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1- IMMACULATA (NJ #5)
3- EAST BRUNSWICK
4- SOUTH RIVER (GAME 3)
STAR LEDGER ALL STATE
2ND TEAM NEW JERSEY ALL STATE OVERALL: SS- CODY PACE
1ST TEAM NEW JERSEY ALL STATE GROUP II: SS- CODY PACE
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP II
MVP: Brandon Downes may have been the best player in Middlesex county this spring but it’s doubtful if any player meant as much to his team as Cody Pace, who led a .500 Spotswood squad to the Central Jersey, Group 2 title. The senior shortstop-pitcher batted .551, slugged 1.058 and walked 36 times to lift his on-base percentage to .704. “He is unquestionably the most valuable player on our team and might be for any team in the state this past season,” Spotswood coach Glenn Fredricks wrote in an e-mail. “Without Pace, we have no chance. With him, we are sectional champions!”
Player of the year: Brandon Downes is such a perfectionist that even a junior campaign in which he batted .484, drove in 47 runs and challenged the state record by hitting 15 home runs left him wanting more.
“I figure it was pretty good, but I always think I can do better than I did,” Downes said. “The home runs were a lot more (than I expected) and the RBI, but I wanted to hit well over .500 and I didn’t do it. I’ll try for that next year.”
Such is his commitment that Downes has been known to take extra batting practice after some of his better games just because he didn’t like something that may have happened on one swing. And it is for that work ethic, and the tremendous output that it produced, that makes Brandon Downes The Star-Ledger Middlesex County Player of the Year.
“He’s very coachable, he listens to your suggestions and works on it,” South Plainfield coach Anthony Guida said. “He’s a real tough critic of himself and he’s constantly making adjustments.”
Downes’ performance in the classroom is nearly as impressive. He has a 3.958 GPA, takes AP math and is a member of the National Honor Society.
“I don’t like to do bad in school. When I get a test back and I get a good grade it feels good,” Downes said.
Better than a home run?
“No, a home run is better,” he answered without hesitation.
With his grade-point average soaring at the same trajectory as his slugging percentage (a mere 1.063) Downes figures to have some options next year, whether it be attending whatever college he would desire or, perhaps, being drafted and pursuing a professional career.
But the outfielder has some unfinished business to attend to first.
“Our main goal was to win every single game,” said Downes, whose team was eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the Union County Tournament and in the sectional semifinal round of the state playoffs. “I really thought we could be county champions and state champions. I wanted to win it all, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that way.”
Downes is probably playing in a summer game or swinging in a batting cage at this very moment, trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Team of the year: St. Joseph (21-8) faced such a competitive schedule this year --- including six Top 20 teams, four strong opponents in Florida and its usual rugged divisional schedule --- that by the time it reached the state tournament its schedule seemed to get a little easier.
“I don’t know if anybody has that schedule,” St. Joseph coach Paul Esposito said. “We really put a lot of demands on our kids and they’re ready for all occasions.”
St. Joseph outscored its first three state tournament foes by a 41-11 margin to reach the Non-Public A title game against Immaculata of Somerville. St. Joseph took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh, but Immaculata rallied to tie the score and won the game in the bottom of the eighth.
That loss may have caused St. Joseph a state title, but it did little to tarnish the respect it earned throughout the state.
“We knew we had a deep pitching staff and coming in we looked at that as our strength,” Esposito said. “But our offense came together and we had a great group of kids who committed to doing what we demand of them.”
Coach of the year: South Plainfield figured to be improved from last year’s 13-14 squad, but a 25-3 campaign in which it held down the No. 1 spot in The Star-Ledger Top 20 for several weeks hardly seemed imaginable.
Anthony Guida, who was teaching in South Plainfield while he was coaching Dunellen before taking over the reins prior to last season, knew he was taking over a program in good condition.
“There’s a great tradition here and I know they have a great feeder program,” Guida said. “I had a pretty good idea this group was going to be something special.”
Guida resolved one early dilemma when he inserted sophomore Stephen Petriello behind the plate and moved veteran catcher Brandon Downes to the outfield. Both responded by having all-county caliber seasons.
“The way he coaches, he goes over stuff over and over again until you get it down,” said Downes, the Middlesex County Player of the Year.
Apparently, winning was one of the things Guida went over with his team, because it certainly got that down.
Champions: South Brunswick rode a great late-season run to capture the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title with a 9-2 victory over North Brunswick in the championship game. St. Joseph captured the loaded South Jersey, Non-Public A section but squandered a four-run lead in the bottom of the seventh before falling to Immaculata, 7-5, in eight innings for the state title. Spotswood had a .500 record at the cut-off but regrouped to capture the Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional title behind the efforts of Cody Pace. It is interesting to note that Edison, St. Joseph and Spotswood, which all stepped outside the county to play demanding schedules, were the last three teams still playing in Middlesex County.
