One day last summer, Marlboro coach Jim Ferraro decided to stop by the baseball field to check on a piece of equipment. What he found on was an unexpected machine at work.
There, in the outfield, alone, in the oppressive heat, was Tommy Guinta, putting himself through his daily paces.
“It was 98 degrees out and Tommy is doing sprints,” Ferraro recalled. “I asked him what he was doing here because he was throwing the next day for his summer team and he said this was his pre-game warmup. He didn’t care what the weather was.”
It’s that kind of tireless work ethic that enabled the senior left-hander to effortlessly throw 127 pitches - and almost as many variety of offerings – and drive unbeaten Marlboro to a 9-6 triumph over Manalapan on Wednesday in Marlboro.
“He has enough pitches that he can find his way out of things,” Ferraro said. “He has a cutter that acts like a slider, he has a change, he has a curveball he throws a couple different ways and he runs a two-seamer. He moves out and in, up and down and is as good as we’ve ever had here.”
What Guinta also has is a feisty will to compete that came to the fore in the top of the sixth. After Marlboro (6-0) built a 4-0 cushion, Manalapan (3-3) touched senior southpaw for three runs in the fifth to trim the deficit. The Braves got the potential tying run to second in the sixth after Michael Knauf (2-for-3) singled and stole second with one out.
However, that was as far as Knauf got as Guinta responded by striking out the next two batters to defuse any Manalapan ideas of evening the score.
“I was really battling out there but that’s why I work out in the off season, that’s what the weight room is for and why I have a good work ethic I like to think,” said Guinta, who allowed six hits, struck out eight and walked three over 6 2/3 innings to improve to 2-0. “The pitch count is always important. I wanted that last inning. I had to fight for it.”
That was about the only struggle Guinta had to contend with. He relied heavily on his cutter, particularly early in counts to give him the advantage of working ahead a great deal of the time. He retired 11 of the first 14 batters he faced, backed by some exceptional defense, most notably senior second baseman Rob Baccala, who displayed range getting to a couple of ground balls deep in the hole and made a spectacular diving stab on a line drive in the fourth.
The offense took its early cues from red-hot Anthony Asta. The leadoff man, who is adjusting to a new stance and a new environment having transferred from Freehold Borough, is swinging it old school, opting for a wood bat this spring instead of the new BBCOR bats.
“I don’t like the pop out of the BBCOR. I feel much stronger with wood,” said Asta, who was 1-3 with an RBI single and three runs scored. “I changed my swing from last year. I have an open stance now. It was closed last year and I’m much more relaxed in the hands and trying to be as quick as possible to the ball. I watched a lot of (New York Yankees) Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, where they have that open stance, and I realized I could harvest so much more power in that way.”
Asta drew a leadoff walk in the first and advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches before Evan Hill drove him in on a ground out to give Marlboro (6-0) a 1-0 lead in the first. Hilla, a junior left fielder, was 2-for-3 with a double and four RBI.
“There always seems to be a man on base when I get up,” said Hilla, complementing the fast starts by Asta and No. 2 hitter Adam Ashenfarb. “I just have to put the ball in play and they score usually.”
Hilla lifted a sacrifice fly and Asta and Ben Helmes each had an RBI single in the third when Marlboro extended its lead to 4-0. In the sixth, Hilla lashed a two-run double and Rich Bellemare did the same one batter later as the Mustangs tacked on five more runs to expand its lead to 9-3.
Manalapan got a pinch-hit, two- run single from Dennis Giralomo in the fifth when the Braves rallied to score three times and draw to within 4-3.
While the top of the Marlboro order did its fair share of damage, so, too, did the bottom portion of its lineup. Matt Lubin was 1-for-1 with a run scored out of the No. 8 spot and right behind him, Baccala ended 2-for-2 and scored twice. Marlboro got a total of five runs from the seven, eight and nine spots.
“We’re building a program here and now we’re watching the fruits of our labor from the bottom to the top,” Ferraro said. “This is not a selfish group, it’s a selfless one. This group wants to work for each other.”
Brian Lamboy was 2-for-4 for Manalapan. The senior shortstop had an RBI single, as did senior DH Joe Serrapica and senior left fielder Vito Gadaleta laced a run-scoring double as part of a three-run seventh put together by the Braves.
Gregg Lerner covers baseball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner