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Montclair's junior catcher Ben Schreiber looks to make contact during plate appearance in this past Monday's SEC crossover game vs. Newark Academy at Woodman diamond. The Minutemen defeated the Mounties, 8-4, as struggles continued for the home team. (Photos by Wil Young)

Montclair shortstop Casey Nadison (12) chases down a Newark Academy baserunner before making tag during rundown between first and second base in Monday's SEC diamond action.

Montclair's freshman right-hander Makhi Booker releases pitch during his start vs. NA

Montclair second baseman Max Rosen looks for ball as Newark Academy's Harrison Glatt slides into second base during Monday's SEC crossover at Woodman diamond. Minutemen won, 8-4.

Inexperienced Montclair Perseveres
Against An Unrelenting SEC Schedule
By Steve Tober

MONTCLAIR- There are those very encouraging moments, such as a perfectly-executed 7-5-2 relay (from left fielder Deandre Smith to third baseman Harry McLaughlin to catcher Ben Schreiber) in order to nail a Newark Academy baserunner at the plate for the final out of the seventh inning, albeit in a 8-4 loss to the Minutemen this past Monday afternoon at the Woodman diamond.

But, there are even more instances of seemingly routine ground balls and fly balls not being handled with the necessary precision that has to be there in order to record outs, especially against some of the better teams in the Super Essex Conference.

With a 1-9 record after Wednesday's 15-5 loss to Seton Hall Prep in an SEC-American Division game, Montclair High’s predominantly young and mostly inexperienced baseball team is simply going to have to go through the rigors of gaining those required varsity innings against mainly solid SEC-American Division teams, such as state top-10 schools such as SHP and Millburn along with other consistently-strong programs from the likes of Bloomfield, Nutley, West Essex and Livingston.

Montclair received the 14th seed in the 82nd Greater Newark Tournament which seeded its field on Tuesday night and will travel to meet neighboring rival, third-seeded Bloomfield, on Saturday night, May 3rd.

“Some people can talk about us saying we’re not talented, but I don’t agree,” said MHS first-year head coach Anthony Genchi, standing on the Woodman diamond after a sloppily-played game against Newark Academy this past Monday. “There is a lot of talent here; it’s just experience we need and once we gain that - and I think we are – we’re going to keep getting better.

“The competition we’re playing, and the coaches we’re going up against, are first-rate in the SEC. It’s just going to be a journey for us, and we’re going to have to work hard to get to where we want to be.”

The Mounties started a freshman, the very athletic and hard-throwing Makhi Booker, on the mound vs. Newark Academy (4-6 and winners of three in a row) in the SEC crossover contest on Monday, and another, Matt McGoey, in right field.

Booker threw 73 pitches in three innings of work, going to deep counts on several batters, but - then again - that’s part of the learning curve for a young pitcher in terms of eventually being more efficient out there on the mound.

Even the Mountie upperclassmen, such as promising junior catcher Schreiber, and seniors Smith in left, McLaughlin at third and Seth Campbell at first, didn’t have a lot of varsity innings in the field coming into this season.

Second baseman and lead-off batter Max Rosen (1-for-3 vs. NA while reaching base three times and scoring a run) was a starter in the field last spring for a Greater Newark Tournament runner-up squad, but he did not always bat when he was a regular in the field.

Add in other inexperienced main cogs, such as junior Casey Nadison at shortstop, sophomore Isaiah Rodriguez in center, and key pitchers such as junior Darius Horne and sophomore Van Berg, and it is what it is: a very inexperienced but promising team competing in one of the toughest high school baseball divisions in the state.

Add in the fact that the team’s most talented player returning, junior outfielder-pitcher Nick Starpoli, has been limited so far to one game this spring due to an injury, and you have a ball club in dire need of that ever-elusive experience factor which is only gained while paying dues that –unfortunately – frequently also include defeats, including the heartbreaking variety, such as three recent 1-run losses to the likes of Millburn, Bloomfield and Nutley, including two of the painstaking, walk-off variety.

“We’ve had some tough losses, but we have to continue to realize that we’re playing teams that you can’t give four or five outs to in an inning because they will make you pay for that,” continued Genchi. “There are no easy games in this conference, whether it’s in the American Division or against a solid Liberty Division team like Newark Academy, which has talent and coaches very well.”

With all its lack of execution in the field vs. Newark Academy, MHS still found itself very much in the game in the bottom of the fifth against the Minutemen, trailing 7-4, but with runners on second and third with no one out and its No. 4-5-6 hitters (Schreiber, McGoey and Booker) coming up as the tying run was at the plate against hard-throwing NA reliever Eric Szlosek.

The Mounties had plated a run in the frame on successive singles by Rosen, McLaughlin and Nadison, but, Szlosek then was able to hunker down and strike out Schreiber, McGoey and Booker back-to-back-to-back and the rally was halted.

On the plus side is the fact there is definitely progress being made as players such as Schreiber continue to get more comfortable executing a game plan with his pitcher from behind the plate, Booker and McGoey get more innings on the mound and in the field, and veterans such as the unsung grinder Campbell continue to lead by example.

A program kid who is starting for the first time in his senior season, Campbell batted eighth in the order while playing at first base vs. Newark Academy and delivered two solid singles, including a hard shot to left in the bottom of the fourth to plate Smith with the Mounties’ third run and make it a close 4-3 ball game at the time in favor of the Minutemen.

“No one works harder than Seth, and he’s just continued to be that type of kid the past four years in our program,” said Genchi. “He’s taken his lumps when he’s had to be a guy coming off the bench in the past, but this year he finally got his shot and he’s been a big plus for us.”

Also, on a positive note, Starpoli should be back soon, at least to play the outfield and provide a valuable bat in the MHS lineup.

“We hope to get Nick back in about a week,” said Genchi. “He probably won’t pitch right away, but he’ll play in the field and he’s one of our experienced players so we’ll certainly look forward to getting him back out there again.”

From a program that climaxed its successful 8-year run under Ron Gavazzi by winning a GNT title in 2012, and then finishing as the runner-up to powerful SHP in last spring’s GNT final, the process of reloading will not be easy, but it’s one Genchi says he is in for the long haul.

“I believe in our program and our players’ abilities to keep getting better while continuing to learn and grow with more experience,” he said. “It’s a great group of kids, and I have tremendous support with a superb coaching staff, and we’re going to keep working hard each and every day to get better.”

Montclair sophomore center fielder Isaiah Rodriguez prepares to scoop up ball on NA base hit

Montclair's Seth Campbell, who went 2-for-3 vs. Newark Academy on Monday, swings away

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