Game of the year: It was not pretty and it certainly was not fun for someone keeping score, but Carteret’s 31-15, five-inning victory at New Brunswick on April 5 was certainly the most memorable game. Carteret scored eight runs in the top of the first inning, seven in the top of the second and nine in the top of the fourth and received five home runs, three by Billy Merz. Victor Romero homered twice for New Brunswick, which lost despite scoring five runs in the first inning and six more in the sixth.
Performance of the year (hitting): Most of Nick Marics’ heroics came on the mound for Edison this year. But the senior right-hander provided one of the most prolific offensive displays of the season when he drilled three home runs in a 7-5 victory over Linden in the quarterfinal round of the North 2, Group 4 playoffs. Jordan Carter of Middlesex provided several contenders for this honor, including a two-home run, eight-RBI barrage in a regular-season game against eventual Central Jersey Group 2 champion Spotswood.
2011: South Plainfield (25-3) and Monroe (23-4) won 87 percent of their games between them and, with a host of slugging veterans returning, both should taste similar success next year. South Plainfield hails the return of first-team selections Brandon Downes and Stephen Petriello along with sophomore Mark Tomei (.342, four HRs) and junior Dan Hansen (9-1, 1.80). Monroe will counter with juniors Nick Dini, another first-team choice, and Jimmie Small (.484) as well as sophomores Frank D’Agostino (.390) and Victor Sorrento (.416). Perennial power St. Joseph loses most of its lineup but will reload around juniors Brandon Dolan (2-1, 2.88), Tom Antuofermo and Matt Hratko.
Fourth Team: Nick Boyler, South River; Delio Coutinho, Colonia; Matt Heimall, East Brunswick Tech; Mike Maffia, Carteret; Ted Moke, Monroe; Anthony Parenti, St. Joseph; Dan Petro, Woodbridge; Victor Romero, New Brunswick; Anderson Rosa, Perth Amboy; Tyler Rossiter, Bishop Ahr; Frank Sichta, Carteret; Victor Sorrento, Monroe; Carl Thomore, East Brunswick; Sean Youngman, North Brunswick and Vinny Zanfordino, Edison.
Top junior: South Plainfield’s Brandon Downes was selected as county player of the year and some of his stiffest competition for that honor came from Monroe’s Nick Dini, another junior. The junior battled through off-season Tommy John surgery that limited his play in the field but never let up at the plate, collecting an absurd 54 hits, 30 for extra bases: 13 doubles, seven triples and 10 home runs. He had 42 RBI, a .589 on-base percentage and a 1.133 slugging pct.***
All-junior first team: Alejandro Diaz, Old Bridge; Nick Dini, Monroe; Brandon Dolan, St. Joseph; Brandon Downes, South Plainfield; Daniel Hansen, South Plainfield; Steven Hock, North Brunswick; Kevin Marte, New Brunswick; David Rondesko, South River; Anderson Rosa, Perth Amboy; Tyler Rossiter, Bishop Ahr; Jimmie Small, Monroe; Charles Thielman, Piscataway; Carl Thomore, East Brunswick; Sean Youngman, North Brunswick, and Vinny Zanfordino, Edison.
All-junior second team: Emilio Calderon, Perth Amboy; Craig Cleffi, South Brunswick; Dustin DeVoe, South Amboy; John Guiliano, South Amboy; Awab Habib, East Brunswick; James Lyczkowski, Woodbridge; Roberto Ortiz, Piscataway Tech; Anthony Pena, Perth Amboy Tech; Rob Pepe, Bishop Ahr; Abner Rodriguez, Perth Amboy; Jake Rosenberg, North Brunswick; Kevin Savoia, Cardinal McCarrick; Ryan Smith, Cardinal McCarrick; Shawn Weeks, Spotswood, and Jon Young, Old Bridge.
Top sophomore: Middlesex County’s top two sophomores could both be found behind the plate when they weren’t terrorizing foes from the batter’s box. South Plainfield’s Stephen Petriello, the first-team choice as catcher, batted .465 with 47 hits, five home runs and 33 RBI. South Brunswick’s Nick Muha, cousin of first-team choice Mike Muha, hit .352 with four home runs and 23 RBI for the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament champions.
All-sophomore team: Kyle Anderson, Woodbridge; Franci Bueno, New Brunswick; Frank D’Agostino, Monroe; Anthony Feltre, Metuchen; Tim Hagerty, Bishop Ahr; Dylan Hayes, South River; Jose Hernandez, Perth Amboy; Matt Mangarella, Spotswood; Nick Muha, South Brunswick; Andrew Neich, Colonia; Chris Petiya, Middlesex; Stephen Petriello, South Plainfield; J.C. Rosario, New Brunswick; Victor Sorrento, Monroe; Mark Tomei, South Plainfield; Placido Torres, North Brunswick, and Santos Zabala, Piscataway Tech.
