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By Joe Nardini
The resurgence of interest in baseball that has swept the Garden State in recent years has not lost its impact at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC). A once proud baseball program that fell on some lean years in the late ‘90s and into the turn of the millennium shows distinct signs of righting itself. Head Coach Matt Sommo, in only his second year in that position, has made it his mission to return his program to its previous championship form.
The RVCC baseball team plays in the highly competitive, NJCAA Division III Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC). Of the ten community colleges that make up the GSAC, three were rated 6th, 7th, and 8th in the nation by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The 2007 season saw the RVCC squad post a 6-22 record. As Coach Sommo puts it, “The guys played hard, (although) a third of the losses came by two runs or less.”
As a player himself in 2002 and 2003, and then as assistant coach in 2005 and 2006, Sommo learned first-hand the various responsibilities associated with running a college program. Making it a successful program is quite another task altogether.
“I do a lot of recruiting; most of my time is spent around campus, being seen,” as Coach puts it. Although he worked hard as an assistant coach, he finds the position of head coach to be a lot more intense.
Among other activities, he mailed “a lot of letters to high school coaches and spent a lot of time attending showcases,” most notably at the baseball academies in Upper Saddle River (Professional Baseball Instruction – NJB Magazine, Fall 2006) and Flemington (Jack Cust Baseball Academy, NJB Magazine, Spring-Fall 2006).
The effects of his recruiting efforts are paying off, as he has “been getting good response so far.” Among the most noteworthy replies he has received, came a recent transfer request from Corey Towey, a blue-chip shortstop who will give up a four-year scholarship to Bloomfield College and play for RVCC in 2008. Towey played his high school ball at Hillsborough High School, and he will join a cadre of talented ball players who will matriculate or have already enrolled at RVCC.
Other first year players who Coach Sommo expects to make strong contributions include Tim Nevolo (P-Somerville HS), Tony Armellino (P-Hunterdon Central HS), Josh Ellis (P- Warren Hills HS) and Francis Brown (C-North Hunterdon HS). They will complement returning players outfielder Mike Miklosey (RF-Delaware Valley HS) and Brandon Founds (3B-North Hunterdon HS).
Of his two new pitchers, Sommo was impressed with Nevolo’s control and speed. “During the fall he (Nevolo) threw in the mid-80s and showed a great curve ball,” while Armellino, “who didn’t play in his senior year of high school, was rusty at first, but showed good stuff.” Armellino has benefited from private lessons that he has received at the Jack Cust Academy in Flemington.