Diamond Jacks make their mark in college openers

By Bob Behre | February 21, 2022

Nick Maldonado moved from the bullpen to a starting role with defending CWS finalist Vanderbilt.

The future of technology in baseball unexpectedly came roaring into the living rooms of college baseball fans this weekend when Vanderbilt University broke out electronic wristbands used to communicate directly with pitching coach Scott Brown.

Brown, a frequent clinician at Diamond Nation, called pitches from the dugout – for example, slider down and away – and all nine Vanderbilt players would know what was coming from their pitcher, simply by looking at their wrist. The NCAA has okayed such communication between coaches and players this season in the interest of speeding up the pace of the game.

Former Diamond Jack Nick Maldonado, a junior righthander so valuable out of the bullpen for the Commodores last year, was right in the middle of things. Maldonado earned his first start on Saturday, a 4-3 loss to No. 7 Oklahoma State. Vanderbilt dropped two out of three games in the series this weekend in Nashville, Tenn.

Maldonado permitted four runs, only two of which were earned, on six hits over four innings. He struck out two and walked one in a 68-pitch effort. The Commodores reached the championship series of the College World Series in 2021, falling to Mississippi State in the final game of the best-of-three series.

Speaking of Mississippi State, former Diamond Jack Super 17U player KC Hunt got the start against Long Beach State on Saturday for the defending national champions. Hunt permitted five runs on six hits over three-plus innings, striking out four and walking two in a 13-3 loss. Long Beach State took two of three games in the season-opening series.

Luke Franzoni, a 6-2, 220 first baseman out of Princeton Day School, started his senior season at Xavier in style. Franzoni greeted the first pitch of the season from Alabama pitcher Garrett McMillan and crushed it over the fence in center field for a home run. Franzoni, who was 6-for-14 as Xavier was swept by Alabama in three close games, went 2-for-3 in the leadoff spot in the opener and scored three runs. He was moved to the No. 3 spot in the order the rest of the weekend and stayed hot with four more hits.

Luke Franzoni launched a HR on the season’s first pitch.

Somerville grad Matt Miceli got his first college start at second base and his first career base hit on Sunday during Stony Brook’s 4-1 loss to McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The freshman singled to left field in the top of the eighth inning as the Sea Wolves loaded the bases. The McNeese State bullpen, however, got out of further trouble.

“My first two at bats didn’t go my way,” said Miceli. “I knew I couldn’t let it affect me when we had a chance to win late in the game. I just went up there and tried to hit the ball hard and, thankfully, it found a hole.”

A longtime Diamond Jack, Miceli started as a freshman on Somerville’s 2018 NJSIAA Group 3 championship squad. He would amass 82 career hits for the Pioneers despite losing his junior season in 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic. He would have been a slam dunk for 100 career hits.

“It was a dream come true to be on the field because that is what we all work for,” said Miceli. “I don’t have many words for what it felt like because it honestly didn’t feel real. It definitely took a couple innings to adjust but, at the end of the day, it’s just baseball.”

Seton Hall University was swept in Chapel Hill by North Carolina but former Diamond Jacks Devin Hack and Zack Sylvester had productive at bats on Sunday in a 7-3 loss. Hack, a junior center fielder and a Somerville grad, went 2-for-4, drove in a run and scored a run.  Sylvester, a sophomore second baseman and a Montville grad, went 2-for-3, drew a walk and scored a run. Another former Diamond Jack, Drew Conover, a sophomore righthander and a Voorhees grad, pitched the middle three innings in Game 3 of the series for the Pirates, surrendering four runs on five hits, striking out two and walking two.

Seton Hall’s Devin Hack faced a former Diamond Jack teammate in his team’s opening weekend at North Carolina.

North Carolina’s Sean Rapp, a 6-2, 200 sophomore lefthander, entered the opening game in the seventh inning just as former Diamond Jack teammate Hack was coming to the plate. Rapp struck out Hack to begin what was a thorough performance in two weekend relief appearances. Rapp permitted no runs on no hits over 3.1 innings, struck out six, walked one and earned the win in relief in Sunday’s 7-3 victory.

The Duke University roster boasts three former Diamond Jacks and each factored in the team’s 2-1 weekend series win against VMI.

Luke Storm, a 6-5, 235 sophomore outfielder, was 0-for-5 on the weekend heading into Sunday’s rubber match with VMI when he delivered big time. Storm went 2-for-4 with two RBI and scored a run. His RBI single in the bottom of the seventh gave Duke an 8-5 lead and provided the decisive run in an 8-7 victory that enabled the Blue Devils to secure the series win. Storm played his high school ball for Easton (Pa.) Area High School.

Alex Stone, a 6-4, 235 sophomore catcher, went 2-for-4 with two RBI and scored a run in Duke’s 10-5 opening game loss to VMI. Stone drew a day off on Saturday before going 0-3 in on Sunday while drawing a walk and scoring a run. Stone is a Newton High grad.

