South River High School has eight victories on the baseball diamond this spring.
The top two starting pitchers for South River, right-handed seniors Nick Razzano and Michael DeSantis, have accounted for six of those victories.
They have also given South River a chance at playing in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional tournament.
After a 1-5 start, the Rams are 7-4 in their last 11 games. At 8-9 overall, they would be the No. 10 seed in the 16-team state tournament field if the season ended today.
The cutoff date for determining seeds is May 11. Those seeds will be based on the first 15 games of each team’s season.
“We might sneak in,” said South River coach Mike Lepore. “Pitching is keeping us in games.”
Razzano is 3-1 with a 1.78 earned run average and 48 strikeouts in 39.1 innings. DeSantis is 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 21.2 frames.
Lepore expected Razzano to thrive like this. The senior was South River’s ace as a junior, too.
Except he wasn’t nearly this good. In 2018, Razzano posted a 3-5 record with a 3.06 ERA and less than a strikeout per inning.
The Penn State Brandywine commit does not throw hard. His fastball clocks in the high-70s and low-80s. He became a strikeout pitcher by improving his curveball.
Now he can throw the sharp breaking ball in any count, either for a strike or for a swing and a miss. It has allowed the righty to mix up his pitches and keep hitters off balance.
Razzano’s 48 strikeouts rank in the top 15 among all pitchers in New Jersey.
“He’s been dominant,” Lepore said. “He’s just a lot more crafty.”
“I think the main thing I’ve been trying to focus on is trying to mix up pitches,” Razzano said. “Even if I’m behind in the count, I shouldn’t be afraid to throw the curve or change.”
DeSantis barely pitched for South River before this year. He played catcher instead, and Lepore didn’t want to tax his arm by pitching him, too.
But this year the Rams were short on arms and needed DeSantis to step in. The three-sport varsity athlete, in football, boys’ basketball and baseball, was ready for the challenge. He was, after all, a dominant hurler in his South River Little League days.
Lepore was not afraid of asking DeSantis to rediscover pitching, either. As a freshman in 2016, DeSantis started in right field for a Rams club that won the Central Jersey, Group 1 state sectional tournament title. The kid lives for athletic challenges.
“Any test we put in front of that kid he can do it,” Lepore said. “And he’s been dominant.”
The senior was really dominant during an April 30 home game against Highland Park High School. In a 7-0 Rams victory, DeSantis tossed a no hitter and fanned 14.
But that’s not even the craziest part. The righty entered the seventh and last inning with 100 pitches. An NJSIAA rule prevents pitchers from throwing more than 110 pitches in a game. So DeSantis had to get three outs in 10 pitches to complete his no-no.
The athlete who lives for challenges turned to his best but most obvious pitch: his fastball. He got the first batter to ground out weakly to the mound, the second batter to strike out and the third to go down swinging at a straight heater. He did all that in nine pitches.
The no-no was complete.
“All fastballs,” said Lepore. “They couldn’t catch up.”