Jersey Blues Expect to Compete For Title
By Mike Ready
LINCROFT – The crack of the bat is a welcomed sound after the brutal winter this area endured and the sight of Brookdale players shagging fly balls in the outfield is sure sign spring is around the corner.
The Jersey Blues are coming off a successful but disappointing 2013 season after winning 38 games, finishing fourth in Region XIX play, but falling to Camden in the NJCAA Region XIX semifinals, 3-2.
Head coach Johnny Johnson, entering his 16th season, won his 500th game as leader of the Blues program last season and he expects to field another very competitive team this season. However, he’s faced with the task with replacing a number of very productive players from last season’s squad.
Gone is first-team NJCAA All-American shortstop Dean Wilson (.422, 33-RBI, 65-H, 13-2B, 1.022 OPS) now playing for DI Oral Roberts University and third-team All-American first baseman/pitcher Dave Egeland (.328 2-HR, 35-RBI, 7-1 2.66 ERA, 59-K in 50-IP) now pitching for Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Also moving on was first-team Region XIX center fielder C.J.Pratt (.401, 3-3B, 34-RBI, 43-46 SB) who broke Brookdale’s all-time stolen base record, and second-team Region XIX second baseman Mike Guiffre (.365, 33-RBI, 5-HR, 12-2B, 1.019 OPS) who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians and is now playing in their farm system.
Additionally, Johnson must replace pitchers Ryan Sullivan (4-3, 1.84 ERA, 39 S/O in 45 IP), Paul Palladino (3-0, 2.49 ERA) and lefty Cory Brown (4-1, 3.00 ERA).
Regardless, Johnson is confident that this year’s group of players can be as good or even better of last season’s team.
“I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen so far,” Johnson said. “We’ll be counting on our returners to play up to their abilities and our newcomers have shown they can play. This is one of the closes knit teams we’ve had in years. Some of the talent level may not be what it was in the past, but I think it’s a better overall team then we’ve had in the past.”
Brookdale returns three quality starters, added an experienced transfer and brought in a 6-foot-6 inch 230-pound freshman to form what could potentially turn out be a very dominating staff. Johnson feels his pitching is the strength of the team.
Back is sophomore Tommy Guinta, a 5-foot-9 inch lefty from Marlboro High School. Guinta was impressive out of the bullpen early in the season and stepped in as a starter later in the season when injuries hit the staff. He started four games – one complete game - going 3-1 in 37.2 innings with a 1.84 ERA. He struck out 40 and walked 11 hitters.
6-foot-2 inch lefthander Jake Winston, a 2011 first-team All-Shore pick from Manalapan High School and Elam College transfer returns to the mound for the Blues after posting a 2-1 record with a 3.82 ERA in seven starts. He struck out 32 batters in 37.2 innings of work.
Sophomore righty Tim Rogers, a 2012 second-team All-Shore selection from Manchester High School, was called on to start the latter part of last season and started three games going 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings. He struck out 20 batters and walked only five.
Billy Worswick, a 6-foot, 194-pound righty from Governor Livingston High School and transfer from the College of New Jersey will start for the Blues after going 2-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 13 appearances for the Lions.
The Blues fifth starter will be 6-foot-6 inch 230-pound lefty flamethrower Michael Pepio out of Colts Neck High School. Johnson thinks he could be a ‘good one.’
Travis Rudic, a 2012 first-team All-Shore selection at Freehold Boro High School, will take on the closer role this season after filling in at first base and third base last season. According to Johnson, he has one of the most powerful arms on the team and possesses a wicked curveball.
The set-up role hasn’t been determined yet with a number of young pitchers vying for the position. Johnson will have a better idea who that will be when the team returns from its upcoming 12-game Florida swing.
The outfield returns four player including third-team All-GSAC left fielder Nick Vitale. Vitale, a 2011 first-team All-Shore pick from Brick Township High School, hit .342 last season for the Blues with 28 RBI, 15-2B, 3-3B with a .945 OPS.
Sophomore Jon Roszel (Manchester H.S.) will be back in right field after posting some nice numbers last season before being injured and missing the last part of the season. He hit .378 with 16 RBI, HR, 9-2B, and 6-3B. Although injured late in the season, Roszel was still voted third-team All-GSAC.
Kyle Golla (Allentown H.S.) gets the starting nod in centerfield after posting a .361 BA in 49 plate appearances with 2-2B and 11 RBI.
Returner Dominick Orlando (Saint John Vianney) will see a lot of playing time as the fourth outfielder. As a freshman, he hit .361 in 36 plate appearances with 13 hits.
“All these guys (outfielders) have good leadership and know how to play,” Johnson said. “Their maturity level is where it should be as sophomores’ and I expect them all to have big years.”
Sophomore Ryan Kirman, a third-team All-GSAC pick last season, is back at third base after having a solid freshman campaign when he only committed three errors. He batted .277 with 2-HR, 7-2B and 24-RBI.
At shortstop is freshman Spenser Young, a 2013 first-team All-Shore pick at Jackson Memorial High School.
“Spencer’s a kid I can count on making the routine play at short,” Johnson said. “He works hard, is a great practice player and is just getting better and better.”
Sophomore returnees, Troy Reynolds (Brick Township H.S.) and Cosmos Iacobellis (Marlboro H.S.) will split time at second base after both seeing spot duty last season. Iacobellis hit .308 in 13 at bats while Reynolds hit .214 in 14 at bats. Johnson sees both maturing into solid position players.
First base will be manned by the 2011 Ocean County Player of the Year, Tim Carney (Brick Township H.S.). Carney slugged 12 home runs in 2011 for the Dragons; two shy of the Shore Conference record, and is expected to be a major home-run threat for the Blues. Carney spent a year at Temple University before deciding to move back to the area. Vitale and Carney played on the same team at Brick Township in 2011.
“Carney’s a big-time player,” Johnson said. “He was a top home run hitter and pitcher in high school and he’s looking as good as he was back then; he could be a possible draft pick.”
Freshman Justin Morgan, a 2013 third-team All-Shore pick at Manasquan H.S. will be the primary designated hitter and will spell Kirman at third periodically.
“Justin has one of the best swings on the team; he’s going to be a good one,” Johnson said. “He’s another can’t miss. You tell him one thing; he works on it and keeps getting better and better. He’s third baseman but he’ll get most his at bats at DH with Kirman at third.”
Catching for the Blues will be 6-foot-2 inch sophomore righty Vin Tranchina, a 2011 second-team All-Shore selection at Red Bank Catholic and a St John’s University transfer. Tranchina was part of a three-man catching rotation last season hitting .328 in 64 at bats. He slugged one home run and a triple and drove in drove in 18 runs.
Brookdale opened its 2014 season with a 16-5, 6-1 doubleheader sweep of Delaware Technical Community College. Tim Rogers and Jake Winston got the wins. In the first game Rudic went 4-for-4 with four RBI, Kirman 3-for-4 with a double and RBI and Tranchina was 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI.
In the second game, Kirman was 1-for-3 with a double and RBI, Tranchina went 2-for-3 and a RBI, Iacobella had 2-for-three day with two RBi and Young had a single and RBI in three at bats.
The Blues home opener - field conditions permitting - is scheduled for a Tuesday, 3-11-14 at 3:00 p.m. against Union County. Following the game, the Blues will embark on a 12-game Florida road trip.