Another stellar Raritan season comes to an end

first_imgYoung Rockets will only lose two players BY WARREN RAPPLEYEA Staff Writer PHOTOS BY CHRIS KELLY staff Above, Raritan’s Mike Nunes puts the bat on the ball during the Group III championship game June 7 at Toms River East High School. Below, the Rockets’ Sean Donovan gets set to fire a pitch to the plate. Although its season ended with a tough 4-2 loss in the NJSIAA Group III championship, the best may well be yet to come for the Raritan High School baseball team. The Rockets went 23-6 on the year and won the North Jersey 2 Group III tourney with a youthful lineup that included just two seniors — shortstop Mike Nunes and catcher Shaun Hanrahan. Raritan opened the Group III championship game in good form, scoring a run in each of the first two innings. Sal Straniero’s double plated the first Rocket run, and Andrew Mandeville blasted a solo homer in the second frame. Wall kept the game close and tied it up with a pair in the top of the fifth. In Raritan’s half of the inning, Nunes hit a long fly ball to center that was tracked down by Wall’s Jordan Softcheck, who made a spectacular grab to keep the score knotted and perhaps turn momentum his team’s way. The Knights pushed across another pair in the seventh to win the game. Rockets coach T.J. O’Donnell said his team has a lot to be proud of, including a robust .361 team batting average and the Shore Conference B North title, in addition to the North Jersey 2 Group III crown. “We’re a very young team and we’ll have most of them back, including our pitching staff,” the coach said. “But our two seniors are going to be very difficult to replace.” That’s because Nunes and Hanrahan are valuable all-around players as well as team leaders. Nunes batted .471 with six homers and 30 RBIs, while playing excellent defense. Hanrahan hit .391 with a pair of homers and 25 RBIs and provided a solid presence behind the plate with an arm that discouraged would-be base stealers. Both players are four-year starters. There is, however, plenty of other talent. Junior Sean Donovan, 5-2, leads a solid pitching staff that includes sophomore Rick Russomano, 5-0 with a 2.71 ERA, and freshman Marc Zecchino, 7-0 with an 0.94 ERA. At the plate, the Rockets return plenty of firepower. Straniero, a junior second baseman, led the team with a .480 average to go with five homers and a team-leading 35 RBIs. Russomano batted .356 with 18 RBIs, usually playing third base when not pitching. Mandeville, an outfielder, hit .295 with three homers and 14 RBIs. DH Mike Plagianakos, who is expected to pick up the catching duties next spring, ended the season at .275. Other key returners include a pair of juniors, outfielder Steve Bilowos and first baseman/pitcher Mark Maglione. Both players are good hitters. Raritan’s win total was just one behind last year’s squad and ranks fourth in team history. The Rockets won 25 games in 1990 and 24 contests in 1988. “Our guys played well under pressure in the tournaments where they won some big games and beat teams like South Plainfield and Nutley,” O’Donnell said. “They did a good job, and to get to the Group III final is a great accomplishment.” BY WARREN RAPPLEYEAStaff Writer last_img

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