Jersey Blues (16-0) are ranked No.3 in the country fielding one of the best teams in memory.
By Mike Ready,

Brookdale’s Johnny Johnson is celebrating his 25th year as head coach and recently picked up his 800th win with the program. And the way his team is playing so far this season, he just might get another 800 if it’s up to them.

Brookdale is ranked No.3 in the country in NJCAA DIII play and is currently 16-0 on the season. The team is hitting .424 with a remarkable 1.255 OPS, including a .530 on-base percentage and a .725 slugging percentage. They’ve hit 21 home runs and scored 192 runs in 16 games.

The pitching staff has been just as dominant. They’re holding opponents to a .196 batting average and currently boast a team-earned run average of 1.39 with a 1.02 WHIP.

“We’ve got some great sophomores who give us some real leadership,” said Johnson. They bought into it from day one and taught these new guys how to practice and play the game. This is one of the hardest-working teams we’ve ever had. They come to practice every day and play hard.”

Brookdale’s one through four hitters in the batting order is their version of “murders row.”

Freshman Ryan Schmidt—a 2023 first-team All Class A South selection out of Toms River South—leads off and sets the table. Schmidt is hitting .333 with 14 runs scored, a team-leading five triples, and a .414 OBP. Schmidt plays solid defense in left field, runs well, and puts the bat on the ball. Johnson feels he’ll be a legitimate DI baseball player by the time he’s finished here.

Nick LoVarco was a second-team All-Shore selection during his senior season at Wall in 2022. He bats second and patrols right field. He had a stellar freshman year at Brookdale last season, hitting .364 with five home runs, 31 RBI, a .458 OBP, and a .550 slugging percentage. This season he’s on a mission. LoVarco is hitting .500 with a team-leading seven home runs, 21 RBI, and 19 runs scored with a team-leading 1.668 OPS, including a .564 OBP and a 1.104 slugging percentage.

“Nick’s putting up All-American numbers,” said Johnson. He’s matured and will probably go to a DI school after this year. He had a nice year last year but improved 1000 percent. He’s the perfect number two hitter for us.”

Matawan native Rocko Brzezniak bats third and plays 3B/1 B. He had one of the best seasons ever in JUCO baseball history last season, playing for Brookdale nemesis RCSJ Gloucester, which won the NJCAA DIII World Series and beat Brookdale in the Region XIX final. He was a unanimous first-team All-American selection who blasted 18 home runs and drove in an incredible 106 runs while batting .464 with 68 runs scored. His 1.396 OPS, including a .526 OBP and .870 slugging percentage, led the nation.

Thankfully for Brookdale, Bzezniak, already committed to NAIA powerhouse Southeastern University, ranked No.1 in the country, decided to be closer to home. He’s been everything and more than Brookdale could’ve expected.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Bzeziak is hitting .577 with six home runs, a team-leading 24 RBI, and 24 runs scored. His monster OBP is 1.652, with a .633 OPS and 1.019 slugging percentage – off-the-chart numbers.

“Rocko is one of the best college hitters in baseball,” Johnson said. He makes everyone better. That’s what he did at Gloucester. As good as that team was, he made those guys better. Pitchers fear him and pitch around him. He’s also a gold glove fielder at third base and first base.”

Head coach Johnny Johnson and standout pitcher/first baseman Ryan Cole (Photo by Mike Ready)

Former Neptune High School star Ryan Cole  is hitting cleanup, and pitching. In his second year at Brookdale, Cole likes what he sees of this year’s team: “We have a hard-working group of guys that are locked in and connect with each other, and we’re all looking for the same thing: a ring and a national championship.

“Our pitching staff is very deep this year,” Cole added. “We have guys with experience and some new arms that will really help us. We have more guys this year who can get the job done, whether starting or in relief. Everyone just wants to contribute wherever they can.”

Last season, Cole went 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched and a 1.05 WHIP while hitting .254 with four home runs and 25 RBI. He’s taken his game to the next level on the mound and hitting this season.

The versatile righty is 3-0 in four starts with a 0.52 ERA and 0.81 WHIP while striking out 22 batters in 17.1 innings pitches. At the plate, he’s hitting .535 with three home runs,19 RBI, nine doubles, and 21 runs scored with a .615 OBP, .953 slugging percentage, and a 1.568 OPS.

Cole rarely strikes out and protects Brzezniak in the lineup. Pitchers can’t pitch around Brzezniak with Cole hitting right behind him.

“Ryan is one of my all-around favorite players,” said Johnson. He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever had. He loves baseball. He’s one of the best pitchers in the region, a gold-glove first baseman, and one of the top hitters around. He’s one of those old-school kids who just love to play baseball. He can do it all.”

Delaware Valley transfer Anthony Martino  bats fifth and has fit in nicely at Brookdale, contributing immediately. He’s a Brick Memorial grad who hit .366 with four home runs and 23 RBI as a senior. So far this season, Martino is hitting .407 with two home runs, a triple, three doubles, and nine RBI.

