By Jim Hague
John Ahmuty already has a lot on his plate as the athletic director at Queen of Peace High School, but last year, he added the duties of being the head baseball coach as well.
The Golden Griffins struggled to a 6-17 record last season, but Ahmuty was steadfast that his team would be greatly improved this year.
But through the first two weeks of the young season, the Griffins had nothing to show for their dedication. They played five games and lost all five. Some of those setbacks, like a one-run loss to Harrison and a 10-7 setback to neighboring rival North Arlington, were hard to swallow, because the Griffins had leads in both games, only to see the leads slip away.
“It was a tough first two weeks,” Ahmuty said. “It was really tough because we had some heartbreaking losses. Unfortunately, we would play one bad inning and that would do us in. We just couldn’t put those games away. We were definitely a better team than what we were showing.”
When a team has high expectations, then suffers through a disappointing start, there’s always a sense of an emotional letdown.
However, Ahmuty didn’t see that happening with his team.
“The team’s morale is still very good,” Ahmuty said. “It’s not easy to take those kinds of losses and remain optimistic. But I have been very optimistic about this team. It’s still early in the season. A lot of the goals we set remain the same. I have a sense we’re going to turn this around. I think we’ve proven we can play with teams. If we stay away from the one bad inning, things would be much different.”
It didn’t take long for the Golden Griffins’ fortunes to change. Last Friday night, the Griffins faced Becton Regional, totally putting aside the demoralizing setbacks to start the season. And guess what? QP earned an emotional 11-2 win, ending the early-season slide.
Ahmuty likes the fact that he has a deep pitching staff.
Senior Matt Tarantino has been a mainstay on the QP pitching staff for the last three seasons. The righty has pitched in a little tough luck in the early going.
Senior A.J. Len is another solid starter who deserved a better fate early on.
Junior Joe Peteya, who earned Second Team All-NJIC Meadowlands honors last year as a pitcher, has returned. Peteya was the winning pitcher against Becton Regional. Juniors Dan Viaud and Mark Petrucelli and sophomore lefty Nick Recarte round out the pitching staff. Ahmuty knows that the group as a whole will improve.
Handling the pitchers has been a shared duty between seniors Mike Zdanowicz and Mike Lynch. Zdanowicz hurt his arm during preseason workouts and has not been able to play behind the plate at full capacity, so they are sharing time at the moment.
The first baseman is a familiar name. Derrick Maurer, who was a standout soccer player for the Griffins in the fall and continued his prowess to the hardwoods of the basketball team in the winter, has returned to playing baseball this spring and has become the team’s power hitter at first.
“He didn’t play baseball last year because he wanted to concentrate on the other sports,” Ahmuty said. “But he’s come back this year. He used to be a third baseman, but we moved him to first and he’s done very well. He’s hitting well and fielding well. He has the ability to get the rest of the team riled up, so that’s been a plus. He can make things happen. He’s just a natural athlete.”
Peteya is the team’s second baseman when he’s not pitching, with Petrucelli holding fort at shortstop. Petrucelli made First Team All-NJIC Meadowlands last year, hitting almost .500 in the process.
The third baseman is sophomore Greg Giacalone, who Ahmuty feels has a ton of promise.
“He got a couple of starts last year as a freshman,” Ahmuty said. “He’s done well at third base. He’s the one player who doesn’t move all over. He’s the staple of the infield at third.”
The left fielder is senior Joe Hessian, with Tarantino in center and a combination of Len and Recante in right field. If the team needs a designated hitter, they can count on either Zdanowicz or Lynch, whichever is not catching that game.
So after the first five losses, the Golden Griffins finally tasted a win Friday night. It was a long time coming. Now that they finally got in the win column, Ahmuty has faith that things will turn around for the better now.
“I really think this team is coming together,” Ahmuty said. “They’re jelling together now and coming around. We have a lot of juniors who didn’t play last year. I really felt the tide turning over the last few days. We’ve been optimistic throughout. Heads were never down. They were prepared to play and ready to go. I had a sense that the win was going to come.”
It sure did … later that very same day.
“It may sound crazy, but I definitely think we have a shot to keep winning and get to .500,” Ahmuty said. “I think we can make the state playoffs (NJSIAA Non-Public A) and maybe the county playoffs. I knew we were going to be better than last year. It was just a matter of time. We’re going to win the games this year that we lost last year.”
At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction.