Baseball Top 20 in 2020 – No. 3: Point Pleasant Boro
Shore Sports Network is counting down its top 20 baseball teams heading into the would-be 2020 season by profiling each one. You can read the division-by-division previews and the other top-20 profiles here.
Shore Sports Network Baseball 20 in 2020 – No. 3: Point Pleasant Boro
Nick Guzzi finished off his junior season on the mound the same way he spent its entirety: pitching a great game.
The St. John’s University signee took a one-hitter into the sixth inning of the NJSIAA Group II final – the first ever state-championship-game appearance by the Panthers – before he and his team succumbed to ace Ryan Ramsey and a Pascack Hills powerhouse, 2-0.
Guzzi walked off the mound after the bottom of the sixth hoping his team could rally and when it did not, he boarded the bus back to the Jersey Shore already counting the days until he got a chance to finish the job as a senior.
“Nick is the ultimate competitor and if you are around him, you know he was already thinking about next year as soon as that game ended,” Point Boro coach Dave Drew said. “He was crushed, like we all were. We wanted to win that game but we got beat by a great team and I think that served as instant motivation to come back and make another run at it this year.”
As the final week of April begins, Guzzi, the rest of this teammates and all of New Jersey is still waiting to hear what will become of the 2020 season. For a significant portion of the Panthers roster, this spring was to be their last ride within a special set of careers and memorable stretch for Point Boro baseball. The seniors have already played in two NJSIAA sectional finals, played in the first group final for the first time and captured the program's first ever Ocean County Tournament championship last year as well.
As sweet as last year's 23-win campaign was, it would have been hard for Guzzi and his classmates to script an ending more bitter than the one they tasted last season but that is exactly what faces them as time continues to slip away on the 2020 spring season.
“This is really tough,” Drew said of the pandemic-related shut-down. “We were really looking forward to this year. We thought it had a chance to be a really special year after having a really special year last season. We still don’t know what’s going to happen, but needless to say, if we can’t play this year, it’s going to be devastating for our kids.”
What makes the current stay-at-home predicament especially frustrating is there is reason to think Point Boro, as Drew intimated, would have had an even better chance at winning the Group II championship this year. The graduation of three quality starters in shortstop Sam Collins, centerfielder Christian Aurin and first baseman Paul Fraceschini – two of whom were also in Point Boro’s starting pitching rotation – would have been an obstacle but what made this year unique is that the pieces appeared to be falling squarely into place around the group that came back.
“We came in looking for a centerfielder, we were looking to fill the leadoff spot in the order and a shortstop, and then we needed to find that 1-A pitcher,” Drew said. “The best thing about this team is we have some holes to fill, but we have a lot of guys who can pitch. Whatever it is we need, we have a lot of guys who can do the job and we were looking forward to see what these guys were going to do.”
On top of Guzzi – who Drew said would likely be the team’s designated hitter when he is not pitching – Point Boro brings back starters at catcher, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. Guzzi’s battery mate will again be senior Ryan Jasaitis, now in his third year as the starting catcher. Jasaits was second on the team behind Collins with a .358 batting average a year ago and brings back quality defense to go with his steady bat.
Senior second baseman Nick Zbikowski and junior third baseman Frankie Dominici are both back in the lineup as well, giving the Panthers three returning starters in place around the infield and four when including Guzzi in the equation. Dominici was even making a play to move to shortstop early in camp and Zbikowski also has experience playing shortstop. Senior Connor Kennedy also returns with experience at second base and could occupy that spot if Drew opts to play Zbikowski at shortstop.
Despite losing Collins – a First-Team All-Shore selection in 2019 and the Shore’s leader in hits (45) last year – the Panthers have a wealth of options at shortstop. On top of Dominici and Zbikowski, Point Boro welcomes in two new players in senior Kyle Fisher and freshman Connor Cilento who could potentially occupy the open spot. Fisher is the obvious choice, having transferred from Cherokee High School after starting for the Chiefs as a junior. Cilento, however, could be a wild card in 2020 and will be a major factor heading into 2021 as a middle infielder and likely a pitcher as well.
“Sammy was a special player and a special kid for us during his career,” Drew said. “I don’t think you just throw somebody out there and expect them to do what Sam Collins did but we have a handful of guys who are capable of doing the job, both defensively and offensively.”
According to Drew, Fisher's father is a pastor who was transferred to a Point Boro church, which meant the Panthers lucked out in landing a quick fix for an open infield spot if Cilento needs some time to develop. Fisher moved around the diamond for Cherokee, mostly playing the outfield for the Chiefs, but his primary positions are shortstop and second base.
"He is just a really solid, fundamentally sound player," Drew said of Fisher. "He fits right in with the guys we have and he has done nothing but show up and work hard. He's another guy who can play multiple positions for us and I think he was excited to have a chance to potentially play shortstop for us."
Cilento, meanwhile, impressed Drew during Point Boro's American Legion season over the summer and the Panthers coach and his staff now anticipate Cilento being able to handle varsity pitching rather quickly.
