2008 MIDDLESEX COUNTY REVIEW
All-Middlesex Baseball: 2008 REVIEW
BY JOSH ROSENFELD (Star Ledger)
Player of the year: Jared Shukis firmly established himself at the plate last season when he earned All-Middlesex County honors after batting .443 as a sophomore outfielder.
It was the Edison junior's emergence as a dominant pitcher as well this season that earned him the distinction as the county's player of the year.
The right-hander compiled a deceiving 4-3 record, tossing a one-hitter and a two-hitter in defeats to Old Bridge, with a 1.30 ERA, striking out 64 while walking 23 in 48‰ innings. His improvement on the mound was evident immediately as his first three starts consisted of a one-hitter and two two-hitters.
``I had a lot more control and felt more confident in myself pitching,' said Shukis, who was 2-1 with a 5.27 ERA a year ago. ``I wasn't worried about throwing the ball by everyone. I knew that our team was so strong that if they hit the ball they'd make the play.'
While his pitching improved, it certainly didn't detract from his ability at the plate. He batted .481 with a monstrous .886 slugging percentage, collecting eight doubles, three triples, six home runs and a whopping 42 RBI in 79 at-bats.
``The numbers look nice,' Shukis said, ``but I still don't feel like I'm hitting as much as I can. I feel like I can do better.'
Shukis, who bats third, is quick to credit the presence of classmate Steve Nappe (6-4, 250) behind him in the lineup for preventing teams from pitching around him.
``Nappe's such a big kid, everyone's so afraid to pitch to him,' Shukis said of the junior third baseman, who batted .372 with five homers and 23 RBI. ``Every time he hits it's a rocket somewhere, on the ground, in the air. It doesn't matter, it's going somewhere.'
With such success on the mound and at the plate one would think Shukis is facing a difficult decision as to which to concentrate on, but he's got that figured out.
``I'll definitely go to college as a hitter, not as a pitcher,' Shukis said. ``If they want me to pitch I'll definitely pitch but I think hitting is going to get me further in life than pitching will.'
Team of the year: St. Joseph compiled a 19-10 record playing one of the state's toughest schedules, with 10-run victories over Immaculata, ranked third at the time, and Staten Island powerhouse Tottenville. The Metuchen school also defeated Seton Hall Prep, ranked fifth at the time, and fell to No. 1 Don Bosco Prep while facing the gauntlet in the Greater Middlesex Conference's loaded Red Division.
While that record may have kept St. Joseph out of the Top 20 all season, it certainly toughened it up for its run to the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title.
Balance was a key factor for St. Joseph, which did not have a .400 hitter but had seven players hit at least .300. Senior Sean Hille (6-2) anchored the staff with ample support from junior Joey Esposito (5-0).
``We knew we were a pretty good team but we came out the first day and South Brunswick blew our doors off,' said coach Paul Esposito, no relation to Joey. ``To get off to an 0-2 start was a tough hit for us and it took us awhile to get feeling good about ourselves again.'
St. Joseph has all summer to savor that feeling.
Coach of the year: Ask first-year coach Tom Hennessy to explain how Colonia improved from a 6-16 a year ago to 13-8-2 this season and he'll have a lot of answers.
He'll mention the development of Dave Masarik (4-3, 2.20 ERA) into a front-line pitcher, the emergence of senior lead-off hitter Nick Valente, who played junior varsity ball as a junior, and the leadership supplied by infielders Mike Monaco and Joey Rodriguez.
What he won't do is state the obvious.
``I like to keep a low profile because I'm very modest about how we were all year because there are always things we need to work on day in and day out,' said Hennessy, who coached this year's seniors as freshman and remained with the program before assuming the head coach position this season.
``Coach kept preaching to play together and good things will happen,' Monaco said, reflecting on his four years with Hennessy. ``That's where we learned most of our fundamentals. We're his team.'
Top senior: Iselin Kennedy's Chris Grimes batted .535 with 16 doubles and 33 RBI and a .900 slugging percentage, finishing his carer with 125 hits. The St. Peter's-bound third baseman also compiled an 8-1 record and 2.98 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 17 walks over 49‰ innings before he was forced off the mound for the final two weeks of the season due to a bout of bursitis.
Top junior: Edison's Jared Shukis isn't the only junior to emerge as a two-way threat this season. Iselin Kennedy's Brian Schroeder was a one-man battery, batting .388 and sharing county home run honors (eight) with teammate Mike Giordano, while posting a 3-2 record on the mound with a 2.51 ERA, including back-to-back shutout victories over Nutley and Cranford in the state tournament.
Top sophomore: Spotswood shortstop Cody Pace, called the county's most consistent performer by one veteran observer, batted .442 with six home runs and 23 RBI and posted a .560 on base percentage and .818 slugging percentage.
Top freshman: Monroe's Nick Dini, who played third base and outfield, batted .391 and had 36 hits. His hit total could be off the charts by his senior year.
Fan of the year: As the father of Bishop Ahr slugger Lee Cavico, Jeff Cavico had plenty to cheer about this year. Despite battling a serious illness, Cavico was always in good spirits and could induce raucous laughter from fans of both teams, even the occasional jaded sportswriter. If you approached Cavico with the intention of cheering him up, you inevitably walked away being cheered up by him. Thanks Jeff, we needed that.
All-sophomore team: Joe Post, Dario Santangelo, Bishop Ahr; Mike Maffia, Carteret; Joe Marciano, Jorge Rivera, Alex Weinstein, Iselin Kennedy; Andy Sullivan, Monroe; Alejandro Torres, New Brunswick; Kyle Vito, Piscataway; Victor Diaz, Phil Gianakos, St. Joseph; Mike Muha, Juan Perdomo Jr., South Brunswick; Matt Cesare, South Plainfield; Maxx Johnson, South River; Cody Pace, Spotswood; T.J. Janho, Timothy Christian; Zack Hopf, Woodbridge.
Mike Augliera, Old Bridge
Sean Hille, St. Joseph
Connor Medler, J.P. Stevens
Al Tampa, Carteret
David Milanes, St. Joseph
Lee Cavico, Bishop Ahr
Brian Koster, St. Joseph
Anthony Montalbano, J.P. Stevens
Danny Walsh, Old Bridge
Chris Grimes, Iselin Kennedy
Mike Fallon, Bishop Ahr
Jack Rems, Metuchen
Jared Shukis, Edison
Shawn Renner, Edison
J.R. Seader, Piscataway
Andy Sullivan, Monroe
Geikel Conyedo, Perth Amboy
Brian Schroeder, Iselin Kennedy
Mike James, Piscataway
Marc Magliaro, Monroe
Cody Pace, Spotswood
Elijah Yarborough, North Brunswick
Mike Monaco, Colonia
Steve Nappe, Edison
Tom Dunleavy, South Brunswick
Joe Petosa, Spotswood
Jake Campbell, Sayreville
John Martelle, Iselin Kennedy
Dave Masarik, Colonia
Kevin Rivera, Middlesex
Mike Zinno, J.P. Stevens
Luis Lopez, Perth Amboy Tech
Jon Siswo, Woodbridge
T.J. Wenzel, Dunellen
Rob Ellis, St. Joseph
Vinny Galya, Old Bridge
Owen Harshaney, Dunellen
Steve Loriot, Edison
Tony Olarra, Highland Park