Montclair Kimberley baseball recipe: Young team, plus no home field, equals two titles
The Montclair Kimberley baseball team came into the 2022 season without a home and with a group of freshmen on the roster.
The school decided to replace the grass field with a multipurpose turf field at Montclair Kimberley Middle School, home of the baseball and softball teams, and in turn the two programs were forced to find temporary homes this year.
The Cougars baseball squad would be playing all road games, while practice would be at West Orange High School. MKA would play a couple of games at West Orange, making it the de facto home field.
In addition, the Cougars had four freshmen who would see heavy innings this season.
Those ingredients don't bode well, but MKA made the best of it and even collected some hardware.
The Cougars would finish with a 17-7 record while winning the Super Essex Conference Colonial Division and the Prep B Tournament titles.
"Overall I think the kids played really well, especially with the adversity of not having a home field and a lot of young kids," said Montclair Kimberley head coach Ralph Pacifico.
The Cougars won a share of the SEC Colonial with Barringer and defeated Rutgers Prep to win the Prep B Tournament.
With a share of the Colonial title, they will move up a division and play in the Liberty Division next year.
"We're very happy," Pacifico said about the move to Liberty, which also will have West Orange, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge and Verona. "It's good for us and a lot less travel."
The key for the Cougars this season was team defense and timely hitting.
Pacifico said the squad’s best-played games came in the Prep B Tournament. In the semifinals the Cougars came from behind to win 8-7 at Gill St. Bernard's. And then they held on to upset Rutgers Prep, 3-1, in the title game.
In the Colonial Division, the season opener set MKA up, as it defeated Barringer, 6-1. "It was a nice win early," Pacifico said.
Helping to lead the charge this year were four players named to the All SEC Colonial first team, senior John Testa, junior Jack Amirata and a pair of freshmen, Luca Siegar and Quinn Carlesimo.
Testa was a leader on the team, solid at shortstop, a demon on the base paths and one of the top pitchers for MKA. He had 37 stolen bases, scored 33 runs and hit .464, but there were also the intangibles.
"He was a great leader by example," Pacifico said, adding that Testa was always on an even keel. "He would never get too big or too low … He was a threat on the base paths and played flawless shortstop."
Amirata smashed a key home run in the win over Rutgers Prep and also pitched in the big games, where he had a 1.09 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched. The junior was also a top hitter, as he batted .418 with 17 stolen bases and led the Cougars with four home runs.
"I think he hit the ball well all year," Pacifico said, adding about his pitching: "His location and velocity of his pitches were good and only got better."
Siegar excelled behind the plate and showed promise with the bat. "One of the best freshman catchers that I have coached and seen in 20 years," the coach said. "He's got a strong arm and great upside."
The other top freshman on the 2022 Cougars was Carlesimo, who was one of the top defensive second basemen in the SEC while being one of the top offensive producers for MKA. Carlesimo’s 23 runs scored and 22 hits were among the tops on the team.
"I think he had only one error at second base, and that's insane," Pacifico said.
On the All SEC Colonial second team was senior Michael Bronstein, junior Max Nussbaum and freshman Jake Rendino.
Bronstein contributed on offense, but it was his play in the outfield that brought him all-division honors. "He was solid in the field and a leader on the team," the coach said.
A player to look forward to in 2023 is Nussbaum. Pacifico said that Nussbaum will be dropping competitive skiing and concentrating on baseball. He had a 3.20 ERA on the mound and could be one of the team's best pitchers next season.
"I think he did a great job later in the season," Pacifico said. "I think he realized that he can play baseball in college."
Rendino’s strength this season was his speed and play in the outfield. "He gets down the line real quick," the coach said. "He made some great catches in the outfield and limited runners from taking an extra base."
Junior outfielder Nic Lembo was pegged for All Colonial honorable mention. Lembo hit .368 and could be counted on to, at the very least, push runners over. "He seldom struck out and always put the ball into play," Pacifico said.