WALL TOWNSHIP - First-year St. Rose baseball coach Rich Lanko doesn't want to get too ahead of himself in the early going, but he has to admit that the group he inherited reminds him an awful lot of some other special Purple Roses teams.

Lanko was an assistant under former coach Jim Agnello when St. Rose won back-to-back NJSIAA Non-Public B titles in 2008-09. Following Saturday's 14-0 wipeout of Manasquan in five innings in a Strike Out Autism Challenge game at the Wall Municipal Complex, Lanko and his players felt it was more proof that this could be a team in a similar mold to those championship squads.

St. Rose righty Brandon Mology threw a five-inning shutout to kick off his senior season. (Photo by Scott Stump)
St. Rose righty Brandon Mology threw a five-inning shutout to kick off his senior season. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"We've got to get the work ethic there a little more, but talent-wise, hitting and pitching, there's definitely similarities there (to the 2008-09 teams)," Lanko said.

To go deep into tournaments, teams need to have pitching depth, which has often been a stumbling block for a small school like St. Rose. However, as junior Sam Sestito and senior ace Brandon Mology have shown this week, this staff could be one of the Purple Roses' deepest since that championship run.

Mology threw a five-inning, three-hit shutout on Saturday, striking out five and walking two on 69 pitches in his season debut. The senior right-hander struggled with his command a little bit early on, but settled down to retire 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced after stranding a runner on third to end the top of the first inning.

"I did a lot over the winter and to come out like I did, I was happy with my performance,'' Mology said. "My slider was working well, and that's been my go-to pitch."

"He was working on a lot of stuff in the first couple innings, but he really got loose and started pitching well in the third and fourth,'' Lanko said. "He was hitting spots a lot better in the fourth and fifth inning, and locating his breaking ball down in the zone. It looked like he had a little more pop on the ball in the last couple innings."

It also didn't hurt that St. Rose (2-0) hung nine runs on two different Manasquan pitchers in the bottom of the first inning, as starter Ricky Flynn didn't register an out before being removed. St. Rose sent 13 men to the plate and registered eight hits in the inning, with the first eight batters reaching base via either a hit, a walk or a hit by pitch.

"It makes pitching easy once you've got a lead like that,'' Mology said.

Mology's shutout came on the heels of a remarkable performance by Sestito, who threw a no-hitter in a 9-1 win over Class B Central rival Point Beach to open the season on Wednesday.

What made it particularly impressive is that Sestito hadn't pitched in a game since his freshman year. He made his first varsity start against the Garnet Gulls after missing all of last season with a broken right femur that required a long rehabilitation.

"That was insane,'' Mology said. "I was so proud of him. For him to come out and do that, it was amazing."


He came out of the gate with a no-hitter on 98 pitches, striking out two and walking three.

"I was amped up,'' Sestito said. "It was a big game against a division rival. (Catcher) Brody (Maypother) came out and executed the game plan really well. It's definitely a great feeling getting a no-hitter in my first game back like that."

"I was definitely surprised, but he's a good pitcher,'' Maypother said. "He was just throwing strikes the whole game, placing it where it should be and getting ahead."

Sestito had looked sharp in the preseason, so it wasn't a total shock to Lanko.

"We liked him right from the start,'' Lanko said. "He's got good pop on the ball, and he locates his fastball and changeup pretty well. He's just got to work on his breaking ball a little more, but that's even coming around."

Lanko believes he has five starters and four relievers among his pitching corps this season, including seniors Will Gannon, Brian DiPasquale, John Crowley, Riley Maypother, Brendan Hueth and Andrew Baier. That is tremendous depth for any school, let alone one that competes in the small-school Class B Central. The question now is defining each pitcher's role going forward with an eye on the Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA Tournament in addition to repeating as division champions.

Games outside the division like Saturday's one against Manasquan are often magnified for the Purple Roses as they try to show they can compete with anyone.

"We definitely want to win to show where we should be ranked in the Shore Conference,'' Maypother said.

"Any chance you get to prove a point, you want to prove it,'' Mology said.

The offense has also now produced 23 runs in the team's first two games. St. Rose had 13 hits on Saturday, led by Gannon, who was 3-for-3 with a walk, a double, three runs scored and an RBI. DiPasquale added two hits, two runs scored and an RBI, and Sestito had a pair of RBI singles.

"I think they're real patient, they work counts, they wait for their pitch and when they get it, they hammer it,'' Lanko said.

It all adds up to a team hoping to reclaim its place atop Non-Public B and return to the upper echelon of the Shore Conference.

"This is my fourth year here, and I haven't won anything,'' Mology said. "I want it, we all want it."

"I feel like this year is gonna be the year,'' Maypother said.

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