C.C. Kozak rips an RBI single in the second inning for Whitehouse Post 284.
By Rich Bevensee
There are times when Kaleb McGann is passing by an 18U baseball game on the way to his next assignment as a scoreboard operator at Diamond Nation in Flemington, and he stops to observe his teenage peers in action.
Inasmuch as McGann is a valued employee of the complex in his first year of employment, the players he’s watching could be served just as well by watching McGann in action.
On Tuesday evening at The Nation, McGann exhibited exceptional catching skills while going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI in leading Whitehouse Post 284 to an 11-1, five-inning victory over Mid-Atlantic Hurricanes Red in a Diamond Nation High School Fall League contest.
“It’s always fun to stop and watch, and I see it when I can, but you gotta’ work,” McGann said of passing through the complex when the wood bat tournaments are in progress. “It’s just fun to be around baseball.”
McGann, a senior at Hunterdon Central, was one of Whitehouse’s leading hitters on Tuesday. Cranford sophomore Brayden Fry singled, tripled and drove in a run. Josh Thompson, Troy Rabosky, C.C. Kozak and Anthony Petino each had an RBI single.
In all, the Whitehouse offense demonstrated admirable balance. Eight players had at least one base hit, eight drew a walk, and seven players had an RBI.
“I don’t know if I’ve been this pleased and this excited about a team in the fall or summer,” said Whitehouse coach Steve Farsiou, who also coaches the Post team through the American Legion summer schedule. “These guys have meshed very well. There’s a lot of new guys, and we have nucleus guys like Kaleb and Joey Nolan and Ryan Lundari.”
It was McGann’s first home run since hitting one for the FBA Jays this summer. His only other longballs were a pair of homers he hit for the Hunterdon Central junior varsity two years ago.
Farsiou was excited about McGann’s power display because it reinforced his belief that the 6-foot, 215-pound catcher is setting himself up for a big senior season when Hunterdon Central revs up play next spring.
With McGann behind the plate, Nick Augusta (Hunterdon Central) and Kozak (Middlesex) combined to allow just one run on three hits.
“Kaleb called a great game tonight,” Farsiou said. “He’s coachable and tough skinned. He knows there have been times I’ve gotten on him and he’s only worked harder. Some kids go south when that happens. He’s worked harder. He’s the type of kid who’s very coachable and can do anything you ask him. Central should be looking at him as a catcher.”
McGann’s heart is behind the plate, and he showed that Tuesday with above average receiving, framing and blocking, not to mention exceptional throwing ability down to second base.
McGann added that he may find himself at first base or in one of the corner outfield slots if he wants to stay in the Red Devils’ lineup. He has played first base for the Whitehouse squad to tune up for high school ball.
“I’m happy to play wherever,” McGann said. “Wherever (Central coach Kevin Cuozzi) needs me, I’m willing to play.”
McGann said the transition from catcher to first base has been a challenging one. After all, the positions couldn’t be more different than the sun and the moon.
Anthony Pettino dives back to first on a pickoff attempt in the fifth inning for Whitehouse Post 284.
“It’s a tough switch moving from less blocking to more picking,” McGann said. “Other than that, it’s about keeping the ball in front of you. I feel I’ve done pretty well. There have been a few rough stints but it’s been a fun switch and I’m available.”
“This kid has all the tools,” Farsiou said. “He can play multiple positions, he’s athletic, and he can run for a big dude. Him being versatile doesn’t surprise me at all.”
McGann plays with a dose of humility. He’s well aware that Hunterdon Central is a perennial power in New Jersey high school ball, and that he must possess a consistent bat to earn a spot in the starting lineup. That’s something he’s desperate to improve upon.
“I need to hit – I have to improve on it,” McGann said. “Last high school season I was not up to par like I am right now. I have to get more consistent with my average.”
Perhaps deciding the path of his next four years will lessen the mental load as he goes about sharpening offensive and defensive skills. McGann said he was relieved to have recently made a commitment to play for Division 3 program Susquehanna.
“The decision, more or less, takes all the pressure off,” McGann said. “I feel like it takes the pressure off me and lets me play how I play.”
While McGann shined behind the plate and beside it, Augusta and Kozak were shutting down Mid-Atlantic through five innings. Augusta, a senior at Central, pitched 2⅔ shutout innings and allowed two hits and no walks with three strikeouts. Kozak, a sophomore at Middlesex, allowed one run over the last 2⅓ innings. He yielded one hit and one walk and struck out four.
Thompson (Immaculata) got Whitehouse started with an RBI single in the top half of the first, McGann quickly followed with a two-run blast to left and Fry added an RBI single for a 4-0 lead.
In the second with the bases loaded, Kozak hit a liner off Mid-Atlantic pitcher Preston Martin for an RBI single, and two more runs scored on the play as a result of a throwing error for a 7-0 Whitehouse lead.
Petino stroked an RBI single in the third and Raboski did the same in the fourth to give Whitehouse a 9-0 cushion.
Mid-Atlantic finally broke through for a run in the bottom of the fourth when leadoff man Martin walked, stole second and scored on an infield error.
Whitehouse put the finishing touches on a mercy-rule ending by adding two runs in the fifth, as Politti knocked in a run on an infield grounder, and McGann picked up his third RBI when his chopper over the mound drove in Politti.