Staff report
If you’re a fan of high school baseball in South Jersey you know that Buena Regional High may be one of the smallest schools in the area, but it has a long tradition of outstanding baseball teams. Year in and year out the Chiefs continue to produce teams that can not only compete in the sectional playoffs but have been known to make runs in the Diamond Classic and give much bigger schools fits whenever they pop up on the schedule.
So it won’t be any surprise if the Buena Blue Dawgs, one of four expansion teams in the newly formed South Jersey South Shore Baseball League, are very competitive right out of the gate. The league was formed when six teams came over from the Atlantic County Baseball League and added four “expansion” teams, including Buena, Somers Point Captains, Egg Harbor Township Eagles and Galloway Mustangs.
The Blue Dawgs have some serious talent including former Major League catcher Johnny Monell Jr., who played for the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants and now runs Second To None baseball academy, as well as Darren Fischer, who played in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and Alexi Colon, a former star outfielder at St. Augustine Prep who spent time with the San Diego Padres organization.
Buena also has guys such as shortstop Marco Rios, son of head coach Luis Rios and Jimmy Kurtz (Buena/Mercer County College). In the pitching department, the Blue Dawgs have plenty of depth and talent with the likes of Anthony Maselli (RCSJ-Cumberland), T.J. Cheli (ACCC), Andrew Slade (Buena High), Greg Zerbe (Williamstown High), and three other Cumberland arms in Andrew Simone, Noah Robinson and Matt Johnson.
“Taking a quick glance at the league’s rosters one thing that jumps out is competitive balance in the league, which basically ensures high quality competitive baseball on a nightly basis,” coach Rios said. “Baseball has always been big in Buena and we have always had excellent youth and high school programs. In recent years the one thing that has been lacking was an opportunity for the athletes to continue playing locally after graduation. For the players still in college, the SJSSBL will provide them with an opportunity to continue playing against top competition — and for the younger players it will provide them with the exposure and experience they need to help them get to the next level.”
Buena isn’t just relying on college guys, however, as the Blue Dawgs have been stocking the roster with some current high school players to make sure they can be competitive for years to come. Some of those players include Joey Kurtz, Dante Coia, Anthony Pantalione, Brandon Strouse, Zach Strouse, Cole Shover, all of Buena, and Zach Zerbe of Williamstown.
“When Mike (Martino), Jim (Kurtz) and I were constructing our roster we wanted a balance of youth and experience.  We have a combination of players with professional and college experience to go along with our high school talent. We feel this is a great opportunity for the younger players to see how the more experienced players conduct themselves on and off the field. The younger guys will see firsthand the physical and mental preparation that it takes to excel at the next level,” coach Rios said. “Our goal is simple this year: we want to throw strikes, play defense and be aggressive on the bases. We feel we have the arms and offensive balance to be competitive and we know that it will take a total team effort because every game is going to be competitive.”
The Blue Dawgs have a little bit later start than the rest of the league because they’ll be competing in the Bridgeton Invitational, so their season won’t start until Wednesday, June 2 at 7:30 p.m. when they travel to Pitney Road Park to take on the Absecon Outlaws.