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Colts hopeful bats heat up in state tournament play

By Wayne Witkowski

Christian Brothers Academy’s (CBA) baseball team is enjoying a 17-8 season, but it hopes to change its occasional struggles scoring runs in its final tournament run. It was scheduled to play Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen in its New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association South Jersey, Non-Public A opener May 30.

“We talked about that just the other day. We’ve had a tough time scoring runs,” coach Marty Kenney said.

His team suffered its fourth 1-0 loss of the season to Wall High School in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals May 24.

It scored one run in three other games, but its offense has been sporadic, as it has scored 145 runs in 25 games for a respectable average of six runs a game.

“We’re doing two things well: pitching and playing exceptional defense, with less than one error a game,” said Kenney, citing 23 errors in the first 25 games. “We thought our defense would be good, but it has exceeded expectation. We’re inconsistent with hitting.”

Junior pitchers Nick Hohenstein (5-4) and left-hander Blaise Venancio (3-2) have the stat lines that make their records misleading, as they’ve tried to fill the void left by graduated Gatorade Player of the Year Luca Dalatri, who is off to a college career at the University of North Carolina along with catcher Brandon Martorano.

“They’re 8-6 combined and could easily be 13-1,” Kenney said. “We have not given either one of them much run support.”

That showed in a 3-2 loss to Colts Neck High School, in which Hohenstein could not hold a 2-0 lead for Venancio when he pitched in relief in the last inning.

Venancio has a 0.91 ERA with 26 hits allowed over 46 innings pitched. He has 44 strikeouts and 10 walks. Hohenstein, an All-Shore selection last year, has a 1.75 ERA in 48 innings pitched and has shown fine control with 47 strikeouts and nine walks.

Junior Matt Barnes has picked up four wins in 18 innings of relief with a 0.42 ERA, and sophomore Spencer Bauer has a 1.72 ERA in 28 innings pitched. Bauer has a 35-9 ratio in strikeouts to walks with 14 hits allowed.

“He has a lot of potential,” Kenney said of Bauer. “He could be outstanding by the time he graduates and is going to be a big-time prospect.”

Pitching depth like CBA has enjoyed is a coveted commodity, especially at tournament time, but that and hitting were both absent for one of the few times this season when the Colts lost to Freehold High School, 10-1, in the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals. Freehold also finished a game ahead of CBA for the Shore Conference A North Division title.

With CBA’s exceptional defense, critics can’t blame hitting problems on the team’s youth, with only two seniors on the team who both play in spot-action roles. They include Joe Sparber, who shared time at catcher with junior Matt Kern. Sparber is the better defensive player, and Kern is the better hitter. Brian Golden is the other senior who has seen limited innings in both the infield and outfield.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on [hitting] but haven’t seen results,” Kenney said. “We’re really frustrated by it and hope to be better at it by the time next season comes.”

For now, the Colts are worried about their final challenge. Three players have carried the offense, led by Hohenstein with his .378 batting average and 24 RBIs. He has four home runs. Sophomore shortstop Tom DiTullio bats .348 in the leadoff spot with 12 RBIs, and junior third baseman Andrea Dalatri — Luca Dalatri’s brother — is the one timely hitter with 25 RBIs despite bating only .289.

The Colts will need other players to come forward with more lively bats to keep them alive in the state tournament.

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