Adam Boucher, a 6-5, 230 sophomore righthander, pitched well in relief in Duke’s opening day loss. The St. Joseph (Met.) grad permitted no runs on a single hit over 2.1 innings, striking out three and walking two on 54 pitches.

Old Dominion, ranked No. 24 in the nation, charged out of the gate with a three-game sweep of Iona in Norfolk, Virginia. The Monarchs have a roster loaded with New Jersey players, including former Diamond Jack Joey DeChiaro. The 6-2, 220-pounder helped lead Hunterdon Central to the NJSIAA Group 4 championship in 2018 when he earned First Team All-State. DeChiaro entered in relief in the sixth inning of what would become a 4-2 victory over Iona in the Monarchs’ season opener on Friday. DeChiaro allowed one run on one hit over 2.1 innings, struck out one and walked one.

Lefthander Joey DeChiaro has gotten off to a good start with his No. 24-ranked Old Dominion teammates.

Kean University has opened the season at 5-0 and gotten very nice contributions from a trio of former Diamond Jacks.

Connor DeForge busted out of the gate as Kean opened its season with three victories on Feb. 10-12. The Immaculata grad is making the most of his grad year with a 6-for-10 start, including a 6-for-7 opening weekend that included a double, two runs-scored and a pair of RBI. DeForge is an Immaculata grad.

Vince Mele, a 6-1, 180 junior catcher out of Somerville, drove in a run, drew two walks and scored twice in Kean season-opening victory over Widener. Mele also had a hit in Kean’s victory over Gwynedd Mercy on Saturday that improved the team’s record to 5-0.

Center fielder and leadoff hitter Kyle Adorno, a freshman out of Johnson in Clark, has been terrific igniting the Kean lineup from the top. Adorno went 4-for-11, drew four walks, scored two runs and stole a base in Kean’s opening weekend. He tacked on a pair of hits this past weekend, including two more walks, a run and two stolen bases in a 5-2 victory over Old Westbury on Friday. Adorno, by the way, amassed 92 career hits in just three years at Johnson.

Pete Cosentino, a 6-2, 220 senior first baseman, had five hits over three weekend games for Montclair State University (2-1). Cosentino, also a key ingredient on Hunterdon Central’s 2018 Group 4 championship squad, went 2-for-4 out of the three hole in a 14-5 opening day loss to Swarthmore College on Saturday in Aberdeen, Maryland. Cosentino contributed an RBI double and three walks in Sunday’s two-game sweep of McDaniel.

Paul Franzoni, a 5-11, 190 grad student, and Ryan Fischer, 6-2, 225 junior righthander, helped NJIT to a 2-1 opening weekend. After being held hitless in an opening day victory over Gardner Webb on Friday, Franzoni went 3-for-4 with a double, scored twice and drove in two runs in a 9-3 victory over Bellarmine on Saturday. Franzoni, who played right field and catcher over the weekend, also drew a walk and drove in a run in Sunday’s 8-3 loss to Virginia.

Fischer threw a gem in the team’s victory over Gardner Webb. The Hunterdon Central grad permitted just one run on three hits over six innings, striking out 11 and walking two. He left the game with a 4-1 lead after striking out the side in the sixth around a hit-by-pitch and a walk.

Nike Amory began his senior season at Marist College with a very productive weekend against Norfolk State.

Niko Amory, a 5-10, 205 catcher at Marist, opened his senior season strong as the Red Foxes swept a three-game series against Norfolk State. Amory went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBI in a 12-3 victory in the opener. Amory, a Southern Lehigh (Pa.) grad, was the DH and batted second. He then went 1-for-3, scored a run and drew three walks in a 13-5 victory over Norfolk on Saturday when he moved behind the plate. He singled and delivered a run in Sunday’s 12-8 victory when teammate and fellow former Diamond Jack Alex Pansini contributed on the mound. Pansini permitted three runs, only one of which was earned, on three hits over two innings, striking out three and walking none. Pansini is a grad student and played his high school ball at Westfield.

Dan Johnson, coming off a terrific sophomore season at Scranton, got his first start of the 2022 season on Saturday in his team’s second game of the day at Stevenson in Stevenson, Maryland. Johnson allowed two runs on three hits over 2.2 innings in a game that ended tied at 4-4 after five innings due to darkness. The teams had played a wild 3:39 extravaganza in the first game, won 18-8 by Scranton. Johnson is an Immaculata grad.

Johnson’s older brother, Kevin, a Hunterdon Central grad, starts in the outfield for the Royals and went 1-for-2, scored two runs and drove in a run in the first game. Incredibly, he also was hit by a pitch four times in the game. Kevin Johnson is in his grad year.

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