By Rich Fisher
May 9: After pitching Steinert to a 10-0, five-inning win over Princeton Day School Tuesday in a Mercer County Tournament quarterfinal, senior pitcher Dave Stec was asked if he wished he had a few more years left to play with freshman CJ Pittaro.
“I’d definitely like to have him behind me a few more years,” Stec said. “He’s going to be special when he’s older, definitely.”
He’s going to be?
If special is yet to come, what do we consider today’s performance?
All Pittaro did was overcome a bad first at-bat and an error to blast a three-run double and grand slam in carrying the top-seeded Spartans (19-3) to Saturday’s semifinal game against 4th-seeded Hopewell Valley at Veterans Park Saturday night.
In the bottom of the first, Pittaro came up with runners on second and third and one out, and hit a weak grounder back to Ryan Sparks, who got the out and got out of the inning unscathed. In the top of the second, Pittaro booted a ball at second base.
At that point, many players would go in the tank, especially a freshman.
“I was always taught that it’s one game in the field and another game at the plate,” Pittaro said. “You don’t want to carry either over to the other. I thought I did a good job of that today. I didn’t hang my head and I came back. We played well, and I’m proud of my performance.
And well he should be.
In the second, Ryan Mostrangeli’s fielder’s choice plated Drayven Kowalski, and Brendan James scored on a balk. After Joey Sacco walked and Jake Beyer reached on a two-out error, Pittaro drove Sparks first offering into the right-centerfield gap for a three-run double.
“It was a high fastball and I jump on those,” Pittaro said. “I like the high pitch.”
In the fourth inning, Mostrangeli reached on an infield hit, Sacco got the second of his three infield singles and Beyer walked. Pittaro took two balls and then crushed a no-doubt-about-it bomb over the right field fence.
“That was a 2-0 fastball,” Pittaro said. “It was a little lower but I was glad I put a good swing on it and glad I contributed to the win.”
Pittaro, of course, comes from baseball royalty as his grandfather, Sonny, coached Rider for a zillion years and his dad, Chris, played in the Major Leagues. If anyone knows that baseball is a grind-it-out sport, it’s CJ, which is why he shook off his early flubs.
“He can come back and forget those things and play,” coach Brian “The Chef” Giallella said. “He’s not a typical freshman, he’s a baseball player.
“With his background, you have that instilled in you, how to play the game. You watch baseball, you know baseball, you’re around it and that’s obviously what he brings to the table.”
Giallella feels he has numerous players who are the same way.
“They know about the game and have watched it,” he said. “They’re not guys who sit home and don’t watch baseball and don’t care about baseball. They do. And that’s important to our team.”
Pittaro wasn’t the only one with mental toughness. Stec threw a one-hitter but had to overcome some loose fielding as Steinert committed four errors. He feels it’s part of his job.
“We actually talk about it before the game,” Stec said. “As a pitcher, if one of your defenders makes an error you always want to go out there and pick him up. You never want to leave him hanging like that.”
“What he did is nothing new,” Pittaro said. “We love Dave and it’s a good way to start off his first county tournament this year. He pitched very well. It’s a great outing for him.”
As for Pittaro, it’s his first county tournament ever. But he has seen his share of big games through Nottingham Little League and with Post 31.
“This is a little different,” he said. “I try not to let it get into my head. I try to let it stay as just a regular game, even though it’s not. You try to have the same approach for every game, and we’ve played a lot of games growing up that are definitely fun. I enjoy the moment, we have fun and it’s great playing with these guys.”
Steinert plays a Bulldogs team looking for revenge, as the Spartans took 10-5 and 12-2 wins on Apr. 19/21. Hopewell took a 3-1 win over Notre Dame in today’s quarterfinal.