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MKA's first-year head baseball coach Mike Sasso is enjoying his rookie season at helm of the Cougars and has strong leadership from his senior tri-captains, from left, Eli Solomon, Nolan Gyves and Zachary Goyal. The enthusiastic diamond mentor is seen addressing his team following a hard-fought 8-5 loss at West Essex on April 9. (Sideline Chatter photos)

Sasso Excited About His Promising Team
In First Season Guiding MKA Baseball

By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

MONTCLAIR- Baseball has been part and parcel of Mike Sasso’s life for most of his 29 years on earth and now he’s excited to have his first opportunity as a high school head coach while directing his alma mater Montclair Kimberley Academy.

The young Cougars, who have had their share of nip-and-tuck close contests in the early going of the 2024 spring season, epitomize the never-say-die attitude of their youthful head diamond mentor in simply persevering each inning regardless of the situation they may find themselves at the moment.

“This is a great group and they continue to fight on no matter the score,” said Sasso, a former standout pitcher at MKA and William Paterson University. “They have a great attitude and come ready to compete at a high level each and every day which has been tremendous to be a part of and we’re excited about what can be ahead for us.”

Sasso, who comes from a strong baseball family, served as mentor Ralph Pacifico’s assistant coach for six years. When Pacifico decided to retire from coaching after his superb 31-year career which also included more than 500 wins (510-325-1), his young, right-hand man was a logical choice to take over the reins this spring as he was named last fall as the program’s ‘interim’ head coach.    

MKA, which has just three seniors on the roster in tri-captains Nolan Gyves, Zachary Goyal and Eli Solomon, is still learning how to win the close ones as the 2024 season continues to take shape, but the Cougars have been consistently-persistent in the overall effort while wearing the highly-competitive game face of their leader in the dugout.

The Cougars led Caldwell 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning in their April 5th contest prior to being edged, 5-4; and were leading Bloomfield, 4-3 in the seventh inning of their April 1st season opener before falling 7-4 in 8 innings.

A big win in the early going came this past Monday (April 8) when MKA rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to overcome a 6-4 deficit and edge previously undefeated Verona, 7-6.

Then the next day at West Essex, a team considered by many to be a top title contender in the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division, the Cougars and Knights were tied, 3-3, in the fifth inning before a couple of key hits paved the way for an 8-5 West Essex triumph.

“We’re right there with whoever we’re playing on that particular day,” said Sasso. “And, I know once we get over the hump in more of these games we’re going to win our fair share.”

Among the top players for the 2024 Cougars are veteran performers including juniors such as pitcher-second baseman Alessandro Rizio, center fielder-pitcher Jake Rendino, shortstop Quinn Carlesimo, leftfielder Josh Katz and pitcher-infielder Brooks Barrett, who threw well in his start at West Essex.

The senior captains certainly do their share as well with Solomon emerging as the team’s very capable catcher, Gyves playing a solid third base and Goyal being a consistent outfielder.

“We have great leadership by our captains and they really set the tone for our younger kids,” said Sasso. “I feel fortunate to be going to work each day with this great group, that’s for sure!”

The love of baseball is simply a part of the lifelong makeup of MKA’s rookie head coach whose dad, Dennis Sasso, Sr., is a former standout 3-sport athlete at Essex Catholic and 2-sport (basketball and baseball) standout at St. Peter’s College before embarking on a highly-successful coaching career at both the high school and college levels.

He guided Middletown South to a pair of state championships, had a very successful stint at Nutley where he was also a teacher, and enjoyed a Hall of Fame career for 21 seasons at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Mike’s brother, Dennis Jr., a former standout catcher at James Caldwell High School, is currently the head coach at River Dell High School where he is a longtime history teacher. He also coached for two seasons at his high school alma mater with the Chiefs and before that had guided Newark Academy to a Non-Public B state tournament final during his two seasons with the Minutemen.

Their grandfather, Armond Sasso, Sr., was a highly-regarded head coach at both Essex Catholic and St. Benedict’s and their uncle, Armond Sasso, Jr., was a Hall of Fame athlete at Bloomfield High School before spending time in the Detroit Tigers minor league system.      

“I’m proud of what my family has accomplished in baseball whether it was my grandfather, uncle or my dad and now my brother, who is doing an excellent job at River Dell and had much success before coaching there,” said Mike Sasso. “I’m looking to do my best in my own coaching journey and I couldn’t be any happier than to be coaching and teaching at MKA.”

NOTES- Mike and his wife Sabrina, a Caldwell High School graduate, have a 2-year-old son Dante and reside in Caldwell…Sasso and former standout MKA and Rutgers pitcher Max Herrmann direct a baseball training company called ‘Iron 9’…Sasso is a teacher in Student Life and Activities for first and second graders at MKA’s Brookside campus…His dad Dennis Sr. has retired from full-time coaching but still gives private lessons in baseball training…Mike Sasso pitched for Iona College during his first two years after graduating MKA before transferring to William Paterson University where he became a solid addition to the Pioneers mound staff…MKA, which finished 11-15 (3-10 in the SEC Liberty Division) last spring, captured a state prep B tournament championship in 2022 with a 3-1 upset of top-seeded Rutgers Prep en route to a 17-7 season (10-1 in the SEC-Colonial Division).              

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The Sasso family has long been a big part of the New Jersey baseball scene. From left, are Mike, dad Dennis, Sr., and brother Dennis, Jr. as MKA faced Caldwell a few seasons back. Mike Sasso starred at MKA and was also an assistant coach for his mentor, Ralph Pacifico (above), for six seasons with Cougars. (Photos by John Kroeger and Gene Nann)

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