Young team, plus no home field, equals two titles

The Montclair Kimberley baseball team entered the 2022 season with no home and a group of freshmen on the roster.

The school decided to replace the grass field with a multipurpose grass field at Montclair Kimberley Middle School, home of the baseball and softball teams, and the two programs were in turn forced to find temporary housing this year.

The Cougars baseball team would play all of the street games while practice would be held at West Orange High School. MKA played a few games at West Orange, making it their de facto home ground.

Additionally, the Cougars had four freshmen who would see tough innings this season.

These ingredients don’t bode well, but MKA made the most of them and even collected hardware.

The Cougars would finish with a 17-7 record while also winning the Super Essex Conference Colonial Division and Prep B Tournament titles.

“Overall, I think the kids played really well, especially given the odds of not having a home field and a lot of young kids,” said Montclair Kimberley head coach Ralph Pacifico.

Senior John Testa scores against Gill St. Bernard in the semifinals of the Prep B tournament. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

Senior John Testa scores against Gill St. Bernard in the semifinals of the Prep B tournament. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

The Cougars won a share of the SEC Colonial with Barringer and defeated Rutgers Prep to win the Prep B tournament.

With a stake in the Colonial title, they will move up a division and play in the Liberty Division next year.

“We’re very happy,” Pacifico said of the move to Liberty, which will also have West Orange, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge and Verona. “It’s good for us and a lot less travel.”

The key for the Cougars this season has been team defense and hitting in time.

Pacifico said the roster’s best-played games came in the Prep B tournament. In the semifinals, the Cougars won 8-7 at Gill St. Bernard’s. And then they held on to upsetting Rutgers Prep 3-1 in the title game.

In the Colonial Division, the season opener set up MKA as it defeated Barringer 6-1. “It was a nice win early on,” Pacifico said.

This year, four players who were named to the All SEC Colonial first team helped lead the offense, senior John Testa, junior Jack Amirata, and two freshmen, Luca Siegar and Quinn Carlesimo.

Testa was a leader on the team, solid at shortstops, a demon on the base paths, and one of the best throwers for MKA. He had 37 stolen bases, 33 runs and hit .464, but there were also the intangibles.

“He was a great leader by example,” Pacifico said, adding that Testa was always balanced. “He would never go too big or too low… He was a threat on the base paths and played a flawless shortstop.”

Amirata hit an important home run in the win over Rutgers Prep and also played in the big games, where he had a 1.09 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 25.1 innings. The junior was also a top hitter, hitting .418 with 17 stolen bases and leading the Cougars with four homers.

The MKA baseball team celebrates after winning the Prep B tournament championship in May. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

The MKA baseball team celebrates after winning the Prep B tournament championship in May. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

“I think he hit the ball well all year,” Pacifico said, adding of his pitching, “His position and speed of his pitches were good and they’re only getting better.”

Siegar excelled behind the plate and showed promise with the racquet. “One of the best rookie catchers I’ve coached and seen in 20 years,” said the coach. “He has a strong arm and great assets.”

The other top freshman for the 2022 Cougars was Carlesimo, who was one of the top defensive second basemen in the SEC while also being one of the top offensive producers for MKA. Carlesimo’s 23 runs scored and 22 hits were among the team’s tops.

“I think he just had one mistake on second base and that’s crazy,” Pacifico said.

The All SEC Colonial second team included senior Michael Bronstein, junior Max Nussbaum and freshman Jake Rendino.

Bronstein contributed on offense, but it was his outfield play that earned him all the division honors. “He was solid on the field and a leader in the team,” said the coach.

One player to look forward to in 2023 is Nussbaum. Pacifico said that Nussbaum will give up competitive skiing and focus on baseball. He had a 3.20 ERA on the mound and could be one of the team’s top pitchers next season.

“I think he did a great job later in the season,” Pacifico said. “I think he realized he could play baseball in college.”

Rendino’s strength this season has been his speed and outfield play. “He gets on the line very quickly,” said the coach. “He made some great catches in the outfield and stopped runners from taking extra base.”

Junior outfielder Nic Lembo was nominated for All Colonial Honorable Mention. Lembo hit .368 and could count on at least knocking over the bishops. “He rarely hit and always put the ball in play,” Pacifico said.

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