs in the last inning.

“That was a crushing defeat, losing that way to Neptune and then the next game, we beat Colts Neck, which showed this team has a lot of character,” the coach said. “The Neptune game [this week] is a big one.”

That tough regular-season schedule came to light last season when Matawan ended an 11-13 season by reaching the sectional semifinals, losing, 8-1, to eventual champion Governor Livingston High School after beating Arthur L. Johnson High School, 3-2, and Manasquan High School, 5-3, in earlier-round games.

Making the two tournaments is big, as Matawan was eliminated by Monmouth Regional High School, 8-3, in the Monmouth County Tournament.

Seniors Adam Elliott and Colin Thompson, the two top pitchers, and Anthony Hirujo are third-year varsity pitchers on a very deep staff. Elliott, an outstanding student academically, is headed to Stanford University. He also was the kicker for the football team that won the Central Jersey, Group II championship in his junior year — he kicked a game-winning field goal at the end of the semifinals against Ocean Township High School.

Richard Joa, a left-handed senior, is the closer and also is the center fielder. Joa is headed to Philadelphia University in the fall and will play baseball.

Seniors Ryan Driscoll, a lefty, and Brandon Rivera, the starting third baseman, and juniors Kyle Gamble and Tom Collazo, the starting shortstop, also pitch.

Despite a senior-laden lineup, only two of them were starters all last season — Elliott and senior catcher Chris Vetter. But three juniors start in the infield with Jake Burlew at first base, Antonio Martinez at second base and Collazo. The outfield has seniors Makel Caldwell and Isaiah Phillips flanking Joa. Senior David Sherman is the designated hitter.

An ambitious preseason of 14 scheduled scrimmages that were all played in a dry spring helped get the Huskies prepare and become familiar with their new positions.

“As a team, we’re very good fundamentally and with our defense and pitching, which have been our strong points of late, as long as we play scrappy and guys find ways to get on, we’ll win,” Elliott said. “We had a lot of first-season varsity starters settling in, so we were a little shaky the first few games.”

Elliott, who also can play many positions in the field, relies on a curveball when he’s pitching.

“As long as I can dictate the pace of the game, I’m OK,” he said.

He has been effective despite missing last summer to work at a lab at Harvard University Medical School. Two years ago, Elliott excelled in Brain Bee, a competition in neurobiology and neurology in which he finished first in regional and national competitions and fourth in the world competitions.

Teammate Caldwell, meanwhile, is headed to Princeton University in the fall.

Along with Elliott, seniors Alex Cosentino and Driscoll can play in the infield and outfield, as can senior Joe Traverso when called to action. When he came into the game against Shore Regional High School, Cosentino threw out two runners at the plate from right field in the sixth and eighth innings before Matawan pulled it out, 5-3, in the ninth.

Seniors Eric Johnson and Dylan Dobbin also give depth to the outfield. Senior Mike Gann is a backup catcher.

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