CLARK – To go from a winter and pre-season of discontent – as far as the weather was concerned – to more snow on Tuesday, to a 2-0 start two days later, yeah, eighth-year Johnson head baseball coach Dave Kennedy will take that any season.
Johnson pushed across seven runs in the bottom of the first of Thursday’s home-opener against Linden and never looked back, cruising to a commanding 14-4 Union County Conference-Mountain Division triumph at Johnson High School.
The field at Johnson looked great after a harsh winter and early spring that saw continued below normal temperatures and snowfall up until the day before the high school season commenced, which was Tuesday.
Junior right hander Anthony Furci pitched the first 3 and 2/3 innings and junior lefty Ryan Mulroy the final 1 and 1/3 for the Crusaders, who defeated the Tigers in a five-inning affair.
Linden moved to the Mountain Division of the UCC this year after being situated in the upper Watchung Division.
Johnson improved to 2-0 overall and leads the Mountain Division at 2-0, while Linden is now 1-1 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain.
Both teams opened with road victories on Wednesday, Johnson downing three-time defending Mountain Division champion Dayton 3-2 at Springfield’s Ruby Field, while Linden won at New Providence 5-3.
After Linden pushed across an unearned run in the top of the first – Alex Primavera scored after reaching base on a single to center – Johnson took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the inning before an out was registered.
Junior catcher Dan O’Donnell smoked a blast over the center fielder’s head that bounced right before the 375 foot sign in straightaway center for a two-run double that put the Crusaders ahead for good at 3-1. Trevor McSorley followed with a groundout RBI.
Wesley Giannobile drove in a run on a fielder’s choice and the inning’s final two runs came across home plate after a throwing error. Jason Brougham drove in Johnson’s first run on a single to left.
Johnson added five more runs in the bottom of the second, with Mike Lesniewski and Steve Weisensee driving in two runs apiece on infield singles.
Furci, who retired nine batters in a row at one point before getting hit a bit in the fourth inning, earned the mound victory in an effort that saw him throw just under 70 pitches. He threw his first 23 in the first inning.
“Anthony threw all right,” Kennedy said. “I think he wanted to have a better outing.”
Furci retired the side in order in the second and third innings. He struck out five and walked one, while giving up four runs – three of them earned – and five hits, with the last four against him coming in Linden’s three-run fourth..
“He’s going to be important for us for our success,” Kennedy said.
Designated hitter Dan Martins drove in a run with a double to left and Jimmy Czarnatowicz delivered an RBI-single to left for Linden in the Tiger fourth.
Linden senior catcher James Cotter banged out a single to left in the fourth and a double to left in the fifth.
“James and (Gary) Puente are our senior leaders,” third-year Linden head coach Billy Mastriano said. “James did not get a hit against New Providence, so it was good to get him going.”
Puente, Linden’s shortstop, is in his third year on the varsity and Cotter his second.
“This was an aberration today, we just didn’t have any energy,” Mastriano said. “Johnson has a nice club. We now have to familiarize ourselves with the teams in the Mountain Division.”
Johnson is coming off a 9-15 season that didn’t see the Crusaders post victory No. 2 until their seventh game of the 2014 campaign.
“We feel pretty good,” Kennedy said. “We have room for growth.
“We have senior leadership and our juniors are very athletic. This time of the year you never know you’re going to get.”
Johnson’s next game is at home Saturday at noon against Piscataway, while Linden will travel to Hudson County to play Dickinson Saturday at 1 p.m. in Jersey City.
Linden is then scheduled to play at Dayton next Thursday at 4 p.m. before playing its home-opener vs. Roselle Catholic April 11 at 1 p.m.
PITCHERS ZICARO, WEISENSEE EXCEL IN OPENERS
Both Linden and Johnson received outstanding, complete-game performances from senior pitchers in their season-openers.
For the Tigers at New Providence, senior lefty Anthony Zicaro tossed a seven-hitter in a 103-pitch effort that included five strikeouts, two walks and only two unearned runs against.
The second-year varsity player earned his first varsity victory after going 0-5 last year with a couple of no-decisions. Not all of his starts were bad ones last year, despite the winless record.
“Anthony ran into some tough luck on several occasions a year ago,” Mastriano said. “Against New Providence he looked good.
“He was getting ahead with his fastball and took command of the strike zone. His fastball and changeup were really working for him most of the game.”
The one pitch that wasn’t, according to Mastriano, was his curveball, which – ironically – he used to clinch the division victory.
“New Providence had runners on second and third and its cleanup batter up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Anthony struck out the game’s final batter by freezing him with a curveball,” Mastriano said. “He pounds the zone and has good movement.”
Mastriano said that Zicaro is getting looks from Jersey City University, Rutgers-Newark and Bloomfield College.
Weisensee went the distance for Johnson at Dayton, throwing 81 pitches. He allowed two runs – both earned – on five hits, while striking out seven, walking one and hitting one batter.
“Steve was great,” Kennedy said. “He also had a nice day at bat with a couple of hits.”
Weisensee was 2-for-4, with a single, a double, a run and an RBI.
“He was throwing his fastball well and attacking the zone early,” Kennedy said.
Dayton tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the third before Johnson scored single runs in the top of the fifth and sixth.
Last year’s winningest team in Union County with a final record of 24-5, Dayton closed the game’s scoring with a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-MOUNTAIN DIVISION BASEBALL AT JOHNSON HIGH SCHOOL
Linden (1-1, 1-1) 1 0 0 3 0 – 4
Johnson (2-0, 2-0) 7 5 2 0 x – 14
WINNING PITCHER: Anthony Furci, junior RH, (1-0).
LOSING PITCHER: Kevin Roll, sophomore RH, (0-1).
LINDEN TIGERS (1-1):
10-Rayquan Hodge, junior, left field
4-Alex Primavera, senior, center field
7-Gary Puente, senior, shortstop
20-James Cotter, senior, catcher
21-Dan Martins, junior, designated hitter
14-Jimmy Czarnatowicz, senior, third base
5-Eddie Guzman, senior, second base
46-Kevin Roll, sophomore, pitcher (RH)
24-Jonathan Wagner, junior, right field
11-Niko Micheludis, senior, first base
Head coach: Billy Mastriano, third year
JOHNSON CRUSADERS (2-0):
11-Rob Horvath, senior, center field
7-Steve Weisensee, senior, second base
21-Jason Brougham, senior, shortstop
15-Dan O’Donnell, senior, catcher
18-Trevor McSorley, senior, right field
9-Mitchell Becker, junior, left field
12-Mike Lesniewski, senior, third base
14-Wesley Giannobile, first base
20-Tom Mace, designated hitter
10-Anthony Furci, junior, pitcher (RH)
5-Andrew Sanchez, junior
22-Anthony Rizzuto, junior
23-Tyler Mulroy, junior
8-Ryan Mulroy, junior
3-Bobby Prestinori, junior
2-Tommy Colicchio, junior
Head coach: Dave Kennedy, eighth year