Montclair Kimberley baseball starts strong, faces tournament challenges
Montclair Kimberley baseball head coach Ralph Pacifico is content with his team’s start to the 2022 season, but he knows his squad has not been tested yet.
After defeating Belleville, 7-3, on Saturday, April 30, in a Super Essex Conference crossover game, the Cougars stood at 9-2, but the toughest part of the schedule will start this weekend.
“With all due respect to the teams we’ve played, we really haven’t played anybody yet,” said Pacifico, whose toughest opponent might have been Rutgers Prep, which was 10-2 as of last week and defeated the Cougars, 17-1, on April 12.
Montclair Kimberley has two crucial tests, Friday, May 6, at Caldwell in the Greater Newark Tournament and Saturday, May 7, against Newark Academy in the Prep B Tournament.
The Cougars are the 14th seed in the GNT; Caldwell is the third seed. In the Prep B Tournament, MKA is the third seed and Newark Academy is the fourth seed.
The Cougars are road warriors for the entire 2022 season, as a new turf field is being put down at their home at Montclair Kimberley Middle School.
“It sucks,” Pacifico said. “My wife is happy because I come home late,” he joked.
In addition to playing all games on the road, MKA is practicing at West Orange High School, at 6 p.m. on practice days.
Overall, the team has taken it in stride: “They really have been good about it,” the coach said.
Pacifico knows how inexperienced his team is this season, with five freshmen getting playing time.
“We’re really young,” he said, “but I think the important thing is that the kids are giving all they can.”
In the race for the SEC Colonial Division title, the Cougars are tied with Barringer for first with a 6-1 mark. MKA defeated Barringer, 6-1, in the season opener on April 1 and dropped a 5-1 verdict to Barringer on April 22.
One of the reasons for the success this season has been junior Jack Amirata, who leads the Cougars with a .461 batting average and has a dozen hits. “I just like to keep it simple and hit it down the middle,” Amirata said.
He’s also MKA’s top pitcher, giving up only two earned runs in 14.1 innings and whiffing 22 batters. He has three of the team’s nine victories.
Amirata said that he added a curve ball to his repertoire this off-season.
His best game on the mound so far was an 8-2 victory over Newark Academy on April 9, when he fired a one-hitter in 5.1 innings while striking out nine. “My fastball was blowing away the hitters,” he said. “My change-up is my get-out pitch.”
Against Belleville, Amirata went 1-for-3 and pitched the last inning to secure the 7-3 win over the Bucs.
Senior John Testa threw 4.1 innings to pick up the victory, giving up one earned run and striking out two.
After a shaky first inning where Belleville scored two runs, Testa settled down the rest of the way, and Zach Goyal and Amirata finished the game on the mound to get the win.
Freshman center fielder Jake Rendino went 2-for-4 with two RBI to lead the Cougar bats.