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***Baseball 'Lifer' Mike Sasso is embracing the challenges of latest role as the first-year head mentor for high school alma mater as he guides the youthful MKA squad!

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***The Pat Sempier Foundation will hold its first annual Kicking Clinic for youngsters in grades 6 through 12 Saturday, June 8th in Montclair. See "Feature Articles"

***There will be a strong 24-team field including the best of Essex in Cedar Grove's upcoming Black & Gold Invitational. See "The Buzz"

 

Juniors Jack Epstein (23) and Max Garcia (10) are two of the youthful standouts to watch for talented West Essex team looking to impact on Essex County baseball scene in the 2024 season. Both had big hits in a hard-fought 8-5 victory over MKA on Tuesday, April 9th. (SC photos)

West Essex Is Taking A Patient Approach
While Striving To Impact On Essex Scene

By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

NORTH CALDWELL- Jack Epstein may bat eighth in the West Essex lineup but he’s as capable a hitter as the deep and talented Knights have to offer on what is a very promising young and experienced diamond squad this spring.

The junior leftfielder came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning with one out and two men aboard in what was still a very narrow 5-4 lead vs. a pesky Montclair Kimberley Academy team in Tuesday afternoon’s Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division contest.

After working a 2-2 count vs. MKA reliever Jake Rendino Epstein delivered one of the biggest hits of the game, a booming 2-run triple to provide the Knights with a 7-4 lead. He would then come home himself on his team’s second, well-executed RBI squeeze bunt in the contest, and the 8-4 lead would prove far more comfortable, especially when MKA added a run in the top of the seventh.

In the end it was a workmanlike 8-5 victory for West Essex (5-1 overall, 5-0 in the SEC-Liberty) while a young MKA team fell to 1-3 (1-2) in dropping its third close decision of the young season.

The Knights remained unbeaten in conference play with Thursday's 15-3 win over Bloomfield.

“We take it one at bat at a time, lock in on the approach for each pitch and keep the confidence you need to have in this game,” said Epstein., one of his team's heroes vs. MKA. “The ball looks a lot bigger in the zone and when go in with that approach, pitch by pitch and one thing at a time, there are chances for success.

“It’s really a team thing, because we all try to be patient yet ready to swing with authority when we see the pitch we feel we can hit well.”

Epstein also doubled to lead off a 2-run sixth inning when West Essex snapped a 3-3 tie and he came home on an RBI triple from lead-off batter Max Garcia, who felt he had to make up for an error he had committed the inning before which allowed MKA’s Josh Katz to reach first and eventually score the tying run at the time on a sacrifice fly by Alessandro Rizio.

Garcia, another junior in the Knights’ young lineup, made sure to get a big hit in his team’s next at bat, which at the time provided an insurance run for West Essex.

“After I came back to our dugout after making that error which led to a run I told a teammate that I promised to get on base and do something to help make up for what had happened,” said the Knights’ talented second baseman and leadoff batter. “What’s great about this team is that although we’re still young we all have had a valuable year of varsity experience and no matter what the result may have been in a previous at bat, or in the field, we all try to have a good approach at the plate with each at bat.”

Pitching-wise, the Knights have a deep and talented staff to work with, including Tuesday’s starter Drew Feuerstein (4 IP, 5 HA, 1 BB, 2 K’s, 4 R 3 ER, 71 pitches) who labored through a 32-pitch second inning when MKA scored two runs to erase an early 2-0 West Essex lead, but then settled down with efficient third and fourth innings, needing just 10 and 8 pitches, respectively, to retire the Cougars in rather rapid order.

Junior left-hander Aiden Burgos, who had earned an early-season victory in relief when he worked four innings vs. West Orange, came in to relieve Feuerstein in the fifth inning on Tuesday and earned another win in relief with two innings of 2-hit ball and two strikeouts.

Sophomore Jake Long worked the seventh inning and although he gave up a run also showed his ability on the hill.

“We have arms, no doubt about that,” said West Essex coach Joe Cardinale. “We like the ability of all the pitchers we send out there and we have guys we haven’t even used yet.”

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