Champions! Montclair Kimberley baseball stuns in Prep B finals
Montclair Kimberley’s baseball team members were unfazed when they came into the Prep B championship game at Diamond Nation in Flemington on Monday night, May 16.
The third-seeded Cougars were facing top-seeded Rutgers Prep, a team that they lost to, 17-1, a little more than a month ago (April 12) in a game that only went five innings.
MKA senior John Testa had a philosophical notion of how to look at the lopsided loss and the title game.
“It’s baseball,” Testa said. “You can screw up one game, and then have a completely different game the next day.”
And with that attitude, Montclair Kimberley combined some timely hitting, key punch-outs by their pitchers and some defensive gems to back up the pitchers.
All of that mixed into a potion that resulted in a stunning 3-1 Cougars victory over Rutgers Prep. It was their first New Jersey Prep championship since 2009, and head coach Ralph Pacifico's 495th career win.
What is even more amazing for this season is that the baseball team has played all of its games away, as a new turf field is being installed at its home at Montclair Kimberley Middle School.
Junior Jack Amirata knew that MKA would face Rutgers Prep in the Prep B Tournament. “We had this game marked on our calendar,” Amirata said. “This win means a lot, especially after losing 17-1.”
Amirata also had a simple philosophy coming into the final. “Just business,” he said. “We wanted to come in and take care of business.”
Montclair Kimberley raised its record to 13-6 and very well could face Rutgers Prep again in the Non-Public B tournament that starts next week.
For the Prep B final the combination on the mound of Amirata and Testa was able to shut down a Rutgers Prep offense that scored 17 runs against them in April. The two were not at their best, as they dished out nine walks, but the both took care of business by getting that key out in each inning.
Amirata led the Cougars’ offense, going 2-for-4 with two RBI, including a solo home run in the first inning for a 1-0 Montclair Kimberley lead. That quite possibly was the game’s biggest hit — he smacked a fastball from Rutgers Prep pitcher Zach Fronio over the right field wall.
The home run not only gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead, it broke the stigma of the lopsided April loss, and Testa knew that. “It definitely set the tone,” he said.
The Cougars’ defense made the necessary fielding plays, including a key 4-6-3 double play in the bottom of the fourth inning that maintained MKA’s 2-1 lead.
And junior right fielder Nic Lembo had Amirata's back when he made a great catch at the wall to end the bottom of the second inning.
Cougar junior third baseman Max Nussbaum added to the defensive gems when he made a good play to throw out a runner at first to end the bottom of the sixth inning.
Testa did a reset after he got the last two outs of the fourth inning. “After the first inning [I pitched], I went into the bullpen to figure things out,” he said.
He got better as the game went on, including setting down Rutgers Prep one, two, three in the bottom of the seventh to clinch the title. “I was hitting my spots and had good command of my pitches. My changeup was working,” he said.
Another key element was that both Amirata and Testa did a great job of putting the clamps on Rutgers Prep’s Andrew Parisi, who was 1-for-2 on the night after going 3-for-3 with eight RBI, including a home run, in the first game between the two teams.
After Rutgers Prep tied the game at one in the bottom of the second inning, MKA designated hitter Eli Solomon smacked a hit between second and shortstop to score Lembo from second base and hand the Cougars a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning.
Amirata gave his team some insurance in the seventh inning as he slashed a pitch between center and right fields for a double that scored center fielder Jake Rendino from second base for a 3-1 lead.
But Montclair Kimberley never would have been in position to win the Prep B title if not for its comeback in the semifinals.
The team was down to its last strike against Gill St. Bernard’s on Thursday, May 12.
With runners on second and third, Lembo was facing a two-ball-and-two-strike count.
He got enough of Gill St. Bernard’s pitcher Logan Mote’s next pitch, a fastball, and dropped it between the Knights’ shortstop and center fielder.
The hit scored Testa and freshman shortstop Quinn Carlesimo from second and third to give the Cougars an 8-7 lead.
“This is what you dream about,” said Lembo, who was 3-for-4 on the day with three RBI and two runs scored.
Montclair Kimberley would hold off second-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s in the bottom of the seventh inning to preserve the 8-7 victory.
The Cougars came back after being down 7-4 in the fifth inning to score four unanswered runs.