By Warren Rappleyea
South Brunswick High School’s baseball team halted a seven-game losing streak with a victory against Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen and appears to have turned things around just in time for the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament.
The Vikings earned the 10th seed in the tournament and showed a return to form with a comfortable 10-0 victory over 26th-seeded South Amboy High School in a May 12 play-in matchup.
Sophomore left-hander Jacob Ciccone produced a perfect game when he retired all 15 batters he faced, fanning 10, to even his record at 3-3 on the year, as South Brunswick made quick work of the Governors (8-8).
That gem delivered by Ciccone was the first perfect game ever thrown by a South Brunswick pitcher.
Right fielder Kevin Reyes had a pair of hits and drove home three runs, while Marco DiIusto, Chris James, Victor Huetz and Felix Quinones added two hits apiece.
“Our guys are getting their confidence back,” South Brunswick coach C.J. Hendricks said. “We went through a tough stretch. They were all close games, and we seemed to lose every which way. We weren’t playing badly; we just weren’t putting it all together.”
With the win, South Brunswick was scheduled to visit seventh-seeded Middlesex High School (18-4) May 15, with the winner of that game going to the quarterfinals for a likely game with second-seeded Woodbridge High School (19-3) May 17. The Vikings have also qualified for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey, Group IV tournament.
Following a 1-0 victory over Monroe Township High School April 24, when junior pitcher Troy Sweeney struck out nine and allowed just two hits, the Vikings’ record stood at an impressive 10-3. South Brunswick dropped a pair of close games, 5-4 and 11-8, to GMC Red Division rival Perth Amboy High School and was shut out twice — one on a no-hitter — by East Brunswick High School, another divisional foe.
The Vikings then lost twice to Monroe, 6-2 and 5-3, before falling to St. Joseph, 2-1, in 10 innings May 8. Both teams are also in the Red Division, and St. Joe’s is the top seed in the GMC Tournament.
The next day, Hendricks’ team turned the tables on St. Joseph with a victory by a 6-5 score. The Vikings took advantage of four Falcons errors and scored three times in both the fourth and fifth innings. DiIusto paced the offense with two hits and two runs scored, while Michael Reyes earned the win in relief.
South Brunswick rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for another success, also by a 6-5 tally, May 11 against Hightstown High School. DiIusto pounded out three hits, and catcher Adam Britton added two hits and two RBIs and drew a pair of walks.
“Beating St. Joe’s and then coming from behind at home on senior night and then the victory over South Amboy were big wins for our morale,” Hendricks said. “That reinforced their belief in themselves. They stayed positive while we were losing and most important, no one was looking to point fingers at anyone else.”
The Vikings have received good pitching throughout the campaign. Sweeney has turned into the staff ace with a 3-2 record and 1.40 ERA over 35 innings. The losses came to St. Joseph and in the no-hitter against East Brunswick. Justin Cross, Josh Liao and Marcus James, who owns a 1.22 ERA, have all notched a pair of wins. In addition, Ciccone has won his last two outings.
At the plate, Chris James leads the team with a .474 batting average and has 13 RBIs. Hendricks said the third baseman is a particularly tough out with runners in scoring position. Junior right fielder Kevin Reyes is not far behind at .420 with 15 RBIs, and Britton is batting .345 with 14 runs batted in.
DiIusto, the leadoff hitter and center fielder, is batting .359 and leads the Vikings with 24 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. In addition to getting the job done in the field, shortstop Ryan Moran leads South Brunswick with a team-leading 17 RBIs and is batting .328. Quinones, a junior, is batting .304 in part-time duty.
“We’re all about playing smart,” Hendricks said. “Our defense is strong, so our pitchers have confidence throwing the ball over the plate. We also played a tough schedule, and that has helped prepare us for the postseason. If we stick to our strength — pitching, defense and small ball — we definitely have the ability to go far in the tournaments.”