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West Point-bound senior shortstop Anthony Giachin is a standout for the Newark Academy baseball team which carries nine-game winning streak into Tuesday's Non-Public, North B state sectional quarterfinals vs. Eastern Christian at the Livingston-based private school. (photo courtesy of NA)

Dennis Sasso, Jr. has done solid job of guiding Newark Academy in his second season as coach for Minutemen. (Photo by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

Newark Academy Playing Well
Fortified By SEC-American
By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

There was an early point in the season when Newark Academy, at 0-6 out of the gates, could have stayed in a negative direction won-loss-wise; however, fortified by its day-to-day tribulations in the Super Essex Conference’s top division there was bound to be a turnaround based on the fact the Minutemen were simply better than their record indicated, and the positive results would eventually come especially with both the prep B and NJSIAA Non-Public B tournaments looming.

And, the upswing happened as Newark Academy (14-9 overall, 7-7 in the SEC-American Division) moved to 5-9 on the season and then embarked on what is currently a 9-game winning streak that has included capturing the 2017 prep B tourney championship as the Minutemen are now poised to take on Eastern Christian at home Tuesday in the Non-Public, North B state sectional quarterfinals.

“It goes without saying that the SEC American has more than adequately prepared us for playing at this point in the season,” said Newark Academy’s second-year head coach Dennis Sasso, Jr. “The league has such tremendous depth and every team has to bring its ’A’ game every day.

“Each day we see a good arm, a good lineup, and a good coach pushing the buttons. I really enjoy and appreciate the daily challenge of it. Almost every game is a one- or two-run difference, so it gets teams ready for the type of play you'll see in the state tournament.”

In a Non-Public, North B state tourney section where second-seeded St. Mary’s of Rutherford appears to be the team to beat, fourth-seeded Newark Academy could very well be the pick to reach the Tuesday, June 6 th sectional final based both on its resume and talent quotient as the Minutemen prepare to host 12 th-seeded Eastern Christian on Tuesday (May 30) on their Livingston campus.

“I do know that Eastern Christian has traditionally been a good small school program, but we've tried to focus more on how we play as opposed to who we play,” said Sasso, Jr. “It's safe to assume that if teams are playing at this time of year, there's a good reason for it, so what we're really trying to emphasize is continuing to throw strikes, stay sound on defense, and maintain the aggressive offensive approach we've had in the second half of the year.

“We just want to play as consistently as possible.”

And consistency has been a definite trademark for Newark Academy since sporting a 5-9 record just three weeks ago.

While improving to a current 7-7 mark in the tough SEC-American, the Minutemen stormed through the prep B tourney, knocking off a talented Pennington, 10-0, in the final played at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

Since Non-Public B teams that are members of both the NJSIAA and NJISAA (New Jersey Independent Schools Athletic Association) have the opportunity to play in two association tournaments, plus if your school resides in Essex County there is also the Greater Newark Tournament, the Minutemen have plenty of opportunities to play tourney games.

“I think it's important for us to perform well in any tournament, and we're privileged to be able to participate in three of them,” continued Sasso, Jr. “I think we were all a bit disappointed in our GNT performance (a tough 3-2 loss to Verona in the first round), but we were fortunate to be able to get right back in the saddle with the Prep B tournament. As the six seed, we had to go on the road for all three of our games, but we were able to run the table with a 1-0 victory over Princeton Day, an 8-2 victory over Rutgers Prep (who won the Somerset County Tournament), and a 10-0 victory over Pennington in the final. It's given us a lot of experience, and just like every other team that's still alive in the states, once you're in it you want to win it.”

It’s a Newark Academy ball club that has several ingredients that translate into success, especially in the latter stages of May when the most important games are played; and, as is the case with success at any level of baseball, it usually starts with solid pitching.

“Everything for us really begins and ends on the mound,” said Sasso, Jr. “Our pitching has really been the glue for us all year, and on the season our staff has an ERA of 2.64. Matt Ciccone, Anthony Giachin, Lucas Rich and Will Hutchinson have been our big four, but we've gotten huge contributions from Andrew Wyshner and Bradley Simon as well. Our defense has been very sound all year, and like most teams our strength has been up the middle with Ben Kany behind the plate, some combination of Giachin, Ciccone, and Simon in the middle infield, and Aman Patil in center. Kany, Giachin, and Patil have really stood out defensively. Both our infield (Wysnher at third; Rich/Hutchinson at first) and outfield corners (Nick Dressler and Jack Szlozek) have been super reliable.

“Offensively, it took us a little bit of time to come around this year, but now we've got a lineup in place that provides us with some balance. Anthony Giachin (.364, 12 extra base hits, 17 RBI, 22 runs) is rounding into his usual form. As our leadoff hitter, we go as he goes, and it's not a coincidence that our offense has heated up with him in the second half of the year. Matt Ciccone (.294, 17 RBI, 20 runs), Ben Kany (.353, 12 RBI) and Will Schwartz (.293, 15 RBI) have provided a solid middle of the lineup, and Lucas Rich has given us tremendous depth towards the back half. We've also had huge pinch-hit appearances from Chris Pyo and Schwartz.”

NOTES- Newark Academy reached the Non-Public B state finals in Toms River in both 2012 (being edged by Marist, 11-10 for the title) and 2015 (losing to Holy Spirit, 9-4, in the title tilt)...The Minutemen were 13-12 last spring in Sasso, Jr.'s first year as head coach...Sasso, Jr. is the son of former Fairleigh Dickinson University head baseball coach Dennis Sasso and older brother of current William Paterson University senior pitcher and co-captain Mike Sasso, who played his scholastic baseball at MKA...Giachin, who is headed to West Point, has a 2-3 mound record but a fine 2.85 ERA, while Ciccone is 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA, Hutchinson, 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA, and Lucas Rich, 3-0 and 2.21....After starting the season at 0-6, Newark Academy defeated Columbia, 10-4, April 18, for its first win. The Minutemen are scheduled to host Columbia in a second SEC-American Division game on Wednesday, May 31.

Non-Public,  North B state tournament:

First Round:

9-Morris Catholic 6

8-DePaul 0

 

12-Eastern Christian 5

5- Marist 2

 

4-Newark Academy 14

13-Queen of Peace 0

 

6-MKA 12

11-Dwight-Englewood 1

 

10-Morristown-Beard 7

7-Gill St. Bernard’s 1

 

Quarterfinals, Tuesday, May 30:

Morris Catholic at 1-St. Anthony

Eastern Christian at Newark Academy

MKA at 3-Hudson Catholic

Morristown-Beard at 2-St. Mary’s (Ruth.)

Semifinals: Friday, June 2

Section Final: Tuesday, June 6

Group Final: Saturday, June 10

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Newark Academy's hard-hitting Anthony Giachin is batting .364 with 12 extra base hits and 17 RBI this spring. (photo courtesy of NA)

 

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