Baseball – Lancer Legends Reunite in ABCCL All-Star Game
LAKEWOOD - Joe Rotelli and Evan Pietronico were in opposing dugouts Wednesday night in the Atlantic Baseball Confederation Collegiate League Capt. Ryan K. Iannelli All-Star Game at FirstEnergy Park, but regardless of how many times they are on opposite ends of future All-Star games, men's league games or Wiffle Ball games, they will be forever be linked for the time they played together three years ago.
Two of the most prominent players from St. John Vianney's 2014 NJSIAA Non-Public A championship team reunited on the field as opponents Wednesday night in the ABCCL All-Star game, which saw Pietronico's Larry Doby All-Stars top Rotelli's Yogi Berra All-Stars, 5-1.
The former Lancer teammates seldom share the same field in an official capacity anymore, with Pietronico gearing up for his senior year at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rotelli preparing to play for his third college team, but the two still see plenty of one another. They still work out together at their high school alma mater during the summer and never mind reminiscing about their high school team that took down four consecutive powerhouse programs in Bishop Eustace, Christian Brothers Academy, Gloucester Catholic and St. Joseph's of Montvale on the way to the Lancers' first baseball championship in more than 30 years, as well as a No. 1 overall ranking in the state.
"That year's still always in the back of our heads," Rotelli said. "We always talk about it when we get back together. It's something we'll never let go. Me and Evan, we still see the banner on the wall when we walk in there. It doesn't happen that often, so we're very proud of it."
"It always clicks when we see each other," Pietronico said of his former SJV teammates. "We'll always have that year. We'll always be able to relive it and it's always going to follow us wherever we go. We're always going to talk about it and it's going to keep us close friends."
Not only did both former teammates make it to the mid-season All-Star game on Wednesday; both stood out. Pietronico walked in both of his plate appearances, stole a base and scored a pair of runs, while Rotelli was 2-for-3 with a double and a stolen base. Rotelli was also named the Team Berra's Most Valuable Player for the game.
"Summer's a great opportunity to get more reps and work on things," Rotelli said. "During the year, it's about the team and trying to be as consistent as possible, but in the summer, you can try new things, work on some things you want to do better next year and just go out and enjoy playing."
Both Rotelli and Pietronico were Shore Sports Network First-Team All-Shore hitters in 2014 and have gone on to contrasting college careers. Pietronico has 149 hits, 40 doubles and has hit .283 in three seasons as an outfielder at NJIT, including a sophomore season in 2016 in which he led the team in average (.305), doubles (21), home runs (4), RBI (44), walks (27), slugging percentage (.475) and on-base percentage (.386).
"This has been the best three years I could have asked for," Pietronico said of his experience at NJIT. "It's the best decision I've ever made. The coaches, my teammates, the school - everything has been incredible."
Pietronico has also enjoyed playing for a program that is now making inroads in the Major Leagues for the first time thanks to another product from the Shore Conference. Mark Leiter Jr. - the former Toms River North right-hander, son of former Major Leaguer Mark Sr. and nephew of former MLB All-Star Al Leiter - is currently in the Philadelphia Phillies starting rotation and is the first ever player from NJIT to reach the Majors. Leiter reached the Big Leagues with the same team that drafted him just seven years after graduating from Toms River North.
"It's huge to see somebody from our program in the Majors, especially another guy from the Shore," Pietronico said. "The coaches who are still here that coached him are pulling hard for him. A few of them went to see him when he made his debut (in Philadelphia). It's big for all the guys in the program to see that and know that it's possible to make it."
Rotelli is set to be a red-shirt junior at Dominican College this coming school year after spending two years at Brookdale. He initially attended Carson-Newman University in Tennessee before opting to return to Monmouth County and play for a Jersey Blues team long on Shore Conference talent. This past spring, Rotelli hit .314/.390/.579 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBI for Brookdale.
"I've jumped from school to school," Rotelli said. "I started in Tennessee and I didn't really like it. I loved Brookdale and now I'm moving on to Dominican College in New York, so I'm really just hoping for a great year there and that I have a great two years left."
The two former teammates are two of the top performers from the 2014 St. John Vianney team since the Lancers won the title, but not the only ones. Classmate Chris Morris went on to pitch at Seton Hall and was selected in the 18th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers on June 14.
"I was so glad to see him get drafted," Pietronico said. "He's a great kid, a great talent, he throws hard. He's a great pitcher, great teammate, a great friend and I'm so glad for him. It's a great thing."
"When that went on the board, I texted him immediately," Rotelli said. "I said, 'Chris, congratulations, man! Well-deserved, well-earned.' Wherever he goes, the time he spent at Vianney, he'll never forget that. It goes wherever you go."
State champions from the Shore were sprinkled throughout both rosters Wednesday. Jackson Memorial also won a Group IV championship in 2014 and left-handed pitcher Matt Guarino was an instrumental part of that run. Guarino is heading into his senior year at Widener University and pitched a scoreless inning with a pair of strikeouts around two baserunners for the Doby All-Stars.
John Moschella was one of the most feared hitters on Christian Brothers Academy's 2015 Non-Public A championship team, but did not get a chance to participate in the championship run due to injury. Moschella just completed his sophomore year at Tufts University and went 0-for-2 for the Doby side.
Three other Shore Conference pitchers made an appearance, with Wall alumnus Regan Dombroski tossing a clean inning with a strikeout for Team Berra. Dombroski just completed his freshman year at Monmouth University.
Lacey alum and 6-foot-6 right-hander Ray Hughes will be a junior at Stockton University this coming year and gave up an unearned run in the second inning after issuing a walk to Pietronico. Jackson Liberty alumni Taylor Reynolds also tossed an inning for the Doby All-Stars and officially notched a save.
Rob DeSanti (Barnegat/Caldwell), James Donlon (Brick Memorial/FDU-Teaneck), Justin Bates (Brick Memorial/Montclair State) and Steve Santigate (Marlboro/Kean) represented the Shore Conference on the Doby All-Stars, while Dan Valerio (Monmouth Regional/Southeastern) suited up for the Berra All-Stars.