Upon reaching a milestone Thursday that only four coaches in the history of New Jersey High School baseball have ever reached, 40-year Christian Brothers Academy coach Marty Kenney was quick to acknowledged the players and coaches who have been a part of the run.

Christian Brothers Academy head coach Marty Kenney, now in his 40th season, became just the fourth coach in New Jersey history to win 700 career games when the Colts beat Middletown South on Thursday. (Photo by Matt Manley).
Christian Brothers Academy head coach Marty Kenney, now in his 40th season, became just the fourth coach in New Jersey history to win 700 career games when the Colts beat Middletown South on Thursday. (Photo by Matt Manley).

It was fitting, then, that on top of guiding his team to a well-pitched, well-defended, 1-0 win to keep the Colts on top of the Shore Conference Class A North division standings, he and his team had to do it against a program modeled after Kenney's and run by one of his most successful young coaching pupils.

Kenney became the fourth coach in New Jersey history to win his 700th career game when his Colts held on for a 1-0 victory over Middletown South, coached by nine-year CBA assistant and five-year head coach Ryan Spillane. Kenney is now one of only two living coaches in the 700-win club, both of whom are Shore Conference coaches. Toms River South coach Ken Frank is the state's all-time leader in coaching victories with 781.

"It makes you think of all the players who have played for you over the many years and all of the coaches that you have coached with," Kenney said of the achievement. "Not just on the varsity level either - the jayvee and freshman coaches as well. It's a combination of luck and surrounding yourself with a lot of good people."

CBA opened its doors in 1959 and Kenney has been a prominent part of its academic and athletic life since enrolling in 1962. He was a three-year letter-winner on the basketball team, which won the program's first two NJSIAA state championships with Kenney on the roster, and a two-year letter-winner in baseball. He took over the head-coaching duties for the baseball team in 1974 and has since run one of the most successful programs in the Shore Conference, not just because of the 700 wins and 2009 Non-Public A championship, but because of the players and coaches that have passed through the program.

"There are probably six or seven guys coaching various high schools around the state," Kenney said. "I guess there's no better tribute than that, that you've influenced them, maybe they've gone into the same profession that you are in, baseball is very important to them and a lot of them have gone on to be very successful coaches. You hope that you've had a little bit of impact on them.

"Sometimes you don't realize the impact you've had until you run into somebody 20 years later and they tell you. Sometimes you're dealing with some of the things and some of the other issues that maybe detract from that. But you know you've had a good impact on a number of people. I can go to sleep at night and feel pretty good about myself."

Spillane is one of the recent success stories to go from CBA assistant to successful head coach. Now in his fifth season, Spillane is 71-44 with three winning seasons, one division championship and one NJSIAA sectional championship already under his belt, which means he is a little better than one-tenth of the way to his mentor-slash-rival's total.

"I've tried to model my program after a lot of things that he does because he's a great mentor," said Spillane, who played at Wall High School and coached under Kenney from 2000 to 2008. "There's nobody better as far as being a mentor. Of course I don't want to be the guy who loses to him when he gets 700.

"I remember being over there with him when he won his 500th. That seemed like a long time ago and now 700, it's just incredible. I can only hope I'll be around long enough to win that many games but I think I'd have to be about 90 to get to 700. His passion for the game is still the same as I remember it when I played against them in high school."

CBA honored Marty Kenney for his rare milestone, and Kenney credited the many coaches and players he has worked with over the years for his success. (Photo by Matt Manley).
CBA honored Marty Kenney for his rare milestone, and Kenney credited the many coaches and players he has worked with over the years for his success. (Photo by Matt Manley).

Kenney's landmark victory upstaged another dominant performance by senior right-hander and Wake Forest recruit John McCarren, who improved to 3-0 with the win. Making his first start since throwing a no-hitter against Marlboro last week, McCarren pitched his second straight shutout while allowing three hits, one walk and striking out 11. He needed only 88 pitches to finish the game, and of those 88 pitches, 64 were strikes.

"I think a couple of games ago, it was 72 pitches. In the no-hitter it was 76," Kenney said of McCarren. "The one game, I told him his strike-to-ball ratio was 60-to-16, which is incredible. We're looking for a 2-to-1 ratio."

In 25 innings this season, McCarren has struck out 39 while allowing 12 hits and four walks and pitching to a 0.84 earned-run average.

"Today meant a lot to me, especially against Middletown South and coach's 700th potential win, you just get pumped for it," McCarren said. "I wanted the ball, he gave me the ball, and I was really excited about throwing."

McCarren allowed a single in each of the first two innings Thursday and Middletown South put at least one runner on base against the 6-foot-5 right-hander in each of the first five innings. He struck out two batters each in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings to escape damage and needed only 13 pitches combined to retire the Eagles in the sixth and seventh innings.

"I'm happy for him and I'm very glad that I had the opportunity to throw him on this particular day, and I told him that prior to the game," Kenney said. "He's the guy I wanted to give the ball to today."

There have been no shortage of standout players under Kenney's watch over the years, and McCarren's season has him in position to be the latest for CBA. While the individual talent is the starting point for a player like McCarren, the senior credits the program for much of his success.

"He's a very motivating guy, escpecially with the history he's had and the players he's coached," McCarren said. "He wants us going out there working hard and playing even harder. He's been in this game a long time and he knows this game. He knows the coaches, he knows the weaknesses, he knows the strengths and he knows what it takes to win."

Middletown South starter Rob Grilli nearly matched McCarren, allowing just one unearned run on two hits in seven innings. Grilli's throwing error in the third inning allowed CBA center fielder Chris Cordova to reach on a bunt attempt to lead off the the inning and the senior outfielder stole second and moved to third on a groundout with two out.

CBA senior second baseman Mike Caputo then belted a double to the left-center gap on a 3-1 offering from Grilli to drive in the lone run of the game on the Colts' first hit of the game. CBA's only other hit off Grilli was a bunt single by sophomore left fielder Will Morgan in the sixth. Grilli walked three and struck out four in taking the hard-luck loss.

Since dropping to 3-3 with a loss at Red Bank Catholic on April 13, CBA has won five straight games and has taken over sole possession of first place in Class A North, which Kenney wanted to remain his team's sole focus on Thursday.

"I told the kids before, '700 is going to come,'" Kenney said. "'What's more important to me is the divisional championship.' So I wasn't so much worried about 700, and I didn't want them getting too emotional with regard to that. We said to look at the overall picture and hopefully, the overall picture is winning the division."

While Kenney has increased his coaching staff in recent years - he estimates he coached the team by himself for the first 25 years - he still does as much during practice as he ever has and until that changes, he plans on remaining in the Colts dugout. The coach who got his start modeling his style after predecessors like former Central Regional coach Al Kunzman was just hoping to get to 300 wins when he first started and now finds himself coasting past 700.

"I just take it a year at a time, and I've spoken to Kenny (Frank) about this," Kenney said. "Fortunately, I still have my health, knock on wood. I still hit fungoes, I still throw batting practice, so the kids have helped keep me young even though I may look old. If I couldn't do those things, I'd probably get out.

"And you also have to have the passion. If the passion goes, then I'll know it's time to go. If I get up one day and I don't want to go to practice, then I'll know."

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