May 10: Mercer County Community College baseball coach Kevin Kerins has gotten his share of Steinert products during his six years at the helm. Some have worked out well; others, not so much.
But there’s no question who has pushed himself to the top of that list when it comes to having the best offensive season of any of Kerins’ former Spartans. Or, in fact, any of his players from any school.
Catcher Anthony Peroni, a 2015 Steinert graduate, has put up ridiculous numbers for Mercer as it readies for this weekend’s NJCAA Division II Region 19 tournament at Del-Tech Owens.
“We’re lucky to have Anthony,” Kerins said. “I saw him when he was playing third base as a junior at Steinert and we liked him then. We’re really fortunate to have a player of his caliber, but man has he really taken off this year.
“In all honesty, he’s been the best hitter we’ve had in my tenure. His barrel is through the contact zone for so long. Plus his leadership qualities, he’s one of our captains. He’s a phenomenal kid and really talented player. If we’re going to have any chance of getting back to the World Series we’re going to need him. He’s been unbelievable.”
Peroni ranks amongst Division II’s national leaders in total bases (sixth, 124), on-base percentage (eighth, .549), slugging percentage (eighth, .827), batting average (18th, .440) and home runs (18th, 12). He also leads the Vikings in hits (66), doubles (22) and RBI (47), and is second in runs (45) and walks (31).
Peroni has somewhat surprised himself, especially with the home run output.
“That’s definitely the most I’ve ever had throughout my whole life,” he said with a laugh. “I knew I had to put on a couple pounds this off-season. I wanted to put on at least 10 to 15 pounds and I got to that goal. I really think that’s helped me as well as staying healthy and keeping my body in check. And lifting in-season was a big key as well, to keep everything feeling strong and staying on the field as much as I can.”
Kerins noted that Peroni had an outstanding post-season last year in the Region, Super Region and World Series, and that in 2017 he took things to another level.
“He found his timing, he made some changes to his leg kick,” the coach said. “I just think he knows now, how teams are gonna pitch him. He’s putting good swings on the ball, not trying to do too much. He’s staying gap to gap and he knows he’s got power to all fields. He’s a year more mature, he has a really good baseball IQ, which is a big deal, and he had a really good summer.”
Aside from increasing his physical strength last summer, Peroni worked tirelessly with his summer team coaches on improving his spring. He put a big emphasis on keeping his bat in the zone on a slightly uphill path for as long as possible to provide more power. He also worked on waiting to get the right pitch.
“I think I finally figured out the adjustments I needed to make,” he said. “Laying off the bad stuff was also important. I know they’re trying to work around me, at times they’re gonna throw off-speed. I gotta lay off that stuff and look for fastballs.”
The fact that he is a catcher – and a good one at that – has also aided Peroni. Since he has to think like a pitcher while behind the plate, it helps to think like one while at the plate.
“I think it’s honestly one of the biggest parts of my success,” Peroni said. “I understand the counts, and a lot of the approaches guys have against hitters such as myself who are power guys looking to drive the ball early in the count. They’re going to work it, and I need to figure what sides of the plate they’re going to throw to.
“When I call my games I like to work fast. I like to have my pitchers in the zone as much as I can, and kind of work off their fastball. I think it really helps me out, understanding counts and what pitches are gonna come in each count and what the other guys are thinking.”
Peroni’s mental and physical improvements have paid off in a big way, as he has earned a scholarship to the University of Delaware next year.
“I was talking to Old Dominion and Pittsburgh, I had a couple schools call me,” he said. “But Delaware really was on me from the beginning of last July with my summer team. They were there the whole way, every day. I’d get a text message, phone call from the coach. I think that swayed in my mind that these guys really care about me and my future and they promised they’re going to work their butts off to get me to the next level.”
This weekend the goal is to win a second straight Region 19 championship. The Vikings open with Lackawanna Friday morning in the double-elimination tournament. A loss brings them back at 3 p.m. Friday, a win gives them a break until 11 a.m. Saturday.
Other Hamilton Township players on the team are freshmen Sean McGeehan from Nottingham and Kenny Zahn from Steinert, along with sophomore Ross Talbot from Hamilton. McGeehan has been impressive with a .314 average, 19 stolen bases and 40 runs scored (third on the team). He has six doubles, a triple and two homers.
With the region tournament having arrived, Peroni knows everyone’s current statistics mean nothing.
“Once post season starts it’s all new stats, all new everything,” he said. “We are one team, one mindset trying to win a national championship That’s kind of what coach Kerins tries to instill in us in practice every day. He puts it in our heads. It’s a new season. Anything can happen, anyone can step up and be the guy at any time.”
Don’t be surprised if Peroni is that guy.