Kenney optimistic about young Colts baseball team


By Wayne Witkowski

Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) baseball coach Marty Kenney believes his young, relatively inexperienced — but talented — team has its best days ahead as it begins its 2017 campaign.

Gone are record-setting pitcher Luca Dalatri, widely regarded as the best player in the state the past two seasons, and catcher Brandon Martorano, who are both off to college careers at the University of North Carolina after both were selected in the late rounds of the Major League Baseball free agent draft. They led last year’s team to three-peats as Monmouth County and Short Conference tournament champs.

The Colts were stopped short of a New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Non-Public A championship repeat, losing in the South Jersey sectional quarterfinals, 6-2, to St. Augustine Preparatory School.

“It’s going to be a totally new group. I’m looking forward to it,” said Kenney, who embarks on his 44th season as the No. 2 all-time winningest coach in the state with the Colts.

“I see pluses and minuses, strengths and weaknesses,” Kenney said. “I do like their work ethic. If they get off to a good start, that would be good. You always like to be optimistic about the season, and a good start would do wonders for their confidence.”

The Colts were scheduled to open defense of their Shore Conference A North Division championship April 3 against Freehold High School. They played at Manalapan High School the following afternoon.

Nick Hohenstein, a pitcher and right fielder, and second baseman Jack Harnisch, whose dad, Pete, played in the majors, lead the small core of five returning players. Hohenstein was 3-1 as a pitcher, throwing a fastball, curveball and changeup, and he batted .371 with 22 RBIs.

“We’re rebuilding, but I think we’re able to compete with anybody,” Hohenstein said. “Last year, I was pitching behind the best pitcher in the state and now I have to step up. I feel very confident in my pitching and feel very confident in our team defense behind me, which has been doing a great job in practice.”

Andrea Dalatri, Luca’s younger brother, also started last year at third base, and Kenney expects him and Harnisch to pick up their batting to be impact players this season. The younger Dalatri has impressed on the mound in preseason throwing a fastball, curveball and changeup.

Freshman Braedin Hunt also can help on the mound once he gets better command of his hard slider and other pitches.

Martorano is a tough player to replace behind the plate, where he was solid defensively and at handling pitchers. Joe Sparber, who backed him up for a few innings last season, is the frontrunner there. Juniors Tom Rogers and Julian Greco also have gotten a look behind the plate.

Other likely starters are first baseman John Dudek, a junior whose brother, Joe, played at the University of North Carolina and in the minor leagues, and second baseman Tom DiTullio, a sophomore who Kenney said jumped it up a level and has excelled. Ed Dudek, John’s twin brother, is a sharp, quick player and left-handed hitter.

John Dudek had his starting spot solidified when senior Brian Golden, another first baseman, got hurt in preseason.

Junior Joe Duffy has center field locked up with his solid defense and as the fastest player on the team that has landed him the leadoff spot in the batting order. The fourth outfielder who would replace Hohenstein when he pitches still is undecided, Kenney said. Junior Mike Martorano, Brandon’s brother, and freshman Mason Wolf have been pressing hard for that spot.

Kenney said defense has been really solid and not a concern to him, but he did not know who would make up the heart of the batting order.

“We’ll do a lot more small ball,” Kenney said.

“This year, we’ll have a totally different playing style,” Hohenstein said. “I don’t see us as having the same power but if I have to bunt with a guy on base and less than two outs and give the bat to the next guy, I have no problem with that. I’m finding myself to be a more diverse player.”

Kenney said this group will develop its own persona, but it remains to be proven whether it can measure up to some of CBA’s memorable teams, particularly two years ago when the Colts won the division, county, Shore Conference and state sectional and Non-Public A championships.

“I don’t know if they’re there yet. We have to see how it progresses,” Kenney said.

“We don’t have the experience, but some of these guys as freshmen could’ve competed at any other school,” Hohenstein said.

Kenney expects stiff challenges in the division from both Middletown teams, having beaten Middletown High School North in four of five meetings and knocked off Middletown High School South, 2-0, in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game last season.