"Connor played with us over the summer and he was one of our best hitters, maybe even the best," Drew said. "He's very talented, a great athlete and we were expecting him to help us on the varsity team right away."
Senior twins Sam and Cole Young both return in the outfield, with Sam Young also backing up Guzzi in the pitching staff following a solid junior season splitting the No. 3 starter duties with Aurin. Sam Young's bat came on at the end of 2019 and he had the team's biggest hit of the year - the walk-off RBI single to win the Central Jersey Group II championship. The two Young brothers will play in the corners and the center field job was to be settled by a positional battle during the preseason.
The likely front-runner for the spot in center is senior Oscar Scott, who played his first two seasons of high-school baseball at Shore Regional, did not play high-school ball last year and transferred to Point Boro for his senior year. Scott brings an athletic, 6-2 frame to the outfield picture, as well as a strong arm and a bat with power upside. Scott is also high on the pitching depth chart and could slot in behind Guzzi or even as an impact reliever.
“Scott is a big kid who throws pretty hard,” Drew said. “He has seen time on the mound so we were expecting to make an impact with the pitching staff. He was impressing me with the way he plays the outfield and the way he hits the ball. With his athleticism, centerfield might have been a spot for him.”
Junior Zach Hill also made a strong impression on Drew and his staff in the week of practice and with the Young brothers and Scott also projected to pitch, Hill would likely find his way into the lineup. Senior Luke Severio is also in the mix in the outfield and junior utility man Joey Picolli could slot into the outfield or in the infield.
Seniors Thomas Bamburak, A.J. Hernandez, Dan Meccia and Austin Drucquer also entered March battling for time – Bamburak at first base, Drucquer in the infield and Meccia in the outfield. Hernandez, meanwhile, could factor into the pitching rotation, as well as a spot somewhere on the infield.
Nick Scelfo and Trey Harpootlian are the sophomores set to make the varsity roster and were each eying a spot – Scelfo among the group of outfielders and Harpootlian at first base and on the mound.
Drew had his hands full in sorting out the incoming talent and making the pieces fit together, particularly in the pitching staff behind Guzzi and Sam Young. That is a problem he would love to have at this point, both because of what it says about the talent level on the Panthers and what it would mean for a potential season in 2020.
Point Boro has not had many opportunities to do what it did in 2019, when the Panthers won their first NJSIAA sectional championship in 13 years and reached the group final for the first time ever. Drew is hoping that whatever was in store for 2020 will be on the table for years to come as he looks to keep his program among the tops in the Shore Conference, but rosters like the one that has come together for 2020 don’t come along often.
“Obviously, there are bigger things to worry about that baseball,” Drew said. “But with all the seniors we have and everything they’ve done for the program, this would be a tough way for them to go out.”
Point Pleasant Boro
Head Coach: Dave Drew, 10th season
2019 Record: 23-7 (9-5, second in B South)
Top Returning Hitters (with 2019 Stats)
|Ryan Jasaitis (Sr., C)||95||34||4||0||0||2||17||.358||.392||.400||0|
|Sam Young (Sr., OF)||79||26||3||0||4||18||21||.329||.439||.519||3|
|Nick Guzzi (Sr., 3B/DH)||89||29||3||1||0||11||29||.326||.398||.382||0|
|Nick Zbikowski (Sr., 2B)||84||23||4||0||0||23||12||.274||.398||.321||6|
|Frankie Dominici (Jr., 3B/SS)||36||9||3||1||0||7||10||.250||.372||.389||1|
|Cole Young (Sr., OF)||59||14||2||0||0||21||7||.237||.348||.271||7|
Top Returning Pitchers (with 2019 Stats)
|Nick Guzzi (Sr., RHP)||9||1||62.2||33||11||16||84||1.23||0.78|
|Sam Young (Sr., RHP)||4||2||33||19||7||17||28||1.48||1.09|
Big Shoes to Fill: Kyle Fisher, SS/2B
The senior Cherokee transfer moved to Point Pleasant for his senior year and would have fit right in with the returning Panthers lineup, which is down a shortstop from a year ago. Fisher started for the 9-13 Chiefs last season and figured to be the front-runner to start at shortstop, which meant he would have to fill in for a player in Sam Collins who led the Shore Conference in hits (45), hit .429 and tore it up (.591, three doubles, a triple and a home run) during Point Boro’s six-game run through the state tournament.
Top Newcomer: Oscar Scott, OF/RHP
In adding Scott, Point Boro adds a potential middle-of-the-order bat to compliment Young, Guzzi and Jasaitis, a speedy centerfielder to replace defensive standout Christian Aurin and a capable arm on the mound to help pick up the innings lost to graduation. The Shore Regional transfer’s well-rounded game would likely make him one of the bigger additions made by any team in the Shore between 2019 and 2020.
X-Factor: Frankie Dominici, 3B/SS
The returning Point Boro seniors all have track records of at least two full seasons and while any high-school player, no matter how old, has the potential to significantly improve, Dominici likely had the most growing to do as a player during the offseason. He only got 43 plate appearances as a sophomore but managed to show some pop (three doubles and a triple), get some big hits (10 RBI) and flash a good glove at the hot corner.