Montclair High School shows promise in comeback to tie Seton Hall Prep in opener
Montclair went toe-to-toe with county champs Seton Hall Prep in the season opener on Monday, and the young team gained some confidence by holding them to a tie.
After going down 2-0 to start the game, on the road at Seton Hall, the Mounties came back to score a run in the fourth inning, and then sophomore Benjamin St. Pierre came home on a sacrifice fly by junior Derek Lacey in the top of the seventh inning to tie the game at 2.
The game was called because of darkness in the top of the eighth inning.
For a Montclair baseball program that has a mainly inexperienced group after a large graduation class, it was what the doctor ordered.
The Mounties come into 2023 after a heartbreaking 2022 where they were upset in both the Greater Newark Tournament and the state playoffs. Both times they were done in by very good pitching performances, especially in the North 1 Group 4 tournament, where Montclair was the top seed and lost to 16th-seeded Hackensack in the first round. The defeat brought a crashing halt to what was a very good season, as the Mounties finished with an 18-8 record.
This season Montclair only has one field player returning, St. Pierre, who has moved from third base last season and started at second against Seton Hall. The sophomore is also the team's leadoff hitter. He smacked a double to lead off the game against the Pirates but was stranded at third.
St. Pierre can do it all, from the glove to the bat to pitching. He had four victories on the mound in 2022, with a lower-than-one ERA (0.76) and 24 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. With the bat he led the Mounties in RBI with 23. He was named to the All Super Essex Conference first team last season.
"Benjamin has improved in all areas of his game," Montclair head baseball coach Ron Gavazzi said.
The Mounties also have their ace on the mound back, senior Anthony Anzaldi, who struggled in the first couple of innings against Seton Hall before settling down. He went five innings, striking out seven and allowing one earned run. Last year Anzaldi had a lower-than-one ERA (0.81), struck out 60 batters in 43.1 innings and had four victories.
"Anthony has improved on his overall craft," Gavazzi said about the southpaw, who was also part of the All SEC American first team last season and will play first base when not pitching. "He has become a very smart pitcher, and also, he trusts his stuff."
While the field is inexperienced, there are a few on the hill who saw time in 2022. Along with Anzaldi and St. Pierre, senior Wyatt Fell is back after throwing 18 innings and registering a 2.33 ERA last year. Fell came in relief Monday to pitch 1.2 innings without allowing a run and striking out two.
Another returning hurler is junior Eli Rudall-Stulberg, who got an out in Monday’s game to help the Mounties come back. Two other juniors, Shea Goel and Finn Jones, will bolster the staff.
Gavazzi said last week before the season opener that the lineup and who gets playing time are still in flux.
Against Seton Hall, Lacey replaced St. Pierre at third base while freshman Patrick Van Note was at shortstop and Goel held down first base.
In the outfield, starting against Seton Hall were, from left field to right, sophomore Sam Dorian, junior Mack Mathesin and junior Jesse Blau. Mathesin was 1-for-3 with an RBI. Junior Sam Sullivan will also get playing time in the outfield.
Starting behind the plate against the Pirates was junior Nate Ullman. Junior Owen Snyder will also see time at catcher.
Getting innings in the middle infield will be senior Danny Walker. On the corner, a pair of seniors, Jonah Hacker and Max Troy, will see time at third and first, respectively.
Another senior, Jonah Schmeltz, will also get playing time this spring.
In terms of the Greater Newark Tournament and the SEC, the Mounties will have to get by the likes of Seton Hall, Livingston, Caldwell and Millburn.
The Mounties take on Livingston April 8 (11 a.m.) and Millburn April 12 (4 p.m.) on the road. There is also a rematch with Seton Hall at home on April 19 (4 p.m.).