By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
While most of their baseball comrades in the New Jersey Athletic Conference had already called it a year, the Gothic Knights of New Jersey City University still had something to play for last week, even if it was simply pride.
The Gothic Knights had two previously postponed games against Centenary College and FDU-Florham rescheduled for last week, so the Gothic Knights had two more chances to build on what should be a very promising 2015 season, thanks to the versatility of three local products.
The locals helped the Gothic Knights win their final two games of the year, heading into the offseason on a positive note.
Kevin DeMauro and Nick D’Errico of Kearny and former Queen of Peace standout Mark Petrucelli all played predominant roles this season with the Gothic Knights and all three should return next season.
Incredibly, all three of the locals have similar backgrounds, having been utilized mostly as position players in high school, but have been transformed into pitchers by NJCU head coach Jerry Smith and his staff.
“I think I pitched like 10 innings in high school,” said Petrucelli, a native of Wood-Ridge who just completed his freshman campaign at NJCU. “But Coach Smith liked what he saw out of my arm and thought I could be a reliever this year.”
“I think I was born to be an outfielder,” said DeMauro, who finished his junior season with the Gothic Knights. “I still love playing the field. But if Coach Smith needs me to be a pitcher, then that’s what I’ll do. I’ve learned to accept that.”
DeMauro turned out to be the Gothic Knights’ best pitcher in 2014, pitching to a 4-5 record with a 3.64 earned run average. DeMauro saw action in 16 games, making nine starts. He also collected two saves, striking out 39 in a team-high 71 innings.
“I was a pitcher all through Little League, but I hurt my arm sophomore year and that was it,” DeMauro said.
DeMauro suffered a stress fracture in his elbow, derailing his high school pitching career.
“Ever since I was younger, I always knew that pitching could take me,” DeMauro said. “I thought I pitched pretty well this year.”
D’Errico was the Gothic Knights’ regular shortstop, batting .253 with 10 RBI. He also pitched in nine games, pitching to a 0-3 record.
Petrucelli ended up tying a school record by making 22 appearances, tying the record set in 2009 by former Harrison High School pitcher Steve Hallam.
“I got the opportunity to pitch like in the third or fourth game of the season,” Petrucelli said. “After the first couple of outings, I felt more comfortable. I was just trying to get back to the infield, but if Coach Smith thought I was good enough as a pitcher, that was fine with me.”
Petrucelli believes that it’s remarkable that three of the most versatile Gothic Knight performers, being used both as pitchers and position players, would come from the same area.
“I think that’s pretty crazy,” Petrucelli said. “It was first great to know that they were from Kearny, but when I learned they were position players who pitched, it was even better. It turned out we have a lot in common. It’s pretty cool to have something in common with those guys.”
Petrucelli still can’t comprehend how his season evolved.
“If someone would have told me that I’d be a college pitcher, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Petrucelli said. “I then saw the history book and saw that I tied the record (for appearances in a season). That’s just amazing.”
Petrucelli knows that better days are ahead for him, his local teammates and the entire program.
“Instead of going through the motions last week, we came out to play hard and now have a lot going for next year,” Petrucelli said. “After we found out that we weren’t going to the (NJAC) playoffs, we were all pretty down. But we came back and won the last two games. It means a lot. Now, we’re definitely going into next year with a lot more confidence.”
DeMauro also likes the way the Gothic Knights headed into the offseason.
“I think it would have been terrible if we went out with losses,” DeMauro said. “Our record (13-25) didn’t show what we did this year. We really took a step up this year. No one wants to lose, but we played well, win or lose. D’Errico and I both have one year eligibility left and we want to make it our best year. He’s a little older than me and took me under his wing. He’s lucky, because he gets to play the field. It’s almost like we’ve reversed roles. It’s awesome we have one year left together.”
And NJCU can point to a promising future, thanks to the versatility of the talented local trio.