Jacob Ciccone accepted –and thrived– in the challenge.
The junior left-handed pitcher delivered a gem of a performance recently, an outing that will only spark confidence to the South Brunswick High School baseball team.
Ciccone went toe-to-toe with one of the premier pitchers in New Jersey, Nick Payero of Monroe Township High School.
South Brunswick coach C.J. Hendricks was quite impressed in how his ace performed.
“I think it started with Jacob’s presence on the mound,” Hendricks said. “Whenever you throw against a guy like [senior pitcher] Nick Payero, he’s a top guy in our county, and I believe the state as well. He’s a D-1 commit. A lot of guys get scared at that opportunity. Jacob grabbed that great opportunity. He said I’m going to challenge, and he kept us in it.”
South Brusnwick emerged as the winner by a count of 7-2 in an eight-inning game that was played on April 23 in Monroe.
Hendricks gave praise to others as well.
“Also, big shout outs to our offense for battling. We had a lot of timely hits with two strikes. Nick’s a great pitcher, who gets guys out left and right, and we were able to battle. Got some big base hits. But, I think it starts with Jacob on the mound.”
Ciccone and Payero ended their duel with the game tied at 1-1 after seven innings. South Brunswick erupted for six runs against the Monroe bullpen in the top of the eighth to pull out the victory.
“Honestly, I have to give it up to my infield,” Ciccone said. “They had my back the whole game. The outfield, too. Jason [Seliger-Braun] running down a fly ball in center field. That could have been a home run. My fastball was working well today. I had my curveball working towards the end of the game as well.”
For the game, Ciccone earned the victory when he finished with 11 strikeouts and allowed four hits in seven innings.
The right-handed Payero, who has committed to Seton Hall University, went six and a third innings and did not absorb the loss. He gave up three hits and recorded six strikeouts.
Hendricks is still looking for some improvements.
“The biggest thing is situational stuff,” Hendricks said. “Anytime you get closer to the post season, you want to lock that stuff down. Bunting the ball, stuff like that. Monroe bunted the ball tremendously today. The ran the ball well. Execution wise, it was a great game back and forth. That’s what we want to do as well. We’re a small ball team. So, for us it’s fine tuning the situational parts of the game.”
“Me personally, I want to work on my pick off moves,” Ciccone said. “Also, I want to cut down on my walks. I had like three or four walks today. That’s too much for my liking. I don’t like that at all. Working out of full counts. Just keep perfecting my stuff.”
The Vikings will now dig down and prepare for some tough foes.
“Well, we have a really tough schedule coming up,” Hendricks said. “We play Monroe again, we’re playing East Brunswick [High School]. We’re playing Saint Joseph [High School in Metuchen]. So, it’s about getting right before we hit the post season. Trying to play the best baseball we can. When we get to the county tournament, and the state tournament, it’s not about who has the best record, it’s about who’s playing the best baseball. So, play all these teams well, and be resilient and play the best ball we can coming into the tournament.”
“Honestly, I can’t wait to play these games,” Ciccone said. “We’re going to play really really tough conference games, but I think we’re ready for it. We have a really good offense that comes out slow, but comes on strong towards the end. I don’t think teams will be ready for it. Pitching wise, I think we have the best bullpen in the Greater Middlesex Conference.”
Orther Vikings who have contributed this season are outfielder Felix Quinones, second baseman Mike D’Amato, brothers [senior designated hitter] Mike Reyes and [right fielder] Kevin Reyes and [utility] Jordan Glassman.
The Vikings will tackle another challenge when they travel to North Brunswick Township High School on May 3.