DiMaggio Stars as Hun Baseball Edges L-ville in MCT, Setting Up Busy Week of Tournament Action for the Raiders
TOURNAMENT TOUGH: Hun School baseball player Ryan DiMaggio fires a pitch in a game last season. Last Wednesday, senior star DiMaggio struck out 14 and allowed only one earned run to help second-seeded Hun defeat 10th-seeded Lawrenceville 3-2 in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals. The Raiders were slated to face sixth-seeded WW/P-South in the MCT semis on May 17 with the victor advancing to the final on May 19. In addition, Hun, who improved to 18-2 with an 8-2 win over St. Joseph (Metuchen) last Sunday, will be competing in the state Prep A tournament where they are hosting Pingry in an opening round game on May 18. The final rounds of the double-elimination tourney are slated for May 21-22 at Lawrenceville. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Ryan DiMaggio impressed early in a scrimmage to set the bar high for the season and the Hun School senior lefty pitcher has lived up to those expectations.
Last Wednesday, DiMaggio struck out 14 and allowed only one earned run to keep the Raiders in striking distance before they manufactured a seventh-inning three-run rally to pull out a 3-2 win over rival Lawrenceville in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals to keep their title shot alive.
“I think it means a ton,” said Hun head coach Tom Monfiletto, reflecting on the team’s quest to win the county tournament.
“It’s something we’ve never been able to do at our school. Peers at our school — other teams — have been able to accomplish it and we’ve never been able to. There are things that make it a little more difficult for prep teams. Our state tournament is always sandwiched in the middle of this and we’re not able to play any of our fifth-year guys. Those are things that make it a little bit more difficult for us. No excuses, we’ve never been able to get it done. So I think this means a ton to our guys. It’s something they really, really, really want. It’s something that we talk about in the beginning of the year, it’s something we talk about as the year goes on. Our guys have friends on all the different teams in the county. We want to win this as much as we want to win anything.”
Hun has not had to produce a late rally this year like it did against Lawrenceville, a team it defeated 14-2 and 4-1 in previous meetings this season. The Raiders had to battle back when they were trailing 2-0 entering the seventh inning and down to their final three outs.
“I think one of the things that helped us win that game was the fact that I don’t think anybody in our dugout believed that we weren’t going to win that game,” said Monfiletto.
“It started with DiMaggio on the mound, him keeping us in it and getting out of jams, keeping his pitch count low, and we played good defense behind him for the most part. We stayed calm. We weren’t getting too emotional as the game was going on and we found our opportunity.”
DiMaggio has given the Raiders a chance to win in every game that he has pitched this year. A solid starter last year, the Boston College-bound hurler has been dynamic from a preseason scrimmage against Cranford onward, even through a tough 1-0 loss to Don Bosco.
“The Cranford first baseman who’s going to Georgia Tech said he was the best guy he’d seen so far and they had seen some of the top arms in New Jersey,” said Monfiletto. “I knew then that it would be a pretty special season for Ryan. What he did against Don Bosco was one of the best performances I’ve
seen in a very long time. He’s electric to watch. He’s so fun to watch. He works at such an amazing pace. He’s got such a great presence on the mound. He’s a dream
Fine-tuning his mound approach, DiMaggio has looked even sharper this spring than he did a year ago. He has made things difficult on opposing batters after another year of development.
“I think he has a lot more confidence which is crazy to say because he was very good last year,” said Monfiletto. “There were a couple games last year where he didn’t have his best stuff. This year he’s had a lot more confidence. He’s been way more consistent throwing strikes, which was not a problem last year, but I just feel like his command of all three pitches has been remarkable.”
He’s been an ace for Hun in every way. He’s the latest star lefty to take the mound for the Raiders. He has been well rounded pitching, as well as in the field and at the plate.
“It’s definitely nice to have that,” said Monfiletto. “He’s got a good pick-off move too. That’s a part of the game that he doesn’t ignore at all. He’s got one or two picks on the year. He’s very good at holding runners on. It’s a breath of fresh air. If he does walk someone or give up a hit, he’s able to a lot of times erase that. He’s a complete player too. He’s played a great first base for us, he’ll play the outfield for us, he’s hitting the ball well.”
In the MCT quarters clash, Lawrenceville scratched out a run in the third and a run in the fifth while Hun tried to find a way to score off Hugh Devine, who only allowed four hits, walked three, and struck out two. Hun finally broke through when a dropped third strike allowed Michael Chiaravallo to get aboard to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning before a pair of walks and a balk set the stage for Tre Francis to deliver a game-winning single.
