Montclair High School’s baseball team came this close to reaching the Greater Newark Tournament finals last season.

The Mounties dropped a 5-3 decision to eventual GNT champion Millburn in the semifinals. This year Montclair could face Millburn in the finals, on May 21 at Yogi Berra Stadium at Montclair State University.

Montclair is the second seed in this year’s tournament, while Millburn is the top seed.

In addition, upstart Montclair Kimberley is the 14th seed and aiming for an upset or two starting on Friday, May 6, at third-seeded Caldwell at 4 p.m. The Cougars were 9-2 at the end of last week.

The Mounties open up what they hope will be a run to the GNT title on Friday, May 6, at home against the winner of 20th-seeded Newark Academy versus 17th-seeded Barringer. Montclair was 10-4 as of last week, including a 4-0 win over Millburn on April 25 and a 4-3 victory over Seton Hall Prep, the fourth seed in the GNT, on April 11.

Montclair head coach Ron Gavazzi said one of the keys is to “establish a consistent plan in our mental approach.”

“Much of that plan is just getting any thoughts about results out of the way and getting in touch with what we can realistically control, namely our thoughts, having a plan on every pitch and really living in the process of playing the game and playing the game well,” Gavazzi said. Montclair’s success over the years, especially recently, puts a target on its back.

“Dealing with expectations can be a difficult trap to fall into,” the coach said. “We’ve had to deal with other people’s perceptions of us all season long.”

The expectations were raised even higher with the win over Millburn, which assured the Mounties’ receiving the second seed in the GNT. 

Montclair High School senior catcher Ethan Daddabbo will be critical to the Mounties’ chances of winning the Greater Newark Tournament. MHS is the second seed in the GNT and plays Friday, May 6, at home in the first round. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Montclair High School senior catcher Ethan Daddabbo will be critical to the Mounties’ chances of winning the Greater Newark Tournament. MHS is the second seed in the GNT and plays Friday, May 6, at home in the first round. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
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In addition, the win avenged an 8-3 defeat at the hands of the Millers on April 9.

“The difference in the second game versus Millburn is we threw way more strikes and played very well defensively,” Gavazzi said.

The game saw a breakout performance by freshman hurler Benjamin St. Pierre, who fired a complete game two-hitter while striking out three. 

“Ben had a good breaking ball working and was spotting his fastball,” Gavazzi said. “Ben has improved every day this season. He practices very hard and is willing to learn. He is extremely coachable.”

The rise of St. Pierre on the mound gives Montclair a quality one-two punch in pitching. The team’s ace, junior Anthony Anzaldi, had not given up an earned run in 23.2 innings as of the end of last week.

In addition to his work on the mound, St. Pierre has been pivotal with the bat, second in hits with 18 and second in RBI with a dozen. The biggest stick so far this season has been that of senior catcher Ethan Daddabbo, who leads the Mounties in hitting, .467, hits, 21, and RBI, 14. 

Montclair Kimberley head coach Ralph Pacifico has a young group highlighted by five freshmen who get plenty of playing time.

The longtime coach knows what his team will have to do to pull off an upset or two in the GNT. “It will be timely hitting and pitching,” Pacifico said.

In addition to the GNT game against Caldwell, the Cougars are the third seed in the Prep B Tournament. MKA will take on fourth-seeded Newark Academy in that tournament on Saturday, May 7.

Montclair Kimberley is expected to go with its top pitcher, junior Jack Amirata, against Caldwell. The other top pitchers for the Cougars are junior Max Nussbaum and senior John Testa.

Amirata is also one of the team’s top offensive producers, along with Testa and freshman catcher Luca Siegar.