it has been an educational spring for the young baseball team at Monroe Township High School.
While the players have been learning through playing, the Monroe coach, Pat Geroni, has been pleased with the progress.
“We’re super young,” Geroni said. “At times, we have five or six sophomores on the field. We knew coming into this year that there was going to be a learning curve. I’m really happy with how the year has gone so far. We had a really tough schedule. I thought our guys have played really well. Right now, we’re just trying to improve our overall baseball IQ. Getting used to high pressure environments.”
High pressure came in the form of a pitching duel between Monroe’s senior right-hander, Nick Payero, and junior lefty Jacob Ciccone of South Brunswick High School on April 23 in Monroe.
The two aces pitched to a 1-1 draw after seven innings, but South Brunswick was able to break through against the Monroe relief pitchers to score six runs in the top of the eighth en route to a 7-2 victory.
Ciccone earned the victory when he finished with 11 strikeouts and allowed four hits in seven innings while Payero went six and a third innings and did not absorb the loss. He gave up three hits and recorded six strikeouts.
“When you face a premiere pitcher like we did today in Ciccone, you want to just put the ball in play and see what happens,” Geroni said. “They’ll learn those types of things. We’re very deep. At the end of the day, we’re just looking for guys to put the ball in play and make things happen.”
Payero, who will take his talented arm to Seton Hall University in the fall, acted as the spokesperson for the Monroe players.
“We just have to learn to finish games,” Payero declared. “In late inning games, we have to learn how to step up to the pressure. Face it. Do what we have to do to win. Another big thing is base running. If we do that better, we will put ourselves in a better position to win. But those guys have been playing great, and they will get it.”
Geroni was pleased on how his squad competed against South Brunswick.
“I was happy that we battled the entire time,” Geroni said. “We had trouble hitting their lefty all game long. He did a great job. We were trying to apply pressure and hope that they broke. But, I got to give him credit. They made some great plays when it mattered. They made just one or two more plays than we did. The final score doesn’t reflect what really happened today. But they made more plays that we did and came out with the win.”
“I like the way we battled back,” Payero said. “The underclassman really stepped up today. We had some guys come in and make great bunts to put us in a great position. Obviously, we didn’t capitalize, but they made some great plays out there. We’re playing our positions well. We never stopped fighting.”
Monroe will continue to grow while the Falcons continue to achieve their goals.
“We talked earlier in the year and our goal is to win a state championship,” Geroni said. “That’s been our goal all year. This senior class has two guys [Payero and third baseman Shawn Eldridge] that have been here for all four years. In 2015, they won the Greater Middlesex Championship. We would love to have another one. We would to win the Red Division as well. But our main goal is to win a state championship.”
Geroni sees that his Falcons can attain their objectives.
“Even with a young team, I think we can do it. We blew some tough games this year, but we’ve been in the lead or have been even in every game except one this year,” Geroni said. “So, we have the talent, and we have the game plan to win. We just have to go out there and continue to do it.”
Payero agreed with his coach.
“I just want to be on a team that good enough and close enough to get to a state championship and win,” Payero said. “We work hard together. The goal is to win a state championship together.”
Monroe will lean on its senior leaders in Payero, Eldridge, left fielder Chris Stepnowski and catcher Mike Dalton. The sophomore class is led by pitcher Anthony Bruno.
The Falcons will face a tough challenge on May 3 when they take on the 2017 Group 3 state champion, Allentown High School. The game is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Allentown.