Norman Thomas reaches Monroe quarterfinals
Norman Thomas wasn’t pleased with its overall play on the first day of the 43rd Annual Monroe Tournament Saturday. After an opening win, Tigers first-year coach Luis Monell knew his team wasn’t happy with its lackluster play in an 11-5 loss to Morris.
That loss put Norman Thomas at 1-1, and into a pressure packed scenario Monday against Bryant. The Tigers had to win to get into the elimination round or go home.
“They came out too flat,” Monell said. “We beat Morris in a pre-season game, and they didn’t take into consideration they would come out with a different game plan and get aggressive.”
Norman Thomas came out a charged squad, defeating Bryant 9-1 in a six-inning game to advance to the elimination round in the Monroe Tournament at Taft High School Monday morning. Junior catcher Kenneth Guichardo went 2-for-3 with two singles and 4 RBIs to lead the offense. Right-handed pitcher Jeffrey Ledesma allowed only two hits and struck out nine in a complete-game victory.
“They put a test to us, but we passed that test,” Monell said. “Hopefully we can move on and do what we have to do with consistency. They know we didn’t play Norman Thomas baseball on Saturday and it showed today.”
Norman Thomas got out to an early lead by scoring three runs in the top of the third inning off Bryant pitcher Antony DeJesus. With one out, Michael German drove in Francis Vasquez with an RBI single to make it 1-0. After centerfielder Paul Garcia got on a base with a single, Guichardo then hit a two-run single past shortstop Chris Alvarez to increased the lead to 3-0.
German and Guichardo also connected on RBI singles in a five-run fifth as Norman Thomas led 8-0. That was plenty of support for Ledesma, who stymied a solid hitting Bryant offense by displaying a good fastball and off-speed pitches.
“I had a good day, curveball was good going over when I wanted it to and I had good control,” Guichardo said. “I know coming into this game, I had to have a good game just to keep them to one. We didn’t want to go home. This was a big game.”
Norman Thomas is off to a 4-0 start in Manhattan A East with solid pitching and hitting, and only added three players to a team already brimming with chemistry. Monell, a former junior varsity coach who took over this season for longtime coach Nerva Jean-Pierre, said this tournament is an even bigger test for his Tigers.
“Every single game, we have to play like it’s a playoff game,” Monell said. “The PSAL doesn’t rank us as high as we think we should be. We take that as motivation and every single game we feel we have something to prove. We feel like we are playing with a chip on our shoulder. This tournament is a statement maker for us.”
Garcia, a senior centerfielder who hit .432 last year, says this team can do a bit everything of the field. The Tigers have had something to prove to themselves, as well. Norman Thomas brings back nearly the entire roster from a team that ended up 11-5 and was just one out away from upsetting eventual PSAL champions George Washington in the second round.
“To this day, we still talk about this game,” Garcia said. “Since they won the city championship, we gave them a run that day. Since we played good that day, why couldn’t we play well every day and beat every team? We always think about that and it always motivates us. Being underrated is good sometimes, we know we got something to prove.”
While Norman Thomas will face either John Adams or Mott Haven in the quarterfinals Wednesday at 9 a.m. at Lehman, Bryant was eliminated from the Monroe Tournament with a 1-2 record in pool play. The Owls reached the tournament final last year, and used that to push themselves to the PSAL quarterfinals. Bryant, which is 4-0 in Queens West A, will try to correct its mistakes when league play resumes on April 16 at Newtown.
“We have playoff type potential,” Bryant coach Rocco Rotundi said. “You don’t win playoff games or your division in April. We got to learn from it. This was the best thing that could have happened to us in my opinion. We have been up and down. We haven’t been consistent. We got consistent in the last week or so, but this tournament shows that we got still a lot to work on.”