Staff Writer
It’s been an interesting and exciting first week of the high school baseball season so far, with the debut of several new head coaches, some familiar names getting the job done, and also some young pitchers stepping up in big spots against some very good competition.
First off, congratulations to new head coaches Sean Coyle of ACIT, Matt Zachariades of Pleasantville and Mike DeCicco of Absegami, who each picked up their first career victory this week, both against Middle Township. It’s a little early yet to start thinking about who the contenders will be in each of the three Cape-Atlantic League conference, but there are a few knowns. St. Augustine Prep came into the season as the No. 2 team in the preseason rankings, and the Hermits haven’t done anything to question that selection. In their first two games, the Hermits outscored Ocean City and Bridgeton 25-0. There have been a couple of surprise teams in the early going, as Cedar Creek jumped out to a 2-0 start and Wildwood Catholic was 2-1 through the season’s first three games.

Donovan “Van” Patten, a freshman at Holy Spirit, picked up his first career win in his first start when the Spartans beat EHT 5-2. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)

YOUNG ARMS: There are some young guys out there already making an impact for their teams, as we saw some outstanding pitching appearances by freshmen and sophomores. Donovan “Van” Patten, a 14-year-old rookie at Holy Spirit, came through in a big way for Holy Spirit when the Spartans hosted Egg Harbor Township early in the week. The Eagles were ranked No. 16 in’s preseason Top 20 and have some outstanding hitters with the likes of Bobby Baxter, Robbie Petracci, Jordan Sweeney and Cory Kessler. That’s not an easy top four in the batting order for even a veteran pitcher to navigate through during the course of the game, but Patten got through the lineup three times, twirling five innings while only allowing two runs. He spotted his fastball and used his tantalizing curveball, keeping it low in the zone. He also worked out of a bases-loaded jam, showing he has some gumption.
“He was extremely confident and he just looked at me and said, ‘I got this.’ I was trying to give him a little pep talk, figuring he’s only 14 years old and he might be nervous facing these guys — especially with the kind of hitters EHT has over there — but he said, ‘I got this,’ and I knew right then he was going to come out and throw a gem,” said Holy Spirit senior first baseman. “I think you’re going to see a good career out of him just because of his attitude. A 14-year-old comes out here and does his thing, I love it.”
“There aren’t enough adjectives for Van. He was phenomenal. I told the guys yesterday that it was between him and the sophomore lefty — both great options — but I said, ‘you know what, this kid has thrown so many strikes in the preseason.’ And that’s how we’re going to be competitive, by going out and throwing strikes. That’s exactly what he did today, he was phenomenal, pounding the zone. He’s a great kid with a great work ethic, always working to get better, and he has a very bright future, for sure,” Added Spartans head coach Jason Downey. “He said, ‘I’ll be ready.’ And then before the game he said, ‘I’m a little nervous.’ But you expect a little bit of that. I actually went to take him out in the third inning, with a 3-and-2 count, and he talked me out of it. He said, ‘I got him right where I want him,’ and he ended up getting a strikeout and getting out of the inning, and went one more.”
Another guy who opened some eyes is 6-foot-3 Ocean City sophomore Matt Nunan, younger brother of last year’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim draft pick Dan Nunan. Matt came on in relief of starter A.J. Campbell during Thursday’s loss to rival Mainland and pitched well. He allowed just one hit in 2 2/3 innings, striking out two and walking two. His delivery is almost a mirror image of his older brother, and Mainland coach Billy Kern walked away impressed.
“I was extremely impressed with how Nunan threw the ball. I’d had never seen him, and for a young guy to come out in front of a lot of people and pound the strike zone, he’s going to be part of this rivalry for a long time,” Kern said after the Mustangs rallied to win, 6-4. “What I was impressed with the most was his impression never changed, ball, strike, ground ball, hit — his face never changed. He has a great demeanor. He’s going to be a force for a long time.”
CHIP ON THEIR SHOULDER: The Holy Spirit Spartans came into this season a little bit chaffed at being labeled a “spoiler” in the CAL United, and they’ve responded by playing like a conference champion, jumping out to a 3-0 start that included big wins over CAL American stalwarts Millville and EHT. They’ve even come up with their own team nickname — sort of a rallying cry for the 2019 season.
“The name they’ve come up with is ‘The Spoilermakers.’ We have a good group, the camaraderie is going to help carry us to where we end up this year,” Downey said after a 5-2 win over EHT. “I get on them quite a bit about the hype, and they like to gas each other up, and that’s good fun, but we have to back it up. Sometimes the hype creates some anxiety, and we don’t want that, but we do want to go out there, play loose and compete.”
“We got called a spoiler, and we took that to heart. We come out here every day and work as hard as we can, and we’re playing with that chip on our shoulder and making sure when we get in there we get it done. That’s two big wins against teams not everybody thought we could beat, so I’m excited to see what happens next,” Pasquale said. “Like coach Downey said, we just have to keep coming out here and working like we have been, preparing for each game like we don’t have any wins yet. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s only been two games, but I’m excited to see what happens.”

Senior first baseman Kyle Bronco is a key player to watch at the top of ACIT’s lineup. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)

HITTERS TO WATCH: According to Mainland coach Billy Kern, junior catcher C.J. Brown had an outstanding preseason at the plate, and that has carried over into the regular season. He had a couple hits and two RBIs in the win over Ocean City, and has really helped solidify the middle of the Mustangs’ order.
“He’s coming around as a receiver, and offensively we’re getting so much production out of him,” Kern said. “He’s been smoking balls all spring and that’s what helped him win the job back there. He’s doing a great job, he’s learning on the job and he’s always looking to get better.”
A couple other guys fans should keep their eye on are Holy Spirit sophomore outfielder Shane Solari and ACIT senior first baseman Kyle Bronco. Both can really drive the ball to the gaps, and Bronco has some big-time protection in the lineup with Tony Santa Maria batting behind him. He should also have a good number of RBI chances hitting out of the No. 2 hole because the bottom of ACIT’s lineup does a good job of finding ways to get on base.
CURRRENT RIVALS, FUTURE TEAMMATES: The Ocean City vs. Mainland game on Thursday featured an interesting at-bat, as Red Raiders pitcher Brandon Lashley went up against Mainland’s Devin Sharkey in the top of the seventh inning. Both have committed to play their college baseball at Stony Brook University. Sharkey got the better of Lashley on this occasion, grounding a ball up the middle for a base hit.
UPCOMING GAMES TO WATCH: There’s a big one today if the weather holds, as EHT travels to St. Augustine Prep at 3:45 p.m. On Saturday, Pleasantville travels to Buena at 11 a.m. This will be an early opportunity for the revamped Greyhounds to prove they can be competitive in the CAL United. Monday features Vineland traveling to rival Millville in a key CAL American matchup as well as Mainland at Cedar Creek in a game that will give the winner the early lead in the CAL National. On Tuesday, EHT travels to Vineland in a big road game. The Eagles have struggled a little bit out of the gate and it’s always tough to win in Vineland. Next Thursday, Ocean City travels to Millville. The Red Raiders have gotten off to a 1-2 start, but are much too talented to remain under .500 for long, but they’ll need to start stringing some wins together and get the bats going. Next Saturday, April 13, EHT takes a ride up the Parkway to take on traditional Shore Conference power Toms River North at 1 p.m.
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