By Bob Behre
Vanderbilt bound Nick Maldonado, Seton Hall University-bound Devin Hack and Joe DeChiaro, an Old Dominion commit, are among 10 Diamond Jacks who will sign their names to a Division 1 scholarship today.
The rest of the high profile commits include Pete Ciuffreda (Lafayette), K.C. Hunt (Mississippi State), Jack Eichler (Georgia Southern), Mike Mahala (Navy), his twin brother Pat Mahala (Georgetown), McGwire Tuffy (Quinnipiac) and Jack Erbeck (Fairfield University).
Maldonado had given his verbal commitment to Vanderbilt as a sophomore in the fall of 2016, just a few months after the then freshman earned the victory for Seton Hall in the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game.
Vanderbilt, the 2014 NCAA College World Series champion, boasts the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation for 2019 according to Perfect Game.
“I feel grateful to be part of such an amazing recruiting class,” said Maldonado. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to compete as a Commodore and to be a part of the Vanderbilt program.”
The 6-2 195-pound Maldonado, who has played for the Diamond Jacks program since he was 13 years old, was 5-3 on the mound for Seton Hall with a 1.35 ERA and batted a team-high .412. His fastball’s been clocked at 92 and he’s also an excellent middle infielder with a high baseball acumen.
Hack, a center fielder and leadoff hitter for 2018 NJSIAA Group 3 champion Somerville, gave his verbal to Seton Hall University a year ago. Hack has shined as a tremendous contact hitter with gap-to-gap power, complementing his game with outstanding speed on the base paths and an ability to step in out of the bullpen to reliably get outs.
“Being a part of this Seton Hall recruiting class is a dream come true,” said Hack. “I can’t wait to get after it. Diamond Nation has been there for me every step of the way.” Hack joined the Diamond Jacks program at the tender age of 10 years old, making him the longest tenured current Diamond Jack. “It’s crazy to think it’s all over after 9 years of being in the program. I made so many amazing friends along the way and had great coaching along the way to guide me.”
DeChiaro, the stereotypical crafty lefty with high 80s cheddar and an above average curveball and changeup, is in line to reset Hunterdon Central High School’s all-time wins record next spring. He’s already built a reputation as his school’s finest ever post-season pitcher. DeChiaro also committed a year ago to Old Dominion and joins a deep New Jersey contingent with the Virginia school, none more important to DeChiaro than North Hunterdon grads John Wilson and Matt Busher.
“The players at Old Dominion are probably one of the greatest group of guys that I’ve met,” said DeChiaro. “They’ve been very welcoming. Busher and Wilson also helped me adapt to the program. Head coach (Chris) Finwood had the time to sit down with us at an organized dinner and (pitching coach Mike) Marron created such a special bond with my parents that I feel like I know him for so long.”
DeChiaro has been a Diamond Jack since he was 11 years old.
Ciuffreda, a ruggedly built and deceivingly fast 6-2, 200-pound center fielder from Hunterdon Central, gave his verbal to Lafayette in the summer. He was the emotional leader during the Red Devils’ run to the NJSIAA Group 4 championship last spring. Ciuffreda also had a penchant for the timely hit and often in the most pressure-packed moments.
“I chose Lafayette because the second I stepped into the building I told my dad this is my school,” said Ciuffreda. “Between the high level academics, Division 1 baseball and the coaching staff, I knew I wanted to go to Lafayette.
“I remember Diamond Jack coach Travis Anderson telling me to go somewhere that shared values to that of my own. At Lafayette I quickly became attached to the culture and mindset of the team.”
K.C. Hunt, an absolute stud of two-way player from Ramapo High School, was a short-timer with the Diamond Jacks Super 17 squad but what a pleasure he was to watch perform. A coach’s son and another in the long lineage of excellent Hunt athletes, the 6-3, 185 righthander has shown equal prowess on the mound, at shortstop and with a bat in his hands swinging from the left side.
Eichler, a 5-11, 170 middle infielder from Verona, and the Mahala twins are Maldonado’s teammate at Seton Hall Prep and are expected to play major roles in 2019 with the Pirates, one of the top scholastic baseball programs in New Jersey each year. Each shined during the summer playing for the Diamond Jacks Super 17 squad.
“The Mahala brothers come from such a great athletic family,” said Diamond Nation’s recruiting coordinator Steve DiTrolio. “Mike and Pat are certainly helping to continue the tradition of Division 1 athletes graduating from the Diamond Jack program.” Mike and Pat Mahala are the third and fourth boys in the Mahala family to go through the Diamond Jacks program.
Their older brothers Kevin and Jack Mahala have gone on to successful post-high school experiences. Kevin, an infielder, played collegiately at George Washington then was selected in the 16thround of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Pirates. He’s played two years of Class-A ball with Pittsburgh. Jack, a 6-4, 190-pound righthander, is a sophomore at Harvard. He made 15 appearances as a freshman last spring.
Eichler will be graduating into a starting role at Seton Hall Prep after a summer that saw him draw Division 1 interest before he directed his full attention to Georgia Southern.
Tuffy, a 5-8, 170 second baseman from Robbinsville and The Hun School, batted .352 in 2018 and scored 26 runs for the Mercer County school.
Erbeck, a 6-3, 205 right-handed pitcher is a resident of Skillman and Tuffy’s teammate at Hun. Erbeck generated a stunning 61 strikeouts in just 33.1 innings with a high-80s fastball. He posted a 3-3 record with a 2.31 ERA.
It certainly is a special class of 2019 athletes graduating the Diamond Jacks program at Diamond Nation.
"I started playing for the Diamond Jacks when I was 12,” said Ciuffreda. “I’ve been transformed as a player through playing the best competition in the northeast. I’ve always been humbled by the talent of my peers. It may me push myself harder and better myself.
“Every coach I had at Diamond Nation made me the player and person I am today, whether it was the hard work ethic of coach Anderson, the grit of Rick Clagett, the swagger of Kevin Cust or the mentality of Steve DiTrolio. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished and can’t wait for what is to come.”