Twenty games into his freshman season at Montclair State University, Pete Cosentino was batting .440. But Cosentino, a Hunterdon Central grad and a former Diamond Jack out of Diamond Nation, suffered a broken thumb that day, effectively ending his 2019 season.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic cut Montclair State’s 2020 season short at 12 games while Cosentino had jumped out of the gate hitting .349. So, one can imagine the deep well of anticipation bubbling at the surface as the 6-2, 220 first baseman prepared for the 2021 season.
“I’m just really excited to get to play this season,” said Cosentino, named to the D3Baseball.com Team of the Week last week. “Everyone is doing their part, especially the guys stepping up to replace some of our injured players.”
Cosentino, in fact, has broken out in a big way in 2021. He ripped three home runs and knocked in six runs in his team’s opening day victory over Cabrini and is batting .545 (6-for-11) in his team’s first four games. Montclair State is equally hot as a team, boasting a 4-0 record heading into Friday’s game at Gwynedd Mercy (Pa.). The Red Hawks have hit a ton and are pitching efficiently in outscoring their opponents 40-8.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Cosentino, who also boasts a .688 on-base percentage and is slugging at a 1.455 pace to produce a gaudy OPS of 2.143 in the early sampling. “I’m not trying to do too much. I’m concentrating on getting good swings, especially with two strikes. I got a little lucky at Cabrini. They have a small field that I think is like 290 or 300 to left field. It reminds me of Field 5 at Diamond Nation.”
Those three home runs were just short of the school record for home runs in a single game. That was set in 1991 when Dave Kennedy blasted four homers in an NCAA Division 3 regional game against St. Lawrence in Ithaca (N.Y.).
“The funny thing was I think I had the worst batting practice of my life that day,” laughed Kennedy, now the A.L. Johnson (Clark) coach. “I couldn’t get the ball out of the infield.” Montclair won that one, 18-10, and Kennedy, a Glen Ridge High grad, drove in eight runs.
Cosentino is a junior academically but is still a sophomore athletically since the NCAA reinstated athletes’ 2020 eligibility. “So, I have this year and two more years of eligibility,” said Cosentino. “I’ll stay for my masters degree (in 2023).” An accounting major, Cosentino carried a 3.9 GPA last semester.
Just three years ago he was in the middle of Hunterdon Central’s batting order when the Red Devils rolled to a 28-2 record and the 2018 NJSIAA Group 4 championship. Cosentino hasn’t stopped hitting since. His career numbers at Montclair have been consistently eye-popping. He is batting .419 with 54 hits in 129 career at bats. Equally impressive is the fact that Cosentino has struck out just 16 times in 154 plate appearances.
There have been encouraging developments of late for several former Diamond Jacks at the collegiate level.
Nick Maldonado and his Vanderbilt teammates are off to an incredible 12-2 start that has been bolstered by what is likely the top pitching staff in NCAA Division 1 baseball. The team has held opponents to a 2.52 ERA behind Nos. 1 and 2 starters Kumar Rocker (4-0, 0.00 ERA) and Jack Leiter (4-0, 0.45), a Delbarton grad. Maldonado has chipped in to the cause with a 0.00 ERA over five appearances and 6.1 innings. He has permitted no runs on just two hits and struck out eight and walked two. Batters are hitting .095 against Maldonado, a Seton Hall Prep grad and a longtime Diamond Jack. All three Vanderbilt sophomore stud pitchers are right-handed.
Brandon Hylton has put on a power display in the early going for Stetson, which is 11-6. The Ridge High grad is batting .260 with three HR and a team-high 13 RBI batting out of the clean-up spot or fifth spot in the order. He also has three doubles, a pair of triples and an OPS of .945.
Neil Ioviero, the Kean University coach, has captured career victory No. 700. Kean (3-1) opened the season last Friday with a sweep of New Jersey City University to give their 24-year mentor his 700th win.
Old Dominion freshman lefthander Joey DeChiaro survived a scare when he took a comebacker to his pitching hand on March 3 against East Carolina. DeChiaro, Hunterdon Central’s all-time victories leader, returned to the mound on Saturday against Ball State. While he surrendered three runs on three hits, he struck out four and walked one in closing out the final two innings of the Monarchs’ 10-5 victory. The 12-3 Monarchs have been a fun watch.
“The hand is doing pretty well,” says DeChiaro, who was in his second inning of relief against East Carolina when the comebacker caught him in the hand. “I thought my season was over. Everyone in the stadium thought I broke my hand. Our trainer asked me to move my fingers and, surprisingly, I could.”
DeChiaro very clearly remembers the sound of the ball hitting his hand. “It sounded like a gunshot,” he said. “Then a couple days later I’m back on the bump like it was nothing against a very good Ball State team. My velocity was there and I felt great. I think I’ll be back to my old self in a couple more days and ready to roll.”
Matt Toke, Seton Hall University’s fifth-year first baseman, is scrambling a bit but is still leading the team with seven RBI in 10 games.