(WORTH MENTIONING is an ongoing feature from the South Jersey Glory Days staff in which we recognize a player, coach or team for doing something outstanding, give our thoughts on why it’s important, and what it means for the particular program mentioned. If you see or hear about something worth mentioning, email South Jersey Glory Days Publisher Dave O’Sullivan at email@example.com).
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
If you’re a “throw-back” type of baseball fan, you have to love the way Buena skipper Tom Carney coaches the game. He’s not an analytics guy — he’s a guy who has been coaching high school baseball since Ronal Reagan was president. He can tell with one look if a guy can hit, run, throw or field. He doesn’t need a spray chart to tell him that a guy is dead-pull or likes to go the opposite way. All he has to do is look at how the kid swings the bat.
Carney was the perfect guy to lead this year’s version of the Chiefs. He knew the program was going to take a lot of heat and snide comments because it had six post-graduate players on the roster. Kids who just wanted to play one more season of high school baseball after getting a full season taken away from them earlier in their careers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Every other team in the state was afforded the same opportunity, and kids reclassify all the time to play a year of post-grad baseball; Buena just happened to have a half dozen “bridge” players on one roster.
And Carney knew his team wouldn’t get a lot of credit for anything it did during the regular season based on the schedule it was going to play. The Chiefs are part of the Cape-Atlantic League’s United Conference, mixed in with a bunch of other small schools who aren’t exactly baseball juggernauts. So the entire year he had to keep his players focused on the postseason and get them to understand they had to do something in that season to get any respect, while at the same time trying not to put too much pressure on them.
His team responded to his laid-back yet demanding style of coaching, in a big way. The Chiefs put together one of their greatest seasons ever, going 27-4, making it to the finals of the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, winning a South Jersey Group 1 championship and taking Pequannock to the limit in the state title game before losing 5-4. And they beat some pretty good teams along the way, including Audubon, Haddon Heights, Cedar Creek, Egg Harbor Township and Point Pleasant Beach.
This team may not have won a state championship, but it was mission accomplished for Carney. His seniors got to spend a few more months together as teammates — which most of them had been since their youth days. And they got to have a ton of success. Joey Kurtz, who will be headed to Goldey Beacom College in the fall, had one of the best pitching seasons in South Jersey, posting 77 strikeouts in 62 innings and pitching to a 1.57 ERA. Shortstop Tre Carano had a monster year, batting .443 with 47 hits, 42 runs and 26 RBIs to go along with 20 stolen bases, and catcher Ryley Betts was just as good, hitting .420 with 36 runs and 30 RBIs. Allen Adkins had a solid year, collecting 16 hits and 16 runs scored, and Charlie Saglimbeni was among the team leaders in runs scored with 23.
The Buena players may have to deal with some jeers like, “oh, how many college players did the other team have?” and things of that nature, but in the end it’s not about the Chiefs trying to beat the system in any way. These guys just wanted one last chance to put on the school uniform they had taken so much pride in, and to play baseball for a few more months with the guys they grew up with.
Having a guy like coach Carney guide them through what will be a season they remember for the rest of their lives is what makes it all the more special for these players, their parents, and the fans of the Buena baseball program.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays