MONTVILLE, NJ - Through its first two games of the season, offense has been a major strength for the Montville baseball team, as it plated six runs in the team's season-opening win over Randolph, before scoring seven in a loss to Pope John later in the week.
But on Saturday morning, the Mustangs' bats faced their toughest challenge of the young season, as it went up against one of the top pitchers in the state in Nutley's Josh O'Neill. O'Neill, along with relievers Eli Acosta and Marty Higgins, combined to shut out Montville's offense and surrendered just three hits, as Nutley earned a 7-0 win over Montville at Nutley High School.
The loss dropped Montville to 1-2, while Nutley improved to a perfect 4-0.
O'Neill- who was lifted after four innings presumably due to pitch count- was dominant, as he struck out eight batters and walked none, while giving up just two hits. Acosta came in as relief, and worked around a pair of walks to toss scoreless innings in the fifth and sixth. Higgins closed the game out by striking out the side in the seventh.
Higgins went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs at the plate, while Kevin Hogan went 3-for-3 with two RBI. O'Neill helped out his cause offensively by going 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Nutley jumped ahead by one in the first inning, when Hogan hit a ground ball that found its way past Montville second baseman Mike Sesko which scored Higgins. Montville starter Kyle Kane settled down in the second with a 1-2-3 inning, but ran into trouble in the third inning.
The third inning saw Nutley put up a four-spot on Montville, as the Mustangs committed two errors in the field, which gave a talented Raider squad extra outs. It took advantage of those miscues, as Higgins hit an RBI single, before Trevor Santos hit a two-run home run to left-center field, which gave Nutley a commanding 5-0 lead.
“It’s a mix of both (physical and mental errors). We have a lot of inexperience, and you forget about that sometimes when you play a good team," Montville coach Ian Schwindel said of his team's rough time in the field. "And you want to forget about that. But we don’t have a lot of varsity innings returning in the field. The other message was that we have to start growing up a little bit quicker, and take care of the things we can take care of.”
Kane, a senior right-hander, battled admirably against a talented Nutley squad that is considered a serious contender for the Group 3 state title. He allowed just two more runs the rest of the game- an RBI double by Hogan in the fifth, followed by Lou Rafaelli's RBI single in the sixth. In total, he gave up nine hits, struck out three, and walked none in the complete-game effort.
While mistakes in the field certainly didn't help his cause on Saturday, Kane will be counted on going forward as one of the top arms in the Montville rotation.
“(Kane) showed a lot today," Schwindel said. "We knew what he was capable of, he put together a good season last year. He’s grown into a pretty good pitcher and an all-around baseball player. With him, Greg, and Bettio when he’s healthy, and Mike Sesko, I think we’re going to have a pretty good staff as we develop this thing and move forward.”
The schedule will really pick up for Montville in the coming week, as it has four games on the slate, beginning with a home game against Lakeland on Monday, followed by a showdown with the No. 1 team in the state in Delbarton on the road on Tuesday. It will also face Chatham and Kinnelon later on in the week.
With a young and inexperienced roster, Montville will have to learn from Saturday's game, and will have to do it quickly.
“The message is that we just have to learn from it," Schwindel said. "We can’t give good teams like this runs and outs, because our schedule doesn’t really lighten up too much. We’re in one of the toughest conferences in the state. We have to limit the mistakes on our end, we have to put better at-bats together, and we have to bring a little bit more energy. I don’t think we brought our best energy- what we’re capable of- today.”
Zach Sylvester, Max Kamper, and Blake Hunsinger each recorded hits for Montville.
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