Montclair baseball looking to get to GNT final
It's been a little more than 365 days and everything is different for the Montclair baseball team.
Last season at this time, the Mounties were considered one of the favorites to bring home the Greater Newark Tournament championship, the first for the program since 2019.
Instead, the second-seeded Mounties saw their hopes for a GNT title go up in smoke at the hands of 17th-seeded Barringer pitching in a 2-1 upset in nine innings in the opening round.
But this season, Montclair (11-8-1), who is the fourth seed, and not on paper as talented as the 2022 Mounties, will have a chance to reach the GNT final on Saturday, May 13 against top-seeded Millburn (19-2) at Seton Hall Prep at 11 a.m.
It was 2021 where Montclair was knocked out of the GNT in the semifinals by Millburn with a score of 5-3. But that season Montclair won the state sectional title and dropped the Group 4 state title to Middletown South. In addition, in that season current seniors, Anthony Anzaldi and Wyatt Fell were sophomores. Anzaldi pitched in the Group 4 final against Middletown South where they fell 6-0.
Against Millburn this season, Montclair has lost twice to the Millers, 9-0 on April 12 and 15-3 as recently as May 8. Neither game had Anzaldi on the hill.
For the Mounties to upset top seeded Millburn, they will need Anzaldi, who is the team's ace in 2023, to throw a flawless game like when the senior fired a two-hitter and did not allow a run while striking out 14 in the 8-0 victory at Caldwell on April 17.
The plan going into the recent GNT semifinal against fifth-seeded Caldwell was to put together a cobble of other Montclair pitchers and be able to save Anzaldi for one inning or not use him at all.
The result would be for the Mounties ace to be able to pitch Saturday against Millburn and hopefully to pitch in the GNT final that is scheduled for May 20.
Against Caldwell in this year's GNT quarterfinals, the plan for Montclair did not include a 7-0 deficit against the Chiefs in the sixth inning, but the Mounties offense singled and walked its way to nine runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to stun Caldwell.
And Anzaldi came in to shut the door in the top of the seventh inning to send Montclair to the semifinal matchup with Millers with a 9-7 victory.
As it turned out, Montclair head coach Ron Gavazzi's plan for Anzaldi has worked out so far.
For the Mounties offense against Millburn, the key will be their top hitter, sophomore Benjamin St. Pierre, who is the Montclair leadoff hitter. The sophomore is the Mounties top hitter at .452 batting average.
In addition, Montclair senior designated hitter Jonah Hacker has been hot at the dish. Hacker went 2-for-4 with two RBI in the GNT win over Caldwell and then added a 2-for-4 with three RBI performance in the 5-3 victory at Morris Knolls on Thursday, May 11.
Also, for the Mounties getting on base from the other sources will go a long way to win the semifinal game as the Mounties like to push the opposition and steal bases.
Montclair batters are expected to see Millburn ace, senior Steven Echavarria on the mound. Echavarria has an under 1.00 ERA (0.51) for the season while striking out 51 in 29 innings. Echavarria is 4-1 with the lone loss coming to Seton Hall Prep, a 3-0 defeat on April 21. In that game the Pirates got on board early, scoring all three runs in the first two innings.
And Anzaldi could match pitch-for-pitch with Echavarria with a 0.21 ERA while going 4-0-1 with the lone blemish a 2-2 tie with Seton Hall Prep in the season opener on April 3. The senior southpaw has 63 strikeouts in 33.1 innings.
For Anzaldi the toughest outs in the Millburn lineup might come from a pair of seniors, shortstop Robert Schneider and centerfielder Alex Wilson who both are hitting over .400. Wilson leads the team in RBI with 35 while Schneider has 29 runs scored.