Westfield junior Brad DeMartino isn’t in a minority, not on a short list of high school pitchers that have suffered a forgettable first varsity outing. Still, walking seven batters and hitting another without making it out of the first inning against South Plainfield last April is something the lefty can hardly forget.
As will today’s NJSIAA Group IV title game with South champ Eastern (29-4) at Toms River North High School. Game time is 3:30 p.m.
The Blue Devils, 19-11, have had one of the more memorable runs in their long history, and get to play in the state final — their second in three years — in large part because of today’s starter, DeMartino. He and senior right-hander Kevin Galasso (7-2) have spearheaded the ride that ends with the Blue Devils playing in the state final. They hope for a different outcome than the 29-14 state final loss to Manalapan at Toms River South in 2011.
DeMartino dressed for the 2011 final as a freshman, but now much of Westfield’s hopes of winning a state title rides on his left arm that he worked so hard to improve on last winter.
“I told him before the season that we were going to go as far as he and Kevin would take us,” said assistant coach Jay Cook. “I fueled the beast of the monster. I kept telling him that he had good enough stuff to win games.”
DeMartino beat North Hunterdon 4-2 with a complete-game four-hitter in the North 2 Group IV title game a week ago Friday in Clinton. He walked two and threw just over 80 pitches. He did walk the first batter he faced and gave up two runs after the Blue Devils had given him a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. But he battled, as coach Bob Brewster said.
He looked like the ace after that inning, much different than the inexperienced sophomore who struggled so much in that South Plainfield game when he walked seven of the first 10 batters he faced, hitting another and allowing five runs. He did record two outs and didn’t get a decision since the Blue Devils rallied to tie the game before losing 7-5.
“Once I got into the hole . . . I just had an off day, but I thought I was going to be great,” said DeMartino.
He said he felt thrilled Brewster gave him the opportunity to sample varsity ball last year, but also knew his more experienced teammates behind him were watching closely.
“They might have thought, ‘Geez, what is this kid doing? Is he ever going to get anybody out?,’ ” said the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder.
That turned out to be the only sample he got with the varsity, because the Blue Devils had enough pitching in front of him. He did have a successful junior varsity season. After the year, he put in a lot of work with pitching coach Brian Sloan and Cook, the former Westfield and Montclair State University standout.
“Brad’s a very hard worker, he throws every single day and I think that’s why he has never had trouble with his arm,” said Cook. “I was doing lessons (at East Coast Conditioning in Edison) and we worked with him, the whole team worked very hard. With Brad, a lot of the work was with his mechanics. He was having trouble repeating his motion, his release. He took those drills we gave him and ran with them. He’s always looking for answers.
“He’s a very tough kid when you come down to it,” added Cook.
DeMartino also pitched for a travel team last summer that played against some talented players in Georgia on a trip there.
“I thought I did pretty good, outside of giving up a homer that must have gone 450 feet, it makes you tougher, facing those kind of players who you know are really good hitters and play all year, it makes you better,” said DeMartino.
What has made him better? For one, Sloan has helped him develop a slider, giving him four pitches. And work ethic, something that is obvious to all attached with the Westfield program.
“No. 1, he came into the season after a great winter of conditioning, he came in this year in much better shape than last year, he was confident, he told me early on, ‘Everything is clicking coach,’ ” Brewster said.
DeMartino had starts against NJSIAA Group III finalist Cranford, hard-hitting North 2 III finalist South Plainfield, a very good Watchung Hills club and Union. He lost his first four decisions with the last one against Ridge, a 2-0 setback. Both runs were unearned.
“He’s right on top of his game right now, control of all his pitches , and great location,” said Brewster.
North Hunterdon junior second baseman Marc Monks said he was especially impressed with the way DeMartino changed velocity and location. After the sixth inning of the sectional final, Brewster asked DeMartino if he could finish. Cook said DeMartino told Brewster that he wanted to finish what he started.
“Would he have said that last year?,” Cook said. “I’m not sure. But things have changed. He’s a bulldog.”