by Andrew Garda

While the weather may have kept the Montclair Kimberley Academy baseball team off the field for its Tuesday game against Millburn High School, the Cougars are still off to a roaring start.

MKA has won its first two games of the 2017 season, hammering Bloomfield Tech 15-4 to open the season on Saturday, April 1, and then coming back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Belleville on Monday, April 3.

Coach Ralph Pacifico credits good defense and timely hitting for both wins.

It didn’t hurt that while North Jersey was buried in snow, the MKA baseball and softball teams were in Florida. Naturally, seeing the tough teams in their own division is a different experience, but Pacifico says seeing live arms was a good experience for his players as well.

They did return to a still-snowy Montclair, but the extra games — four scrimmages in just a few days — gave the coaching staff a chance to get a good look at who they have on the team.

Two things they have an abundance of are experience and talent.

Pacifico says this is a veteran team, with five or six juniors who have played since their freshman year as well as five seniors, three of whom contributed in 2016.

That’s a strong core of athletes to work with, and ones who won’t get rattled. It’s the sort of thing that keeps a team from getting shaken when they are down three runs after an inning and a half. It lets them rifle off six straight runs over the next four innings while shutting out the other team.

Of all the positions where veteran leadership and experience are critical. perhaps none is more so than pitcher, and MKA has quite a group of them.

Senior Alex Rivlin is one of the mainstays of the pitching staff, and Pacifico says he’s come a long way this offseason. Last year the Cougars exited the Greater Newark Tournament with an 11-1 quarterfinal loss to crosstown rival Montclair High School, during which Rivlin committed a big error.

Pacifico says it was a mistake Rivlin couldn’t let go of this offseason.

“I told him not to hold onto it. One ground ball wasn’t the reason we lost that game.”

By now, Rivlin seems to have put it behind him, just as he was able to put a shaky second inning behind him to throw seven strikeouts in the win over Belleville. Not only is he a good pitcher, Rivlin can also play third base.

Despite that rocky start, Rivlin threw 84 pitches over seven innings and allowed only five hits.

Pitchers Gerrard Corbo and Matt Sanger will also be critical to the success of this team in 2017.

Both seniors pitched well in the blowout win over Bloomfield Tech. Corbo pitched a lot in 2016 and led the team to a win over Morris Catholic in the NJSIAA Non-Public B quarterfinals.

Sanger and Corbo, both right-handed, allowed just one hit each, and a total of four runs, Corbo throwing 77 pitches across three innings.

Behind them are Chris Lewis, left-hander Angelo Weber, junior right-hander Abbay Bhandari and left-hander Rolando Quintana, who Pacifico says has tremendous ability but is unproven.

Helping to guide them each game is returning catcher Dominic Flocco.

“Dom is a big mountain of a kid with a strong arm, who hits the ball all over the field.”

Speaking of hitting, you can’t win if you don’t hit. Luckily, that’s something else this team does well. In two games the Cougars have totaled 22 hits and 21 runs.

Tuesday’s canceled game against Millburn would have been a good test, but MKA will now look toward Saturday and a matchup versus Newark East Side.

If they can stay focused, MKA should be able to keep the early season momentum going.