Bucks County Herald

Baseball:

South Hunterdon shakes off tough loss

DON LEYPOLDT

April 4 was a tough day for South Hunterdon.

The Eagles opened their season with a competitive, well-played 4-2 loss to much larger Bordentown on March 31.

South Hunterdon lost some momentum with a 13-1 setback to conference rival Gill St. Bernard’s (GSB) last Wednesday, on a day so blustery that Winnie the Pooh pinch hit.

Yet post-GSB, third baseman Justin Torres was optimistic.

“I like our variety of players. We have seniors, juniors with some freshmen and sophomores ready to step in,” Torres said. “Maybe it didn’t show in this game, but we definitely have some unsung talent that we can put on the field.

“We’ll bounce back tomorrow,” he predicted. “We’re a better team than we showed today.”

He was right. Justin’s twin brother, Brian, threw 6.2 innings of one-run, eight-strikeout baseball and then Justin fanned the only batter he faced to save Friday’s 4-1 win at Manville. A three-run third inning gave the Eagles all of the runs that they would need.

“I’ve been playing with these guys all of my life. I love that we have a connection,” said senior catcher Leo Andreoli, who had three hits in the Eagles’ first two games. “When [Robbie Rose] is pitching and I’m catching, it’s like I barely have to tell him anything.”

The Eagles played better than the 13-1 score indicated. The gusting winds – multiple hats blew off forcing timeouts – helped cause four extra GSB hits. Hofstra-signee Ryan Morash got things going for the Knights in the first with a routine fly that carried ... and carried ... over the fence.

“Obviously in the beginning of the game, the winds were gusting,” Justin Torres explained. “The field was slippery. I think that took a toll on our defensive approach.”

“It was a lot of errors,” Andreoli added.

The Eagles were charged with two and yielded several hits that could have been called either way.

“It wasn’t our pitching because the pitching was phenomenal,” Andreoli continued. “We had only three walks all game, but the outfield couldn’t catch a break with the wind blasting everywhere. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we did have errors.”

“We made a lot of mental mistakes,” first-year manager Chris Skolka noted. “I feel that some of the mistakes we made today don’t necessarily have anything to do with being out on a field. It’s more knowing the game and knowing what to do in certain situations. That comes with years of experience.”

Young Eagles turned in solid performances last Wednesday. Sophomore Branson Hettman didn’t throw poorly and freshman Jason Sutton defended well at second base. Hettman’s sacrifice fly drove in the Eagles’ lone run off GSB’s Jack Petraitis, one of the best sophomore pitchers in New Jersey.

“It means a lot to the club. There is a bright future,” Skolka commended of his underclassmen. “They’re having an impact now and are going to have even more of an impact in the future.”

Skolka hopes his Eagles are defined by “hard work and a blue-collar mentality. You come in, you punch the card and you get to work and do your job. Everyone has their own responsibilities,” he said. “You have to take care of those responsibilities.

“I’m a fan of small ball,” Skolka continued. “We obviously couldn’t use it today but ... run everything out and dive for everything.”

The Eagles stood at 2-2 overall and 2-1 in the Skyland Conference after their true home opener: a 14-4 blowout of Belvidere on Tuesday. South Hunterdon banged out 13 hits.

“The pitching has been there and it probably will be there all season, knock on wood and no injuries,” Andreoli said. “If the errors get cleaned up, we’re going to be a good defensive team.”

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