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Eagles soaring to new heights?


Lucky 13.

South Hunterdon baseball’s unofficial wins record is the 13-5 season that the Eagles posted in 2019. That squad also reached the Central Jersey Group 1 semifinals.

The current Eagles flock, with eight games left, has endangered that record. “We’re 9-6 right now and we’ve beaten ourselves in many games,” pointed out first-year head coach Ben Donaghy. “I know that is part of the process. Our record could be better. We lost our shortstop and leadoff hitter Aaron Parisi on April 16. At the time, he was batting .562 with 10 steals.

“Every kid on this roster is hard working,” Donaghy said. “They don’t take anything for granted. There is so much positive energy around this program. I think we’ve made a turn, that we’re going to be a good program for a number of years.”

South Hunterdon can hit – the Eagles have a .311 team batting average and get on base. South Hunterdon averages 7.5 walks or hit batsmen per game.

“Ed Cooper is a rock when we need a big hit or big play,” Donaghy praised. “He does everything you want as a coach and he holds everyone accountable.” Cooper’s .684 slugging percentage leads the team, as does Nate Lawton’s 16 RBIs. Aaron Zalescik is also slugging .604.

These birds can also run – five Eagles have double-digit steals.

More impressively, Dillon Gallagher joins Lawton and Anthony Venettone in giving Donaghy the luxury of pitching depth not always found in a group 1 school. That depth gives South Hunterdon the potential for a deep run in sectionals. All three have ERAs under 2.25. Gallagher fanned 51 in 27 innings.

“We knew Dillon Gallagher had ace potential and he has lived up to it. Nate Lawton has had an outstanding year. He has been everything, and more, than I have wanted. He throws strikes,” Donaghy commented.

Lawton is the ice to Venettone’s fire. “Anthony averages over a strikeout per inning. As the years have progressed, he has found his control,” Donaghy observed. “He is a senior with 1,000 yards rushing and passing on the football field. That’s a guy who I’m going to give the ball to and Anthony wants the ball.

“And one surprise is Aaron Zalescik. You know him from the basketball court but he has closed out games for us. When we need an out,” Donaghy concluded, “I’m fully confident that he will get the job done.”

Like many of his players, Donaghy was a multi-sport athlete at a smaller school. He sees the Eagles’ success in football and soccer this fall spilling over the diamond.

“I think that when you win on the football field, it translates to winning on the baseball field. When you win, you expect to win. As for baseball, I think they need to trust their success and not be fearful of it,” Donaghy noted.

South Hunterdon’s most impressive consecutive games took place on April 26 and 30. The Eagles traveled to Delran to knock off Holy Cross Prep, then 8-2, by a 4-2 score. Lawton allowed just three baserunners in five innings.

Four days later, the Eagles avenged an earlier defeat by handing rival Warren Hills its first divisional loss in an 8-0 shutout. Gallagher drove in three, and closed the door with two shutout innings as he and Lawton both whiffed four Blue Streaks each.

South Hunterdon ranked third in power points at press time. The Eagles could enter the postseason with their best seeding since the 1979 sectional champs. Sectionals start on May 23.

“We’re having fun and we’re working hard,” Donaghy concluded. “I think they are enjoying that and I think it allows them to play a little freer and up to their capabilities.”

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