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New faces to lead Manalapan during 2022 baseball season

STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
Manalapan High School first baseman Max Graime comes around to score during the first inning of the team's season opener against Howell on April 2 in Manalapan. Howell defeated Manalapan 5-3.

MANALAPAN – There is a new group of players ready to lead the Manalapan High School baseball team on the diamond in 2022.

Coach Bryan Boyce begins his 15th season at the helm with many new players who are ready for their turn to excel.

Boyce understands there will be some growing pains early in the season for his young squad. The coach’s priorities as the season begins are growth and improvement.

“I want to see steady improvement from our guys throughout the year. We have a young team. We might go through some growing pains,” he said.

The Braves will lean on senior Tyler Kane to lead the pitching rotation, while the bats of senior first baseman Max Graime and junior centerfielder Cristian Bernardini will anchor the lineup.

Kane flourished in 2021 as the running mate to ace Joe Mazza, who is currently pitching for Rutgers University. As a junior, Kane went 4-0 with 40 innings pitched, 75 strikeouts and a 2.08 ERA.

Kane will be joined in the pitching corps by senior Aidan Tumbleson, juniors Danny Burns and A.J. Tancio and sophomore Dylan Shaffer.

Junior Christian D’Angelo is the Braves’ catcher.

Graime, who hit .262 with 16 RBI in 2021, will be joined in the infield by junior Christian Zabotka (second base, shortstop) and sophomore Varun Gabbita (shortstop).

Senior Colton Gottlob and junior Alex Class will also see time in the middle of the infield.

Junior Sean Caputo has the hot corner covered at third base.

Senior Brandon Caputo will see time at third base and at catcher, and is expected to provide punch at the plate as the team’s designated hitter.

In the outfield, Bernardini will get the call in centerfield, with seniors Dylan Reiner and Liam Martin flanking him in the corners.

Martin is expected to hit leadoff, while Reiner will protect Bernardini in the middle of the order at the cleanup spot.

Bernardini broke onto the scene in 2021 with a solid sophomore campaign that saw him hit 273 with 15 RBI and five stolen bases.

Boyce expects Bernardini to build on that performance in 2022. The coach said, “The expectations are high and he understands that. He anchors the middle of the lineup. When he has good days, we are going to be in games.”

Manalapan opened the season on April 2 with a home game against Howell High School. Kane struck out 12 hitters and allowed one run in six solid innings.

The senior retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out eight of nine Rebels during that stretch.

“He was dominant,” Boyce said of Kane. “He did a great job and put us in position to win.”

Bernardini provided Kane with the lead in the bottom of the first inning when he singled to score Graime for a 1-0 lead.

With two out in the third inning, Bernardini doubled to left field to drive in his second run of the afternoon for a 2-0 lead.

After Howell cut the lead to 2-1 in the fourth, the Braves made it 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth when a run scored on an error.

In the top of the seventh, Manalapan turned to Tumbleson to get the final three outs, but the Rebels rallied for four runs against Tumbleson and Shaffer and held on for a 5-3 victory.

“We fell apart a little and opened the door for (Howell) and they took advantage of it,” Boyce said. “In the seventh inning, I think you saw us going through some growing pains with executing and getting over some of the nerves we had to make plays at the end.”

Boyce looked at the loss as a teaching moment for his players as they prepare to move forward in the 2022 campaign.

Manalapan will finish a two-game series with Howell on April 4 and host Christian Brothers Academy on April 6.

Manalapan High School starting pitcher Tyler Kane fires a strike to the plate during a game against Howell on April 2 in Manalapan. Kane allowed one run and had 12 strikeouts in six innings on the mound against Howell for the Braves.
Manalapan High School center fielder Cristian Bernardini records an RBI single during the team's season opener against Howell on April 2 in Manalapan. Bernardini went 2-3 with 2 RBI for Manalapan against Howell.
Manalapan High School center fielder Cristian Bernardini makes a running catch for an out during a game against Howell on April 2 in Manalapan.
Manalapan High School left fielder Dylan Reiner catches a pop fly for an out during a game against Howell on April 2 in Manalapan.
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