When Mike Contiliano committed to Seton Hall University two days before the first day of his sophomore year at Hunterdon Central High School, he became the fifth Diamond Jack to do so in the past three years.
Additionally, former Diamond Jack and Hunterdon Central grad Matt Toke had just completed an outstanding career with the Pirates in May.
Contiliano, who plays for the Diamond Jacks Super 16U squad, will be joining former Diamond Jacks and current Pirates Devin Hack, Zack Sylvester and Drew Conover at Seton Hall University. His Hunterdon Central teammate, senior Nick Ferri, committed to Seton Hall last December. Hack is a junior at Seton Hall and Sylvester and Conover are sophomores.
Contiliano, the rare pre-sophomore-year commit, still has three more seasons of grooming to complete at Hunterdon Central and Diamond Nation before donning the Pirates’ blue and white. And what Seton Hall head coach Rob Sheppard and his staff see in Contiliano is no surprise to those who’ve coached the converted middle infielder thus far.
“A left-handed bat who can hit and can play multiple positions and has room to grow. What’s not to like,” asked Diamond Nation’s recruiting coordinator Steve DiTrolio. “Mike will fit in well at Seton Hall. All we are trying to do is put the player and school in the best possible position to succeed. It was a pleasure helping Michael get connected with Seton Hall. He made it easy to get Seton Hall interested in him.”
Contiliano’s freshman season on Hunterdon Central’s junior varsity squad provided needed seasoning and a productive summer began turning heads. Mike had, as DiTrolio said, put himself in a position to succeed.
“It was a good transition from my high school season to summer,” said Contiliano. “I got a lot of reps in high school, started the summer strong and had a good summer.” Contiliano played this past summer with the Diamond Jacks Super 15U team and continued another transition, from the outfield to the infield. He had played center field and shortstop at Hunterdon Central.
Hunterdon Central’s junior varsity coach Chris Thompson watched that transition first hand in the spring.
“Mike is an excellent outfielder and made tremendous progress to become a very good middle infielder during his freshman season,” said Thompson, who had also coached Contiliano locally at the youth level.
Contiliano has always had the fundamentally strong hand, eye and feet coordination necessary for a multiple-position player and, though he just turned 16, his fastball has been clocked at 83 miles per hour on the mound. That arm strength has proven beneficial, too, at shortstop and those individual strengths bore fruit all summer as the eyes of college scouts suddenly turned his way.
Contiliano admitted he initiated the Seton Hall romance, but, unbeknownst to him, the Pirates staff was well aware of the talented young athlete plying his favored trade at Diamond Nation.
“I visited Seton Hall last winter with my parents and my brother and really liked it,” said Contiliano. “Then our 15U team went there in July for a camp. I talked to coach Shep (Rob Sheppard) for the first time after the camp. Ditro’ (DiTrolio) told me at that point that they had watched me before.”
DiTrolio later helped Contiliano connect with coach Sheppard by phone. “That was a little nerve wracking,” said Contiliano. “But the conversation flowed. We connected. I felt good after that call, like they were serious.” Come August 16, Contiliano had an offer in front of him.
“I had a lot going through my mind,” he said. “I was thinking how fast this was happening. I really hadn’t envisioned committing before the end of my sophomore year.” On Sept. 1, Contiliano made another call to Rob Sheppard and told him he was accepting his offer to attend Seton Hall University and play for the Pirates.
“Coach Sheppard is a very dedicated and committed coach,” said Contiliano. “That was a big reason I chose to play at Seton Hall. I really look forward to playing for him. They like my versatility.”
Contiliano has been a dedicated and committed athlete himself, which is reflected in the time and work he has put in as a Diamond Jack, particularly in the cages with Diamond Nation coach Walt Cleary.
“Mike started hitting with me when he was 12 and has hit with me pretty much every week since 13U,” said Cleary. “His swing has always been good. It was about teaching him to be more aggressive in his approach. Once he really bought into swinging with more controlled intent, he really started crushing the ball.”
Contiliano agreed. “Coach Walt has had a huge impact on me.”
The ability to play in both the outfield and infield should also benefit Contiliano in finding playing time on a loaded Hunterdon Central team that will enter the 2022 season ranked in the top five in the state. It is certainly possible that the Seton Hall commit will have to battle for playing time, but Contiliano’s performance to date has been noticed.
“There is no doubt Mike’s versatility is going to make a strong impact on the Red Devils this season,” says Hunterdon Central’s head coach Kevin Cuozzi. “I am extremely excited for Mike and his commitment to Seton Hall. He is an excellent young player who has a very strong skill set and high ceiling. I am even more excited that HC will have him for a few more seasons.”
It will also be interesting to watch Contiliano’s development as a pitcher. Multi-positional sophomores who throw 83 are not pushed to the side, rather can be utilized in an assortment of ways to complement a staff. At this point, he rates his curveball as “decent” and is working on a changeup.
“I’m learning how to throw it and grip it properly,” he said.
Contiliano and his Diamond Jack Super 16U teammates conclude their fall season this weekend with the Fall Harvest tournament at Diamond Nation. Then it’s off to a winter of conditioning and keeping his swing sharp.
“I’ll be working out at (Paul) Kolody’s gym (at Hunterdon Central), trying to bulk up,” said Contiliano. Kolody is the school’s strength and conditioning coach. “I’ll continue to work on my fundamentals and I’ll get a lot of cage work in.”
Cleary knows his services will be requested.
“I’m excited to continue working with Mike through his development,” said Cleary. “He has always been very athletic with a good swing. It’s been a lot of getting him to use his athleticism at the plate. When he called to tell me about his commitment, I was very excited. He deserves it. I’m very proud of Mike. He’s a great kid and he comes from a great family.”
NOTES: DiTrolio was recently hired by the Milwaukee Brewers as a northeast area scout but will still assist in Diamond Nation’s recruiting efforts. Subsequently, Cleary’s duties have changed. He becomes DN’s 14-18U Coordinator. So, Contiliano and his teammates will see even more of Cleary.