PISCATAWAY, NJ -- No matter the sport, every high school team needs a collection of seniors who are leaders on and off the field. The Piscataway High School varsity baseball team has six of them.
And those six were celebrated Friday night when the Chiefs faced off against Carteret at Columbus Park in Piscataway on Senior Night. Justin McKeown, John Swier, Nick Bucci, Drew Patel, Lucas Santana, and Manan Brahmbhatt were recognized before the game and got to dig in and get first tastes of the barbeque after a dominating 11-2 victory over the Ramblers.
Chiefs head coach Scott Gleichenhaus talked about this special group after the game with TAPinto Piscataway.
“When I took over the program in 2015 these guys were sophomores. They weren’t necessarily my guys (because of the old regime that was in place), but they became my guys,” Gleichenhaus said. “They’ve been good leaders all year and we’ve had good chemistry through thick and thin. I’m proud of all of them. I think each and every one of the seniors will be successful one day because they’re good characters and team-first guys. They all know their roles.”
The senior-heavy lineup which featured Bucci in center field, McKeown at first base, Santana in left, Patel as the designated hitter, and Swier as the starting pitcher, were all productive.
After Piscataway scored a run in the bottom of the second to go up 1-0, Carteret came back with a run in the top of the third to even up the score. But, the Chiefs did serious damage in the home half of the inning as they batted around and scored nine runs to take a commanding 10-1 lead.
Bucci, who finished the game 3-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs, led things off with a double and the floodgates opened. Third baseman Chris Lowry drove Bucci home on an RBI-single, then after a walk, Santana smacked a two-RBI double past the first baseman down the right field line. Patel walked with the bases loaded to push across another run before catcher James Ingram drove Santana home with an RBI single himself to put the Chiefs up 6-1 at that point.
Bucci returned to the plate and kept things going with an RBI single. McKeown got in on the action following Bucci with a two-RBI single as well. Right fielder Parris Washington finished things off with another RBI single before Lowry flew out to right and Brahmbhatt pinch hit and struck out swinging to end the inning.
Carteret and Piscataway both mustered a run each in the sixth.
As far the seniors go, McKeown went 1-for-3 with a walk and two RBI while Santana finished with the one hit and two RBI. Patel tallied the one RBI as well while Swier battled going 3.2 innings striking out three in the process before giving way to Chris Corvil who tossed the remaining of the contest.
“We wouldn’t have had the season that we’re having without our seniors,” Gleichenhaus said. “They’re important for the future. They show the younger guys how to act a certain way. I’m lucky to have inherited them and I’m proud of them.”
“The first year I came in and that first group of seniors I had, I absolutely loved them,” he continued. “Those guys set the tone (in terms of understanding how to build a program). When these guys were sophomores they saw it and now they’re carrying the torch.”
The Chiefs, who have been on the rise since the former Plainfield manager took over, have a date at Elizabeth Saturday morning before traveling to Westfield on Monday for the first round of the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 tournament.
It is Piscataway’s first appearance since 2015. The Chiefs are the 11th-seed while the Blue Devils own the sixth-seed.
Sitting at 12-12, Piscataway has a shot at finishing with a winning record for the first time in at least 10 years or so. Gleichenhaus hopes the big win over Carteret will provide some confidence and momentum going forward.
“I certainly hope so,” the coach said. “I don’t want these guys to accept complacency or mediocrity. Our goal was to make the tournament and get over .500 because I can’t remember the last time this program has been over .500.
“I care so much about the team and the program and I want them to go out on a high note knowing that they were the senior class to push it over the top and set this program in the right direction. The key to doing that is finishing over .500 and not only making the state tournament but winning a game or two. Hopefully this momentum carries over.”