“I thought their pitcher did a great job,” said Monfiletto. “He had really, really good pace and they made every single play in the field. I think he only had two strikeouts. We were a little bit anxious but that was because he was throwing so well. Everything looked like a perfect pitch to swing at. His changeup was deceptive and it was very good. He had us off-balance. I don’t want to take any credit away from him, I thought he did a great job. We had them take a strike in the last inning, which is something that we probably should have had done a little earlier because it felt like our guys got a little anxious as the game went on. We caught a break.”
Hun advanced to play sixth-seeded West Windsor-Plainsboro High South in a game slated for May 17 with the victor advancing to the title game on May 19. WW-P South upset third-seeded Steinert, 10-0.
“West Windsor South has a pretty good lineup,” said Monfiletto. “They have some guys that can really swing it. Their shortstop is excellent, their leadoff hitter is excellent. The guy that threw against Steinert is obviously a really good pitcher and
they have two or three other really good arms. I guess it was a little bit of a surprise because Steinert was ranked in the Top 20 in New Jersey, but following West Windsor South all year, they’ve had good wins and their losses have been very close. We know they’re as competitive of a team as anyone we’ll face in the tournament. We’re looking forward to it.”
Hun is also balancing its efforts in the Prep A tournament that was expected to begin Wednesday with a home game against Pingry. The Raiders are facing a gauntlet of tough games in the final weeks of the year.
“They’re very good,” said Monfiletto of Pingry. “I think they have three or four Division I commits. It’s a solid, solid team. Whatever happens Tuesday, we have to get back and be ready emotionally to play that game Wednesday. If we don’t win that game Wednesday, it is an absolute bear to win the championship. If you have to come from the loser’s bracket, we’ve done that before everything has to go your way, and you have to have a ton of arms to pull it off.”
The Raiders headed into the MCT semifinal with an 18-2 record that has been built on a wealth of talent and depth. Hun has been tested throughout the year with its lone losses coming against Don Bosco (1-0) and Peddie (4-1). Hun has won six straight games since its narrow loss to Don Bosco. Jackson Kraemer had three hits, including a pair of home runs, to lead the offense in a 10-9 win over Blair on Thursday in which Will Kraemer came in relief to shut the door on a big Blair inning. Ben Romano scored three runs in the win. Jackson Kraemer was the winning pitcher in an 8-2 win over a talented St. Joseph’s Metuchen team on Saturday. Carson Applegate had three hits and three runs, and Tyler Tucker had a pair of hits.
The Raiders have kept their momentum after pulling out a tight, important game in the final inning against Lawrenceville.
“We had the Don Bosco game which was 0-0 and then they scored,” said Monfiletto. “In terms of having to come back in the last inning, I think that was the first time that that happened this year. We’ve been in pressure-filled situations, but it’s mostly on the defensive side where we’re trying to hold back a team. It was a little bit familiar. Last year, we had a back-and-forth game with King’s Christian that was sort of in the middle of the year. We had similar feelings with that, and we were able to come through so it was good.”
It was important that Hun didn’t tighten up even though they could have felt the pressure against Lawrenceville as the higher seed that had won the two previous meetings. As the game went along, the pressure to overcome their deficit grew, but the Raiders kept the same attitude.
“This is something we talk about all the time,”
said Monfiletto. “We try to prepare them mentally to have things not go their way and have them understand there are seven innings in a game. That’s something we kept saying the entire time, ‘It’s a seven-inning ballgame.’ I’m not going to say we figured it out offensively. The walks and the balk gave us that opportunity. I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t get those free passes, but we got them and were able to take advantage of them.”
It helped to not have much of a deficit to make up thanks to DiMaggio’s pitching, and the team remained confident in their ability to come back against a good team. That sort of approach is what the Raiders hope will carry them in the most challenging portion of the year with pressure-packed tournament games to come.
“Luckily we have a little experience doing that,” said Monfiletto. “In the beginning of the year, we had Bergen Catholic and Poly Prep back-to-back. Those are two enormous games. A couple weeks ago, we had a week with Lawrenceville, Allentown, Steinert and Don Bosco all in one week. We are used to playing big games back-to-back. I think it’ll be fun. This is it. This is the last time they get to play together. Wednesday is the last time we play on our field. It’s the last time they ever get to be together doing something they really, really enjoy doing. I hope they take advantage of it. I think they will.”