Winners in three of its first four games, first-year coach Joe Smith couldn’t be happier with the way his Williamstown High School baseball team has started the season.
The Braves knocked off Penns Grove, Cherry Hill East and Absegami before suffering a 3-2 setback to Millville in the semifinals of the Grand Slam Classic. They were scheduled to host GCIT on Thursday.
“The kids have worked extremely hard,” said Smith, who replaced longtime coach Jim Ambrosius. “Being a first-year coach, there was a lot of stuff to implement. The kids bought into our system. They’ve done everything we’ve asked.
“We have great senior leadership; a few guys have been playing at the varsity level for two or three years. We also have a great young mix. Everything has just clicked so far.”
Smith has leaned on seniors Nick D’Alessandro, Dan Musilli, Anthony Racobaldo and Ross Micka.
“They are four seniors that have been in the program. They know the program,” he said.
“The younger guys are following their lead. Sometimes you get young guys who don’t feel like they have to follow the older guys. Sometimes you get that friction, but there has been none. It’s just a great mix.”
Smith picked up his 100th career victory when the Braves knocked off Absegami. He owns a career record of 100-52 heading into Thursday after previously coaching at Delsea for six seasons. He directed the Crusaders to the South Jersey Group 3 title in 2005 and reached the final in 2004.
A teacher at Delsea, Smith was an assistant at Vineland the last two seasons. He also spent five years as an assistant at Toms River South after leaving Delsea.
“It was a neat feeling,” he said of reaching the milestone. “I had been an assistant for so long. You never know when that next head coaching spot is going to open up. I looked at 97 and thought I’d be one of those guys who would never hit the century mark.
“You can’t just take any job. There were only a few jobs that I would want and were in the area that I live. I’m fortunate that Williamstown was one of those jobs. I love the way things are going and the kids are having fun.”
• Nice day : Lower Cape May senior second baseman Bradley Fournier had an outstanding day at the plate in a recent victory over Bridgeton.
Fournier accomplished the rare feat of hitting for the cycle.
He led off the bottom of the first inning with a triple. In the second, he belted a two-run home run to left field. Fournier then added a double to center in the fourth and an reached base in the sixth on an infield single.
• Impact sophomore : The grandson of former Phillies infielder Don Money, Millville sophomore Buddy Kennedy has already had a handful of memorable moments.
A pitcher and third baseman, Kennedy played a major role in helping the Thunderbolts reach Saturday’s championship game of the Grand Slam Classic. They will face Northern Burlington in the 2 p.m. matchup at Washington Township.
“He’s hit a lot of balls hard and had a good tournament at Washington Township,” coach Roy Hallenbeck said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked of him right now.”
In the opening round, Kennedy went 3-for-3 with two homers and six RBIs in a 7-4 win over Washington Township. He had a two-run homer in the first and a grand slam in the sixth.
And in the semifinals against Williamstown, Kennedy hit a solo homer and was the winning pitcher in a 3-2 decision. He finished with nine strikeouts and scattered five hits, allowing just one hit through the first five innings.
“Our expectation is that we have guys come out and get better every day, guys that work on the process and not the result,” Hallenbeck said. “If he continues to do that and focuses on his development, he should be OK.”
• Solid start : One of the region’s top underclassmen, Haddon Heights left-hander Adam Laskey picked up victories in his first two starts.
The junior struck out seven and allowed two hits in six innings against Haddon Township in the season opener. And against Sterling earlier this week, the Duke recruit tossed a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 4-0 shutout.
“He throws a ton of strikes and rarely gets behind in the count,” second-year coach Eric Newell said. “He pitches to contact and fielders love playing behind him. He allows them to get into a rhythm. He’s been very good so far.”
• Milestone win : In his 40th season, Delran coach Rich Bender moved into second place on the South Jersey list for career wins when the Bears defeated Willingboro on Wednesday. Bender went into Thursday with a record of 604-317.
Bender tied Russ Spicer for second following Tuesday’s win over Penn Tech. Spicer, who coached at Haddonfield, Moorestown, Paulsboro and Cinnaminson, posted a career record of 603-287.
Longtime Woodstown coach Lee Ware is South Jersey’s career leader. In his 42nd year, Ware went into Thursday with a record of 613-333.
Bishop Eustace coach Sam Tropiano could become just the fourth coach in South Jersey history to reach the 600-win milestone later this spring. He owns a career record of 585-213 in 30 seasons, also coaching four years at St. Augustine.
Reach Kevin Minnick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cp_varsity