With Hungry Veterans Primed to Get Their Chance, Hun Baseball Had Sights Set on Another Title Run
KEEPING SPIRITS UP: Hun School baseball head coach Tom Monfiletto enjoys the moment during a 2018 game. Monfiletto was enthusiastic about his team’s prospects this spring as several veterans were ready to step up with Hun coming off a 22-2 campaign in 2019 that saw the program win its fourth straight state Prep A title. In the wake of the 2020 campaign being canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Monfiletto has been keeping in frequent contact with his players, providing them with a practice plan and a workout on a daily basis. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
For the Hun School baseball team, this spring was shaping up to be a season of opportunity.
Coming off a 22-2 campaign in 2019 that saw the program win its fourth straight state Prep A title led by a group of seniors, several veteran returnees who patiently waited their turn were primed to shine this year.
“It was never a sense of how do we figure this out; it was hey we have built the foundation and the sky is the limit,” said Hun head coach Tom Monfiletto.
“It was a different cast of characters, but it is the same show. Each one brings their own personality and strengths. It was a different feel but it was really, really exciting. I knew that we had talent across the board. I knew that we had guys that worked their butts off but we didn’t have the experience that we had last year. The guys that were going to be starting for us, some of them were starters last year and some of them definitely contributed last year, but not many were everyday guys and they were going to have to become everyday guys.”
Those guys showed they were ready by playing well in two scrimmages in Florida in early March as they faced the ELEV8 Baseball Academy (Fla.) and New Jersey prep powerhouse Delbarton.
“We came out and we won that scrimmage against ELEV8 and looked very good on the mound,” said Monfiletto.
“We were starting to incorporate some of the base running stuff and starting to get the hang of it, we had some really good at-bats. We had the scrimmage against Delbarton the next day where we competed really well. What I realized in that first scrimmage and then the next day was that everybody was ready to rock. They were ready to step up and whatever hesitation or uneasiness that I had felt before the season evaporated very quickly.”
A day after that scrimmage, the trip ended as Hun headmaster Jonathan Brougham reached out to Monfiletto, telling the team to head home due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Upon returning to New Jersey, Monfiletto kept working with his players virtually.
“I send them a practice plan and a workout to do every single day,” said Monfiletto.
“It is different every day; it is stuff they can all do in their backyard or their garage. All of the workouts are no equipment so they follow along with that. They have something to go off of every single day that they can do.”
To spice things up, Hun modified a program staple to work at home. “We had what is called ‘Thunderdome Thursday’ last year, it is like a 9-10 person relay,” said Monfiletto.
“It is like one person has to do a drill off a tee, once they have successfully completed that drill, the next guy goes back to shortstop and makes a play on the run and once he throws it over to first and the next guy goes and that could be a do or die situation in the outfield. What we did was use Zoom and we simulated the relay. All of them had their cameras set up on them and we did it by class with nine stations. I would guide them along because they couldn’t really see so they would listen to me for when to go. They are all doing this on their backyard.”
While the Raiders were initially hoping to resume the season sometime in May, the school decided in late April to cancel its spring schedule.
“Our mentality was ‘if we have 24 hours to play, we will play 12 games,’” said Monfiletto.
“We were still holding out hope, I wanted them to think like that. I wanted them to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. In the back of everybody’s mind, we knew it was unrealistic but I still wanted, myself included, coaches and players, to keep that possibility alive. We found out that it wasn’t going to happen, we are still doing what we can. I still give them practice plans every day. Last week, I did a video analysis of all of the kids’ swings. I had them film their swings and then they sent them to me and I gave them a fully detailed breakdown of their swing, comparing them to pro players and college players.”
For Monfiletto, the toughest part of the lost season is the disappointment stemming from his seniors not getting the chance to shine in their final campaign. The squad’s Class of 2020 includes Jake Sloss, Cole Palmeri, Charlie Davis, Anthony Bencardino, Louis Bencardino, Scott Reicheg, Griffin Mumme, Jake Marcin, and Drew Smiley. Sloss and Palmeri were serving as team captains along with junior Ben Petrone.
“It is a really hardworking class — that is the hardest thing; in the same vein, it is also the silver lining because the work that they have put in doesn’t go anywhere, it is not like they lose that,” said Monfiletto, noting that Sloss will be playing college ball at UMass with Palmeri heading to Colby and Smiley slated to compete for Lafayette.
“They have still gotten better, they have gotten stronger, mentally and physically. They just can’t display it this spring. For those that are going on to college to play that stuff will translate for them and even if they are not playing all of that stuff is going to benefit them in the future. There is a toughness and a resilience with the work that they have put in. There were some guys who were going to get opportunities this year, that would have been really fun.”
When Hun ultimately does get back on the field, Monfiletto believes his players will make the most of their opportunity to be together again.
“There are a lot of clichés that you say as a coach that have manifested itself during this time like cherish every second that you have with your teammates, you never know when you are going to be able to do this again and all of that stuff,” said Monfiletto.
“They are realizing it firsthand which is unfortunate. One of the things that I am happiest about with our program is how close the kids are. If you talk to any of our players they will say the most disappointing thing is not being with the friends and their teammates every day, so there is even a greater appreciation of spending time with one another; forget about competing and opportunities to win games and stuff like that. They are doing things together from the fall, sometimes it has to do with baseball and sometimes it doesn’t have to do with baseball. Being apart for as long as they have been apart, they truly appreciate each other that much more. It is something you will never take for granted.”