You thought C.J. Hendricks was just a simple high school baseball coach, a productive member of the community who helped mold boys into men.
And you were not wrong. Hendricks, the fourth year manager at South Brunswick High School, is that guy.
But he’s not just that guy. He’s also a clairvoyant.
In the spring of 2016, Hendricks took a gander at his three freshmen pitchers, Jacob Ciccone, Justin Cross and Mike Reyes, and made a grand proclamation, especially for an athletic coach well versed in the art of understatement.
“I said, ‘These guys could be one of the best staffs in the state of New Jersey when they are seniors,'” Hendricks said.
“I stand by that. I’ll put them up against anybody,” he claimed.
Behind its senior trio, South Brunswick is the local version of the 1990s Atlanta Braves, who annually made the National League playoffs behind the Hall of Fame pitching trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
South Brunswick is 6-3. Ciccone, Cross and Reyes have accounted for five of those victories. Cross, a right-hander, and Reyes, a lefty, have earned run averages of 2.37 and 1.50, respectively.
Ciccone, a left-hander committed to pitch at Division 1 Lafayette College, has 27 strikeouts in 16 innings, as well as a 3.06 ERA.
“Every team has one guy, maybe two,” Hendricks said. “We’re fortunate to have three we can throw against anybody.”
The soothsaying coach is actually even more fortunate than he originally envisioned. He legitimately has a fourth senior, 6-4 right-hander Chazz Gagliano, who is dominating even more than his classmates.
In six innings, Gagliano has allowed no runs, one hit and one walk. The righty tossed five scoreless innings in South Brunswick’s 6-1 home victory over Sayreville War Memorial High School on April 9. He also pitched a goose egg frame in relief during the team’s 3-2 loss at Piscataway High School on April 6.
Gagliano developed a knuckle-curveball in the offseason, to go with his fastball and changeup. The new pitch has transformed the senior’s confidence on the bump.
“I needed that third pitch,” he said. “My slider was inconsistent.”
Hendricks can use his big righty as a starter and as a reliever. That versatility will become valuable later in the regular season and in the postseason, when the Vikings will be playing four and five games per week.
“Chazz is an easy guy to turn to when we need someone to shut it down,” Hendricks said. “He doesn’t wow you with velocity. He just throws strikes and lets his fielders work.”
Typically on a staff with four seniors, any freshman would be completely irrelevant. He would probably be on the freshmen team or at best the junior varsity squad.
But Joey Tuttoilmondo is not most freshmen. In the fall, Perfect Game U.S.A. ranked him as the best right-hander in New Jersey and the 34th best in the country for his age group.
Hendricks, ever the oracle, sees Tuttoilmondo as the program’s ace for the next three years. But right now the freshman can’t crack the starting rotation, which he is ok with. Tuttoilmondo is thriving out of the bullpen, with a 1.75 ERA and an average of more than a strikeout per inning.
On most high school teams, he would be the ace right now. That makes him quite the weapon out of the pen.
“He has done a good job with it. Joey is just excited to be on varsity,” Hendricks said. “And he will also see more action as the season creeps on.”