Kaleb McGann drove in a run with a sacrifice fly for Whitehouse Post 284 in a Fall League game.
By Rich Bevensee
From the outside looking in, observers might say the Whitehouse Post 284 baseball club has very few flaws and will be difficult to beat. The team is unbeaten in four games in the Diamond Nation High School Fall League.
But coach Steve Farsiou and his players know better. Eight players left for college – four for Division 1 baseball programs – after the summer season, and it’s taking some time for the younger players to gather some rhythm, especially at the plate.
“What’s interesting is we had a big turnover after the summer,” Farsiou said. “We have a lot of young guys now, a lot of sophomores. But they’ve been very coachable. They’ve been doing the things we want them to do. We have a system in place – we’re not a grip and rip team, we’re going to do some things – and if they have an understanding of that, we’re going to be a tough game for anybody.”
The truth is, Whitehouse Post 284 has more than enough talent to muddle through its flaws, and that was the case on Tuesday evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Lefty Ryan Barry didn’t have his best stuff but pitched three shutout innings, and Post 284 scored only one of its five runs on a base hit, but the combined effort was enough to slow down Hillsborough Cardinal, 5-3.
Whitehouse Post 284 has outscored its four opponents 27-9 and is the only unbeaten team in the league.
“I think it will take a couple weeks to get used to. We’re at the start of the season so it’ll be a little slow, but once we get used to it I think we’ll get going because we have a lot of good guys,” said Hunterdon Central senior Jared Cassella, who had an RBI groundout to drive in the team’s first run. “Even though we’re all new, we just have that bond. At the first practice I felt it.”
Barry, a 6-foot, 175-pound senior at Chatham, threw 55 pitches over three shutout innings and gave up one hit and three walks and struck out five, mostly with a fastball which hovered in the low 80s.
It was his first appearance on the mound since early August, and the three walks (one per inning) clearly bothered the senior southpaw. Barry worked three ball counts to three batters in the first inning, but to his credit, his control improved to where he only reached three balls to one batter in each of the next two innings.
“I was very disappointed in my performance,” Barry said. “My control was off and I didn’t feel as good as I usually do. The last time I pitched a few innings was early August, and I think I was getting used to being back out there. I felt good but my hips were tight and that was hindering my delivery.
I need to work on being more consistent velocity-wise, and also putting on 10-15 pounds during the offseason.”
Barry was relieved by Hunterdon Central senior Ryan Schultz, who pitched two innings and gave up three unearned runs on three hits and a hit batsman while striking out two. After starting the sixth with a walk, Middlesex High senior Alfonso Esposito struck out the side to end the game.
Cassella, a 6-foot, 180-pound outfielder, bears the same hope as Farsiou that hitting will eventually turn around for Post 284. He entered the fall season having hit .320 with 21 RBI this summer.
“Basically I just have to stay confident,” Cassella said. “I didn’t get a hit for the first three weeks of the high school season and I came back and finished at .316,” Cassella said. “He (Hunterdon Central coach Kevin Cuozzi) told me to stay with it, that I wasn’t coming out of the lineup because he knew what I could do. It boosted my confidence a lot. It showed me that maybe I can do this.”
Whitehouse didn’t knock the cover off the ball against Hillsborough but did take advantage of scoring opportunities. Post 284 began the first inning when Andrew Nguyen singled, Aidan Kozak walked and Barry was hit by Hillsborough starter Graham Ross.
Cassella got Post 284 on the board with an RBI groundout, Kaleb McGann added another run with a sacrifice fly, and Esposito (pinch-running for Barry) scored on a wild pitch for a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the fourth, Schultz was about to escape his first inning of work unscathed after loading the bases to start the frame. He struck out the next two batters, but J.J. Lotierzo lofted an infield popup which somehow fell to the turf, and Hillsborough’s Shailen Patel and Matthew Westcott scored.
Whitehouse answered with a couple insurance runs in the top of the fifth. Logan Escamilla doubled to right and later scored from third, after an errant throw trying to nab Nguyen stealing sailed into the outfield. Kozak then drove in Nguyen with a single to right for a 5-2 lead.
Hillsborough added an unearned run in its half of the fifth when Anthony Heimold reached on an error and later scored on a Max Romanok groundout.
In the top of the sixth, Hillsborough cranked up the highlight film when Whitehouse loaded the bases with two out. Ryan Lundari slapped a sharp grounder up the middle and Hillsborough shortstop Cole Jara glided to his left to scoop the grounder and flipped it backwards to second baseman Nate Kipniss covering the bag.
For Hillsborough, Ross pitched the first two innings and surrendered three runs on two hits and two walks with two strikeouts. Evan Sabo pitched a scoreless third inning with a strikeout. Patel pitched two innings and yielded two runs (one earned) on three hits and one walk with one strikeout. Paul Steele pitched a scoreless sixth and gave up a hit and two walks and struck out one.