A new era of baseball at Buena Regional High School got off to a promising start on Monday.
The Chiefs, under first-year head coach Harry Grose, secured a 7-3 Opening Day win over visiting St. Joseph in a Cape-Atlantic League National Conference I game at Carolla Field.
Despite a new front man and the loss of some key pieces of the roster to graduation, expectations remain high for a Buena program that won a Group II South title last season before falling in the state final. The victory over St. Joseph (0-1) was an encouraging first step for the Chiefs (1-0).
“Getting this first win, it’s going to keep us hungry,” Buena catcher Jarred Corniell said. “If we keep winning and playing as hard as we can, more wins are going to come that way. It’s up to us to stay focused and motivated.”
As for the transition under Grose, Buena’s players don’t seem too concerned. Grose was an assistant for five years under former coach George West, who stepped down in July after 10 years to take an administrative position at Egg Harbor Township High School.
“It doesn’t feel that much different, honestly,” said Corniell, a senior who finished 1-for-3 with a double, RBI and run scored against the Wildcats. “As long as we play our game, it shouldn’t matter who our coach is.”
Sophomore right-hander Denny Brady got the call on the mound for the Chiefs Monday and earned the win after allowing five hits with seven strikeouts in five innings of work. After yielding a run in the top of the first inning, Brady settled in nicely, thanks in large part to a five-run outburst by Buena in the bottom half of the frame.
“It definitely gave me a little pump,” Brady said. “It made me feel like we had the game already.”
The Chiefs sent nine batters to the plate against St. Joseph right-hander Brad Rosenblum in the bottom of the first. Left fielder Taylor Cheli, first baseman Chad Dortu and Brady all connected on RBI singles. Designated hitter Dominick Pace provided the exclamation point with a two-out, two-run base hit to push Buena’s lead to 5-1.
From there, the Chiefs’ offense would show some signs of early-season rust.
Leading 5-2, Buena left the bases loaded in the fourth and fifth innings, managing just one run on a fielder’s choice grounder by first baseman Jon Cooper, who entered for an injured Dortu in the first inning. In the sixth inning, Corniell drove in sophomore shortstop Marco Rios with an RBI double to give the Chiefs a 7-2 lead.
“I think we had a lapse, I think we got a little comfortable being up five,” Grose said. “We scored two more runs, which is good, but we could have scored five or 10 more.”
Aiding Buena’s inconsistent showing at the plate was some timely defense from the Chiefs.
Rios made a twisting, diving catch in shallow left field to save a run in the third inning, while Corniell tracked down a wind-driven foul ball behind the plate to strand the Wildcats with the bases loaded in the fifth.
“We’re known as a defensive team,” said Rios, who also pitched an inning of scoreless relief in the sixth. “If we get a couple of runs, we should be able to hang in there with anyone.”
Junior right-hander Matt Colon pitched the seventh inning for Buena and allowed the first two Wildcats hitters to reach base before sitting down the next three batters. Colon was charged with a balk, allowing St. Joseph to narrow the score to 7-3.
All in all, the Chiefs gave Grose plenty to be encouraged about.
“I’m happy, I think we took care of business and if we take care of business we can win a lot of games,” Grose said. “I think it’s good to get the monkey of your back, settle down and say, OK, we know how to play ball. We’re already established, we know how to be, fundamentally, so we just need to carry it through.”