WALL TWP. - Wall head coach Todd Schmitt is one of only two Shore Conference coaches ever to guide his team to a division, county, conference and NJSIAA Group championships in the same season.

Schmitt sees a quality about this team that he thinks will give it as much of a chance as any he has had, and it's not one you might guess when you consider all the talent Wall returns from its 22-6 team from a year ago.

"The team chemistry," Schmitt said. "That's the stuff you wish you could bottle because you are going to have teams in the future and have had teams in the past who don't have that chemistry. We have had teams as talented as this one that didn't have the chemistry these guys have."

It also doesn't hurt to have a pitching staff led by the guy who took the mound to open Wall's season Tuesday against St. John Vianney.

The Crimson Knights - ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and No. 4 in the entire state by NJ.com - opened a 2019 season overflowing with preseason expectations by shutting out the Lancers, 3-0, behind a dominant outing by senior left-hander Trey Dombroski.

Wall senior Trey Dombroski. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The Monmouth University recruit struck out a career-high 14 in six one-hit, shutout innings Tuesday to kick off an an anticipated senior season for him and most of his teammates.

"It's a great feeling to open up the season with a win," Dombroski said. "If anything, this shows we have a target on our backs every single win and it's only going to get bigger and bigger every game. We just have to give our A-game every single day."

Dombroski is the reigning Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year after posting a 0.54 ERA during his 8-1 2018 season for Wall. It did not, however, result in a tournament championship for the Crimson Knights, who were eliminated from the Monmouth County, Shore Conference and NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournaments with Dombroski watching from the dugout.

"There is a little bit of pressure with the rankings and all that other stuff," Schmitt said. "I just tell the guys none of that other stuff matters until June. We have gotten to sectional finals twice and lost by one run and from a coaching end of it, those are the games you want to be ready to play. That's when it really counts."

One of those losses was a 1-0 loss to Central Regional in extra innings in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals with senior Grant Shulman on the mound. After Dombroski threw his 102nd pitch to close out the sixth inning, Shulman warmed up and took the ball to finish out the opening-day win with a one-two-three seventh.

Shulman also opened the scoring Tuesday with a first-inning sacrifice fly to score senior shortstop Johnny Volpe, who walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and took third on a deep fly ball by junior center fielder Teddy Sharkey.

"We didn't get the bats going too well but our pitching dominated, our defense was good," Shulman said. "Once we get the bats going, we'll be right where we want to be."

Wall scored enough to back Dombroski despite managing only two hits combined against St. John Vianney sophomore Ryan Sekman (4 innings, 3 runs, 2 earned runs, 4 walks and 4 strikeouts) and senior Matt Dellea (two scoreless innings). Sharkey ripped an RBI single to left field to score senior right fielder Doug Wetzel and sophomore Jason Bant scorched a double to right field in the bottom of the sixth but was tagged out when he briefly came off the second base bag.

"They are disciplined hitters and they have a lot of experience," Schmitt said. "We didn't really hit much in the spring but with this group, you know it's going to come. When you get pitching like we got today, you don't need to score a whole lot of runs. If we get a couple on the board, we're usually in good shape."

Wall senior Grant Shulman during last year's sectional final vs. Allentown. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Volpe slid over from second base to cover for senior Dylan Richey, who was just cleared to return to action after sitting with a wrist injury, according to Schmitt. Senior Ryan Napolitano, who will start on the mound in Wednesday's game at St. John Vianney, started at second base on Wednesday.

Wall played a clean game in the field and made the most of two hits at the plate, but Tuesday was all about their senior ace. Dombroski threw his breaking ball early in counts to get ahead and also buried it on the back foot of St. John Vianney's all-right-handed lineup. Nine of his 14 strikeouts ended with a breaking ball and he punched out five with his overpowering fastball.

"If I get my first-pitch breaking ball over, I feel like it can only help me tremendously in getting my fastball going later in the count," Dombroski said. "Especially in heavy hitter counts - I've got to be able to throw a breaking ball."

Dombroski's only blemishes were two walks to senior catcher Luciano Fabrizzi, who hit .425 for St. John Vianney last season, a walk to Domenic Cerniglia in the sixth, and a single to right field by John Higgins in the second. The three walks matched a career high and contributed to a pitch count that hit 102 by the end of the sixth inning.

"You always have butterflies in your stomach for the first start and first game of the year," Dombroski said. "After that first inning, I got my rhythm and I felt good."

Last year, Dombroski pitched seven innings in eight of his nine starts and the only game he failed to complete was his one loss - a non-division defeat against Wall after the Crimson Knights had already wrapped up a Class B North championship.

Although Dombroski could not get through seventh, his strikeout prowess was better than it has ever been. He struck out seven straight from the end of the fourth to the middle of the sixth and the last 10 batters he retired he did so via the strikeout.

Dombroski will headline a pitching staff with two All-Shore pitchers in Shulman and Napolitano behind him and Sharkey, a Florida State University commit who has mostly pitched in a relief role during his first two varsity seasons but will start more in 2019, according to Schmitt. Starting first baseman Tanner Powers also has big-game experience on the mound, giving Wall five reliable arms with which to navigate their schedule.

"I know for me, I have to be ready for anything," Shulman said. "Playing third and pitching, I don't know when I am going to start or come in in relief, but whatever they need me to do, I'm going to do. We've got four other starters and we're confident with all of them. We can win any game with any of them on the mound, so I'm okay to start or relieve - whatever gets the job done."

"We didn't see using Grant as a starter this week, so he becomes the guy on the back end," Schmitt said. "We are going to have weeks when we can do that with one of our guys. But next week, we have four games, so when we have weeks like that, it becomes more of a traditional rotation. That's the nice thing about having five guys you trust - it gives you a lot of options and a lot of flexibility."

Wall's season ended on its home field in the Central Jersey Group III final when Sharkey's line drive to left field ended up in an Allentown glove with the potential tying run in scoring position.

After an offseason to live with that loss, the Crimson Knights finally got to move on and begin their pursuit and ending this season with a win.

"We can't take anyone lightly," Dombroski said. "We have high expectations and if we don't meet those expectations, it's going to be a lost season."

 

Box Score

No. 2 Wall 3, St. John Vianney 0

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
SJV (0-1, 0-1) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3
Wall (1-0, 1-0) 1 0 1 1 0 0 X 3 2 0

Pitching

St. John Vianney IP H R ER BB SO PC
Ryan Sekman (L, 0-1) 4 1 3 2 4 4 73
Matt Dellea 2 1 0 0 2 2 32
Wall IP H R ER BB SO PC
Trey Dombroski (W, 1-0) 6 1 0 0 3 14 102
Grant Shulman (SV, 1) 1 0 0 0 0 1 13

Top Hitters

St. John Vianney Stats
John Higgins 1-2
Luciano Fabrizzi 0-1, 2 BB
Wall Stats
Teddy Sharkey 1-2, RBI
Grant Shulman 0-2, RBI
Jay Bant 1-2, 2B
Tanner Powers 0-1, 2 BB, R

 

 

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