LINCROFT – Last season, CBA was on a roll winning 13 straight games before losing to Red Bank Catholic in the Monmouth Conference Tournament semifinals.
Following that loss, they got back on track winning their next three games before the roof caved in on them and they lost their final three.
A one-run loss to Point Pleasant Boro in the Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16 as the No. 1 seed and a 4-1 loss to Notre Dame in the South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals – again as the top-seed – unceremoniously ended their season.
Injuries plagued the Colts in the latter part of the season and played a significant role in their late-season swoon. Three of their top players, including this year’s starting shortstop Tommy Ditullio, struggled playing through their injuries and were never really the same late in the season.
Ditullio will attempt to bounce back this season and regain the form that made him an All-Shore selection as a sophomore in 2017 and a Bryant University commit.
“Injuries aside, our main problem last year was we struggled to get runs across the board,” said All-Shore first baseman/pitcher Braedin Hunt, who certainly did his part batting .453 with five doubles, three home runs, 12 runs scored and 19 RBI while posting a .554 OBP and .717 slugging percentage. “This year we’ve been hitting and seeing the ball a lot better and we’re a better hitting team overall. So I think moving forward in big games and tournaments we’re going to contribute better and take some stress off our pitchers.”
Hunt, who’s verbally committed to Rutgers, is one of those pitchers who, along with senior lefty Joe Escandon, give the Colts two dynamic starters at the top of their rotation. A year ago he posted a sparkling 1.17 ERA in 18 innings pitched finishing with a 2-0 record. If he can get can cut down on his walks (14) he has the potential to be one of the best right-handers in the Shore.
“We’re looking pretty good actually,” said Hunt when asked how the preseason went. “We have a lot of key newcomers who are stepping up to the plate and contributing the way we need them to. And we have a variety of guys that are going to step up and have the captain role and take charge of the team this year.”
Escandon is penciled in as the No. 1 starter after a season that saw him garner coaches’ All-Shore honors following a 5-0 season with 39 strikeouts in 33 IP while posting a 1.70 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
“I think we’re looking good.” said Escandon, who has been impressed with the Colts pitching staff so far this spring. “We have a number of guys that can fill key roles and our pitching has a chance to be a strength of the team.”
Junior newcomer and Northeastern University-commit Pat Riley looks to be the No. 3 starter with senior lefty Evan Mahns stepping into a starting role as the fourth starter.
Junior Mason Wolfe and senior Anthony Pillari are slated for middle relief and closing duties while junior right-hander Declan Hoverter and senior righty C.J. Shekian are expected to provide pitching depth.
Wolfe saw time behind the plate last year when he went 9-for-30 with nine RBI and gets the start there this season, but he also plays the outfield giving the Colts some maneuverability as Pillari can fill in behind the plate too.
Senior Connor Baksh had just 15 plate appearances last season but two went for home runs while going 4-for-13 with a pair of walks and he gets the starting nod in right field.
Anthony Celestre had a part-time role last season but will start in center field for the Colts this season after he went 4-for-19 with a triple and six walks a year ago.
“Mason Wolfe our catcher, Connor Baksh and Anthony Celestre have all hit the ball really well this spring,” said Escandon. “Our team in general has all been getting a couple of hits a game. We’ve been putting a lot of runs across the board so it’s been helping our pitching out and it’s looking good for us this year.”
A couple of newcomers round out the starting lineup with junior Ben Settino taking over in left field and junior Jason Arnott getting the starting nod at second base.
“We’re doing really well, we’re just playing our game,” Hunt said. “We’re not trying to hit the ball out of the park every time up, we’re putting runners in motion, we’re getting the ball on the ground and just making things happen with our speed and just manufacturing runs. We can get a lot of movement on the bases and put some pressure on the other team’s defense.”
“I think we’re capable of winning the Shore Conference and Monmouth County tournament championships and hopefully get a state title,” Escandon added. “I think with the group of guys we have this year we’re capable of doing that.”