After a dominant season, Montclair State University’s baseball team heads into the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) playoffs with full steam ahead.
Finishing the season with a four-game winning streak and an overall 30-win record, the Red Hawks look to start their claim to glory on Tuesday against The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).
Last season, the Red Hawks were knocked out of the playoffs by the Kean University Cougars in the NJAC Quarterfinals. Last season was also a historic season for senior infielder Peter Cosentino, who was named a first-team All-American.
This year, the team has elevated their play to ground-breaking levels, especially against Kean, as the Red Hawks swept the two-game season series in a commanding fashion.
On April 28, the Red Hawks displayed that commandment with their biggest win of the season, defeating the Cougars 25-1. The team has put last season’s loss behind them, and head coach Dave Lorber continues with his same philosophy since taking over.
Stick to the fundamentals.
“Our message is simple, every time we step on the field it’s to play our very best brand of baseball,” Lorber said. “ It doesn’t matter who’s wearing a uniform across your dugout.”
Their unique play style will certainly pay dividends in the opening round, and fans have seen how committed this team is to make necessary adjustments to win ball games.
The Red Hawks have proven the “next man up” mentality works, and that couldn’t have come at a better time than against the one seed Rowan University.
On April 9, Montclair State faced Rowan in a doubleheader that featured the absence of Lorber due to an altercation. His ejection resulted in game one being a breeze for Rowan, winning 8-0.
In the second game, however, Montclair State pulled away with a 6-5 victory, as sophomore outfielder Jorden Jurkiewicz scored the last run for the Red Hawks, while Rowan struck out at the top of the 9th inning. Lorber believes his coaching staff is the reason his players are able to find their play together mid-game.
“I trust the players and coaches that are surrounding me,” Lorber said. “We give them full autonomy to make decisions and be the best coaches they can be for our players. Then, I trust our players to do what they do, which is go out and play a good brand of baseball [which] they’ve been trained to do.”
Having someone as passionate as coach Lorber fired up sophomore outfielder Jurkiewicz and junior utility player Miles Feaster. Coming off a loss in the first game, the two Red Hawks claimed Lorber’s absence added the fuel needed to win the second game.
There are several reasons why the team has been playing with a chip on their shoulder, and there’s not a more heartwarming one than the whole group looking to send their seniors off with a championship under their belt. It would be Montclair State’s first title home since 2001.
“They’ve experienced the lowest of the low in program history, and now that we have a really good team, it’s exciting,” Jurkiewicz said. “They’re my brothers. I love playing baseball with them and I love being off the field with them, so as long as we can make the season as special as possible for them, I think everyone will be happy.”
Feaster also speaks on what winning a title this year means for the graduating class.
“I think it’s easy to sit back and think ‘We did pretty good this year, whatever happens, happens, we could be better next year’ but everyone’s mindset is to get it done this year,” Feaster said. “We have a few guys that have been here for six years, and this is probably the best season, by far, so I think we’ll go as far as we can.”
Jurkiewicz and Feaster have been making strides in their game in the second half of the season, each obtaining season highs in numerous categories. Jurkiewicz, whose best play came against New Jersey City University (NJCU) on April 14-15, had a season-high in hits (4), home runs (2), runs batted in (6) and bases stolen (2).
As for Feaster, in their final meeting with Kean for the season, he contributed to seven of Montclair State’s 11 runs. Feaster acknowledges his role on the team and believes he has the capabilities to get everyone on the roster at home plate.
The remarkable season for the Red Hawks is not completed yet. With championship aspirations, Lorber and his group look to take each game one step at a time and play the winning baseball they have done so well.
The journey begins against TCNJ on Tuesday at Yogi Berra Stadium, with the Red Hawks looking to seek that title they’ve coveted for over 20 years.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself,” Lorber said. “If you do all of a sudden, you lose sight of what’s important. The task at hand is to prepare for Tuesday.”