Bengal Baseball Enjoys Being Out of the Spotlight
The atmosphere around the Barnegat High School varsity baseball team is much more relaxed compared to last season. That’s because last year the Bengals featured one of the nation’s top scholastic prospects, left-handed pitcher Jason Groome, whom the Boston Red Sox picked with the 12th selection in the amateur draft. Games which the fireballing southpaw started turned into major events, with the bleachers filled with major league baseball front office personnel and scouts.
“It definitely brought unnecessary tension,” said head coach Dan McCoy. “It made the kids feel pressured, and even though I tried to tell them to not let them get bothered about it, I don’t think we handled it well. It’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re playing in front of all these scouts. Now everything’s back to normal as we’re not under the spotlight.”
Last year’s team finished 13-12 (8-7 in the Shore Conference B-South division). The Bengals made it to the second round in the NJSIAA playoffs before losing to the eventual champion, West Deptford. The team also made it to the semifinals of the Ocean County Tournament, losing to the eventual champ, Toms River North.
As of last weekend, this year’s team is 2-4 (2-3 in B-South). The Bengals started off with three straight losses, 6-4 loss to Jackson Liberty, a 5-1 defeat to Pinelands Regional and 15-4 to Toms River South. They righted the ship with a 5-4 victory over Donovan Catholic, lost to Manchester, 6-5, and then downed Lakewood, 9-2.
“We made too many errors early on,” said McCoy. “But it is still a long season, and we looked good in our last game against Lakewood, so maybe we’re going to turn the corner. We’re a young team, and mistakes are going to happen early on.”
Shortstop/pitcher Aaron McLaughlin is leading the team with a .429 batting average, while sophomore right fielder Brian Finucan is batting .412. Senior second baseman/pitcher Justin Dieffenbach is batting .400.
McCoy said sophomore pitcher Tyler Suydam has looked impressive with a 1-0 record and 2.62 ERA. Last year, he was 2-2 with a 1.43 ERA.
“He’s a big kid who throws very hard,” said McCoy. “We return a solid pitching staff from a year ago. The group had a 1.43 ERA. The big question mark this year is scoring runs. If the Bengals can improve on their batting, they should compete for the B-South championship.”
A key newcomer is freshman Luke Bush, who will be the catcher. He has an older brother, junior Ryan Bush, who is on the pitching staff.
“Luke looks good defensively, but the bat is going to need to come around,” said McCoy.
The coach said other contributors include senior infielder Mimo Padilla, senior rightfielder Eric Becker, senior outfielder/pitcher Evan Albanese, senior first-basemen Nik Caputo and Brian DeCandia, and freshman outfielder/pitcher Lucas Torres.
— Eric Englund