Top frosh: Middlesex’s Tommy Marcinczyk had a terrific season as an outfielder/pitcher and was a major contributor to a team that sported a .362 batting average. He hit .493 (33-of-67) with eight doubles, seven home runs and 27 RBI and went 4-0 on the mound with a 1.35 ERA in eight appearances.
All-freshman team: Corey Brown, Spotswood; Johnny Cabrera, East Brunswick Tech; Christian Campbell, Sayreville; Waldo Diaz, New Brunswick; Kyle Dotey, Middlesex; Justin Duran, Edison; Ariel Hernandez, New Brunswick; Jesse Lammers, Woodbridge; Chris Lee, J.P. Stevens; Tommy Marcinczyk, Middlesex; Kevin Martin, Spotswood; Jose Napoles, Cardinal McCarrick, and Juan Peralta, New Brunswick.
Victor Diaz, St. Joseph (Met.)
Zack Hopf, Woodbridge
Nick Marics, Edison
Dario Santangelo, Bishop Ahr
Stephen Petriello, South Plainfield
Michael Muha, South Brunswick
Phil Gianakos, St. Joseph
Mike Heyer, South Brunswick
Cody Pace, Spotswood
Andres Vazquez, Iselin Kennedy
Shane Alvarez, St. Joseph
Jordan Carter, Middlesex
Nick Dini, Monroe
Brandon Downes, South Plainfield
Matt Cesare, South Plainfield
Daniel Hansen, South Plainfield
Ryan Phillips, South Brunswick
Alex Taylor, North Brunswick
Jay Stolz, Iselin Kennedy
Steven Hock, North Brunswick
Alex Weinstein, Iselin Kennedy
Billy Merz, Carteret
Kevin Olah, Middlesex
Juan Perdomo, South Brunswick
Joe Post, Bishop Ahr
Mike Merz, Carteret
Eric Perez, Woodbridge
Jimmie Small, Monroe
Zach Batchelor, Monroe
Charles Thielman, Piscataway
Tim Kurucz, East Brunswick
Joe D’Amico, Old Bridge
Bryan Gaeta, North Brunswick
Phil Granito, East Brunswick
Paul Nyitray, St. Joseph
Dom Vocisano, Piscataway
Conner Abreu, Piscataway
Frank D’Agostino, Monroe
Tommy Marcinczyk, Middlesex
Eric Peterson, St. Joseph
David Rondesko, South River
Carlos Ruiz, South Plainfield
Chargers’ Weeks takes charge behind the plateIf Glenn Fredricks was asked to choose the kind of catcher he’d want for his baseball team, he wouldn’t have to search long. Fortunately, the perfect backstop for Spotswood High School is already entrenched behind the plate. His name is Shawn Weeks.
“He is a leader that brings out the best in others,” said Fredricks, on a day off from coaching his Spotswood Greater Middlesex Conference Summer League and Matrix Select teams. “As the catcher, we needed somebody who could help the youngsters [two sophomores and a freshman] in the rotation. Shawn was the guy.”
According to Fredricks, Weeks quickly adopted a take-charge style behind the plate, literally calling pitches and directing infielder and outfielders depending on the hitters. But he has done so in a way that makes his teammates want to succeed.
“His value goes beyond catching,” says Fredricks of the 6-foot, 185-pound backstop who was a captain this past spring, along with all-state player Cody Pace. “Even as a junior, Shawn’s command on the field allowed me and the other coaches to focus on other stuff.”
That focus led to an outstanding season for the Chargers. While the record was 14- 13, Spotswood surged in the late season by winning the Central Jersey Group II championship before bowing in the state semifinals. It was performance that excites Weeks about the prospects for next year.
“We have a lot of players coming back, including the pitchers, who gained experience playing in those tournament games,” said Weeks. “We got a taste of what it takes to win against good teams.”
At the top of the list of returning players is Weeks who batted .329 for Spotswood, including 22 runs batted in and four doubles. While they are quality statistics, Shawn is certain he can improve in just about every facet of the game.
That is why Weeks is using this summer to improve his skills as a member of Fredricks’ Greater Middlesex Conference Summer League entry from Spotswood and the Matrix. He is again behind the plate catching those same young pitchers who will take to the mound next spring.
As a member of the Matrix team, which consists of players from other GMC teams, Weeks has been able to catch some of the better hurlers in loop.
“It was funny,” Weeks said. “Dave Rondesko from South River beat us three times last spring and we couldn’t figure out why. His stuff didn’t seem that dominant but he struck me out in a couple of key situations.
Weeks kiddingly warns Rondesko that the knowledge he’s gained catching him this summer will come back to haunt the Ram pitcher when South River and Spotswood face each other next spring.
The rest of this summer will feature baseball in Weeks’ life. He was the starting quarterback on the Charger football team last fall, but Weeks made the tough decision to not play this fall so he could get, as he termed it, “more swings with the bat.”
“That’s really important if I want to play at the next level,” said Weeks, who will participate in showcase events at Brookdale Community College and St. Joseph’s in Metuchen.