The Pope John Lions baseball team began their season with a sour 4-1 loss to the Delbarton Green Wave on April 3rd. With a lot of hope in their minds heading into the game, the Lions felt lost, but couldn’t think twice about the past.
On April 6th, the Lions traveled to Montville to take on the Montville Mustangs where Senior pitcher Ayden Alexander threw his 2nd no-hitter of his high school career. With a 1-1 start to the 2023 season, the Lions were ready to march their way to a state title.
With another loss, coming at the hands of the Mount Olive Marauders, on April 10th, the Lions really needed to get a winning streak going. It wouldn’t easy because they would have to play games in four of the next five days.
Senior pitcher Anthony Bubba would make his 2nd start of the season, with a record of 0-1, against the Roxbury Gaels to start this stretch on April 11th. Losing 1-0 as the Lions headed into the 6th inning was frustrating for Bubba, but he trusted his team, and they scored four runs in the bottom half of the 6th to take a 4-1 lead.
Junior pitcher Parker Rutkowski closed the game, earning his 1st save of the season, giving Bubba his 1st win of the season, and evening the Lions record at 2-2.
On April 12th, the Lions crushed the High Point Wildcats 12-1 in five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
With a practice day on April 13th, the Lions felt good with a 4-2 record, but couldn’t relax with the Chatham Cougars, their next opponent, coming on April 14th. The Lions jumped to a quick 3-0 lead in the 1st inning, but it was cut down to 3-2 in the bottom half of that inning and tied in the bottom of the 3rd inning.
The Lions took control of the game when Junior Marco Bonfiglio hammered a 3-run homer to give the Lions a 6-3 lead. With the 9-4 victory, the Lions improved to 5-2 on the season.
A silent hero throughout the season so far has been Sophomore Evan Johnson who has been the DH (Designated Hitter) for the Lions this season. With a .391 batting average and five RBIs (Runs Batted In), Johnson has become a great part of the bottom of the lineup for the Lions.
“Personally, this opportunity means alot because last season I couldn’t play due to an injury that required surgery, so that was tough to work through, but everyone has been extremely supportive to get me to this point,” said Johnson.
Last week, the Lions began the week with a 2-1 walk-off win against the Saint Joe’s (Montvale) Green Knights, improving their record to 6-2.
On Wednesday, they rematched the Green Wave, but once again couldn’t find ways to drive in runs as, in eight innings, the Lions fell 4-2.
Friday’s game also ended in disappointment as the Randolph Rams broke apart a 6-3 lead that the Lions held in the final inning, to defeat the Lions 7-6.
With the tough week behind them, Lions Head Coach James Manco and the team are not worried about the losses and want to look ahead at each game, one at a time.
“I think the season has had a very positive start,” said Coach Manco. “The guys are working hard. They’ve put in the work, starting in September when school started by creating opportunities to be up at the field or at Hit & Run during the winter.”
“They all have goals and have found ways to really become a family this season. However, we have to stay focused, and play one game at a time; one pitch, one at-bat, one inning,” he added.
Alexander was very happy about his no-hitter to begin the season, and though the team couldn’t help him get his 3rd win of the season against the Rams, he is very confident that the team will continue to succeed and head toward a state title.
“Everyone made good plays to make the no-hitter possible,” said Alexander. “The pitching staff has done an excellent job this season so far, and all we need to do is continue to have consistency and work hard to keep doing an excellent job. Keep throwing how we’re throwing and don’t stop until we get to that state championship.”
The Lions rematch the Mustangs at Pope John today at 4:30 PM and will rematch the Rams on Thursday also at Pope John at 4:30 PM.
With the schedule not letting up, the Lions can’t relax, but they can also keep moving toward the state title with hard work and determination.
Andrew Nowel, Contributing Sportswriter
Currently enrolled at Canisius University in Buffalo, New York, Andrew Nowel is an up-and-coming journalist/photographer and broadcaster. He wrote sports' articles for his high school, Pope John XXIII Regional High School. Andrew has worked with Morris Sussex Sports in sports broadcasting and analyzes professional sports in his free time. Andrew and his friend Ryan have a podcast that talks about professional sports and Canisius Athletics. Andrew also runs his own website about Canisius Athletics. He strives to inform the people about local sports and the young athletes of our communities from Buffalo to New Jersey and everywhere.
Andrew has provided previous and remarkable sports stories and photographs for the Ridge View Echo since he was 16 and enrolled at Pope John High School.