by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars baseball team (3-2) split its last two games, beating Glen Ridge at home, 5-4, but dropping a tough loss to West Essex on Saturday by a score of 9-4.

Saturday’s loss was especially rough on the Cougars’ pitching staff, as senior Gerrard Corbo lasted just a few innings, allowing six earned runs and four hits while also hitting three batters.

Coach Ralph Pacifico had to pull him and place junior right-hander Chris Lewis on the mound. Lewis fared better, pitching the rest of the game and allowing no runs during the last four innings of play.

“I thought [Chris] Lewis did a good job for us,” Pacifico said. “Coming in and eating up innings for us. We talk about this all the time. We have to have a good approach, start to finish. We can’t get behind early, especially by five runs.”
Pacifico expects Corbo to bounce back, and feels he was pressing a little bit.

“I think he needs to work a little slower. He was making some bad pitches, getting the ball back in record time and making the same pitch. I think half [Corbo’s] problem is he’s overthrowing a little bit. He just needs to stay within himself.”

While this was a disappointing outing, Pacifico has faith in Corbo.

“He was real good in Florida,” Pacifico said, referring to the team’s Spring Break trip to scrimmage in the Sunshine State. Every pitcher has a rough outing on occasion, but the Cougars have ample evidence Corbo can pitch.

Though Corbo had issues on the mound, he did a good job at the plate, going two for three with a pair of base hits and a stolen base. Fellow senior and first baseman Alex Rivlin also contributed with two hits, a run scored and a stolen base, and Angelo Weber, Robbie Hollander and Nico Corbo each contributed an RBI.

The Cougars took the lead initially when Chris Lewis scored in the top of the first, but the Knights responded with three runs in the bottom half of the inning as Corbo hit two batters and allowed two hits.

MKA clawed back with a two-run second, as Corbo got a base hit, then advanced on a bunt-single by Rivlin. A sacrifice fly by Nico Corbo scored his brother, and then second baseman Robbie Hollander bunted in Rivlin to tie the game, a play Pacifico pointed to as one of the better ones of the day.

The tie didn’t last, though, as the Knights scored six runs over the next two innings.

After Lewis came in and cleaned up the third, things settled down for the Cougars, but while they didn’t allow more runs and managed to get runners in scoring position a few times, they couldn’t plate them.

“I was disappointed with our at-bats,” Pacifico said. “We didn’t hit the ball well, and our approach was not good against a kid who wasn’t throwing very hard. We didn’t get the ball deep and we looked out of sorts the whole day.”

That has been unusual for the Cougars thus far this season, so Pacifico isn’t worried about their bats, feeling as though McLaughlin’s delivery was casuing issues.

“We just seemed a bit funked out by [McLaughlin’s) motion. Sometimes it seemed like it moved faster than the ball and I think that set them back a little bit.”

The hitting will come back around, he said.

“That’s been one of our strengths. … We need to get back to basics and work the count. Get pitchers to throw pitches so we see more. Our approach needs to be better moving forward and I’m sure it will be.”

While there were certainly things the Cougars need to work on, Pacifico was very happy with the overall demeanor of the team as well as the play of guys like centerfielder John Sweetwood and freshman Ben Ribicoff, both of whom stood out. All those things, in addition to moments like the squeeze play in the second inning, are things to build on.

The Cougars continue their season with a game at home on Wednesday, April 19, against Bloomfield Tech, then travel to Belleville on Friday, before having a pair of home games — Saturday against Dwight-Englewood and Monday against Caldwell — and facing Roselle Catholic on the road Tuesday afternoon.