Johnson loves his bat speed, sees his power numbers increasing, and likes his versatility playing third, second, and DH.

Devon Smith, a 2022 Howell graduate who transferred from Ocean County College, where he played one season in 2023, is batting in the six spot and playing centerfield. Last season at OCC, he hit .277 with two home runs, 22 RBI, 24 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases. He’s hitting .563 with a triple, six doubles, and 11 RBI.

According to Johnson, “He’s a quality player. One of our best steady ball players. He does everything well. He plays great defense, makes contact, bunts and he’s making us a better team.”

Sophomore Hunter Serrano bats seventh and plays shortstop. He got his feet wet last season and has taken on a much bigger role this season, earning a starting position. Johnson likes his leadership and the way he makes routine plays, puts the bat on the ball and has some power.

Serrano is hitting .222 with two home runs, four triples and 15 RBI.

Brookdale has the luxury of having two top-end catchers in sophomore Lucca Limeira  and freshman Shane Andrus – a 2023 first-team All-Shore selection out of Red Bank Catholic.

Limeira had 66 at-bats last season behind the plate hitting .227 with a home run and 11 RBI. He earned the starting job this season and has stepped up his game dramatically. He’s hitting .417 with a triple, five doubles and 12 RBI. His OPS is a dazzling 1.208, including a .500 OBP and a .708 slugging percentage.

“Lucca’s a kid who can play any position, but we needed him to catch,” said Johnson. “He’ll run through a brick wall for you.”

In 21 at-bats, Andrus is hitting .333 with a home run, four RBI, and a double. “Shane did a nice job at RBC, and he will be big for us next year. The game is fast for him now, but he’s getting it and has stepped up for us the last couple of games.”

Batting ninth is sophomore second baseman/DH Nick Colbert, a 2022 graduate of Wall High School. Colbert had a solid freshman season a year ago, batting .358 with a home run, 16 RBI, and three doubles in 67 plate appearances. In 11 games this season he’s hitting .423 with a home run, 10 RBI, two doubles, and 14 runs scored. He has a .531 OBP and a .654 slugging percentage that stands out.

“He’s a Great program player who does everything you ask him to do,” said Johnson. He’s a solid second baseman who’s really improved his hitting. He does a nice job for us.”

Sophomore first baseman Giovanni Sive  (HR, 2B, 7 RBI), freshmen second baseman Justin Diaz (.750, 2 2B, 4 RBI), shortstop Christopher Clark (.294, 3 2B, 3 RBI) and outfielder Kensil Flores (.294, 4 2B, 3B, 6 RBI ) have all contributed.

Cole, a Charleston Southern commit, is the pitching staff’s ace, but this season, freshman Tyler Spencer has been a revelation. He was a first-team All-Division selection in his senior season at Colts Neck High School.

So far this season, Spencer has been lights out. He’s 4-0 with a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 IP and a 0.93 WHIP.

Former Rutgers commit John Goodes, a Rumson-Fair Haven standout and second-team All-Shore selection as a senior last season, transferred to Brookdale this spring and was penciled in as the No.2 starter. However, Goodes injured his arm after two appearances, going 1-0, and is set to have an MRI. So, his status for the rest of the season is unknown.

“Tyler’s old school; he does everything,” said Johnson. “He’s one of our top pitchers now with Goode going down. He’s taken his spot in the rotation.”

University of Hartford transfer Jake Burt,, a former Wall standout, is another new pitcher who has taken the bull by the horns and run with it. He’s 4-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 1.09 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 15.2 IP.

“Jake has been lights out for us,” said Johnson. “He’s just getting better and better with our pitching program.”

Another University of Hartford transfer, Christian Krause, has five appearances and one start for the Blues and is 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 11.1 IP. A versatile pitcher who can start or relieve.

Former Wall High School standout, freshman Zack Szatkowski has started two games and is 2-0. He has yet to give up a run in seven innings pitched, allowing three hits with six strikeouts.

Johnson says, “Krause is a gamer. He’s another DI pitcher, I think. And Zack came out of nowhere. He’s going to be a good one.”

Freshmen Michael Mulkeen (4 appearances, 6.2 IP, 1 save, 0.00 ERA, 10 strikeouts), Aiden Baiard (3 appearances, 1-0, 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3 K’s) and Vinny Zaffarese (4 appearances, 5 IP, 3.63 ERA, 3K’s) and sophomore Christopher DiMaggio (5 appearances, 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 8 K’s) have been stellar out of the pen.

It’s still too early to start talking playoffs but this team has championship written all over it. If they can avoid injuries this may be a season to remember for Brookdale.

“I love this team; this is one of my favorite teams,” said Johnson. They’re good kids, and I’m excited to come to the park every day with these guys. They work hard. Honestly, this team could make a run to the World Series, knock on wood. We have the pitching depth and the hitting straight through the lineup. We’re good at every position.”