After playing on the Hun School’s junior varsity baseball team in 2013, Justin Pontrella struggled in the early going this spring as he made the move up to the varsity.
With Hun hosting the Hill School (Pa.) last Wednesday, Pontrella decided he needed some extra work.
“Coming into this game, I wasn’t hitting well,” said junior first baseman Pontrella.
“I got down the field real early today and did a lot of easy swings. I got back into the groove and started feeling my hands again.”
In the bottom of the third inning, Pontrella’s work paid dividends as he drilled a liner through the infield.
“I got a base hit single and that was a confidence booster,” said Pontrella. “I started letting it fly.”
Pontrella flew high the rest of the day, belting bases-clearing doubles in the fourth and fifth innings.
While his first double was a hard grounder past the third baseman, the second was a towering shot to the left field fence. “I feel like I got a hold of it and I was on second base as soon as I got out of the batter’s box,” said Pontrella, reflecting on the fifth inning blast.
After getting the spring off to a disappointing start with a 7-6 loss at the Blair Academy in a Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) contest, the Raiders have caught fire, winning three of four games, including a 9-5 win over Lawrenceville on April 8 and a 10-0 victory over Peddie last Friday.
“Our first game was against Blair and we lost that; we kind of used that as motivation,” said Pontrella.
“In the next two MAPL games, we were pretty fired up and we got two wins.”
In Pontrella’s view, Hun’s team unity has helped the squad come together quickly.
“It has the best chemistry out of any team I have played on because it has young talent,” said Pontrella.
“We have got a lot of guys who really want to be here. No one feels like they are better than anyone. We are all here to do it together.”
Hun head coach Bill McQuade senses a one-for-all, all-for-one spirit on the team.
“The interesting thing that I have seen so far is that they pull for each other; it is not cliquey,” said McQuade.
“We don’t have those kids right now who are going big-time D-I or anything like that. We have good ballplayers. I like to say that we have good high school players that can play at the next level, some of them can play D-III. Those kids win if they put it all together. Teams win; individuals rarely ever win.”
McQuade likes the way Pontrella has put things together in his debut campaign for the varsity.
“He hit the ball well on the JVs; he has power which he shows,” said McQuade.
“He takes as much extra batting practice as anyone. He bats on the weekends, he comes down here on the weekends and steals my baseballs out of the cage and hits all weekend. He loves the game. He has got some of the softest hands at first base of any first baseman I have ever had. He has saved our infield of I don’t how many errors already and we have only played three or four games.”
In the win over Hill, senior pitcher Patrick Donahue gave the Raiders some good work.
“Donahue hung in there,” said McQuade of the senior hurler who gave up three runs in five innings of work to earn the win.
“He tends to throw a lot of pitches. I think he got frustrated with a couple of calls and then he overthrew. I told him we need you to go 6 and 7 innings, not 5 innings which means that you can’t turn around and throw the ball as hard as you want to, you have to locate it. He’s tough inside, he has a great attitude.”
Hun could end up with a tough pitching rotation, based on how junior ace Jason Applegate and a pair of sophomores, George Revock and James Werosta, have performed so far.
“If App rounds into form, it will be good,” said McQuade. “He walked two in the first inning against Lawrenceville and didn’t walk anyone the rest of the game, that is huge for us. George Revock throws strikes. Jimmy Werosta in only a sophomore but he just comes in and throws strikes. He did a great job against Episcopal his first time out, doing the same thing. He shows no emotion.”
The Raiders did a great job of running itself into rallies against Hill, utilizing stolen bases to get players into scoring position all day long.
“We don’t have last year’s speed but we have a couple of kids who are good base runners so they get decent jumps,” said McQuade.
“If we think we have a good matchup with their pitcher’s time release and the catcher’s time release, we will run all day and that’s what it was here. That entered into the game and the final score because that put them on the defense. Virtually every time we got to first, we were on second.”
McQuade is having a good time this spring , noting that his young squad has been making solid progress.
“We had that Blair game, it was 6-4 in our favor going into the last inning and we had made six errors already up to there and they made one or two,” said McQuade.
“To come back the way we did right after that, we played Episcopal
and won (5-2), we played Lawrenceville and won and now we have played another good team and we won that.”
Pontrella, for his part, isn’t surprised by the resilience Hun has displayed so far. “As far as talent, we are not the best team,” said Pontrella. “But the way we play together, come together and work hard, we battle better than anyone.”