Baseball: Buena Regional making a smooth transition under new chief
Harry Grose responds with a laugh and one word when asked about the difference between being an assistant and head high school baseball coach.
"Paperwork," he said.
Actually it's a bit more complicated than that, but Grose has made a smooth transition from assistant to head coach of Buena Regional High School.
The Chiefs, No. 10 in The Press Elite 11, are 7-0 after a 9-0 win over Sacred Heart on Tuesday. Buena is the only undefeated Cape-Atlantic League team.
"You're not calling all the shots when you're the assistant," Grose said. "All of a sudden when you're the head guy, you're making all the calls, flashing the signs. You go from being a bit player to the main guy. The game happens pretty fast."
Grose replaced George West, who resigned last July to become assistant principal at Egg Harbor Township. West was a Buena graduate and former standout player. He led the Chiefs to the South Jersey Group II title and the state Group II final last season. The Press named West its Coach of the Year last season and in 2008.
"We didn't see it coming," Buena center fielder Robert Bunton said of West's decision. "But we totally understood it. It was bittersweet. He had to do what he had to do, and we appreciated that and accepted it."
Grose was an assistant under West for five seasons.
"I was always the good cop," Grose said, "George played the bad cop."
Grose, 55, comes from a baseball family. He attended Colonia High School in Middlesex County. His older brother Jeff played in the New York Mets' organization in the 1970s.
"I had dreams of playing baseball just like my older brother, but it never worked out," Grose said.
Grose, who teaches history at Buena, also was a head coach at Bishop Ahr, Bound Brook, South Brunswick and Southern Regional before coming to Buena.
The Buena players said it's easy to talk to Grose. But that doesn't mean he goes easy on them.
"I've told the kids I've made a few mistakes," the coach said. "I'll make a couple of more. But the kids know I'm passionate about the game. I'm passionate about following rules and regulations."
West wasn't the only departure from last season's team. Buena graduated three standouts - catcher Manny Colon, shortstop Anthony Lopez and pitcher Justin Geri.
But the Chiefs returned several starters from last season's team, and they have combined those veterans with some talented newcomers this season.
A couple of players also changed positions. Sophomore Marco Rios moved from second base to shortstop. Senior Jarred Corniell stepped in at catcher and typifies the Chiefs' attitude.
"I figure everybody was going to compare me to Manny Colon, and he's one of the best catchers I ever played with," Corniell said. "He was one of the key leaders of our team. Everyone respected him. I came into the season, and I wanted the same reputation."
Sophomore Denny Brady leads a young pitching staff with a 2-0 record. Brady is dealing with shoulder tendonitis and will not pitch this week, according to Grose. Rios and Chris Capriotti also have pitching wins for Buena.
"I think we have more pitching depth (than in the past five years)," Grose said. "It's not like, 'Who's going today?' We can turn to our No. 5 and he can get the job done."
Tuesday's win typified the way Buena has played this season. Bunton and Rios began the game with back-to-back doubles to give Buena 1-0 lead. Taylor Cheli hit a two-run homer. Brady and Dom Lopez knocked in runs with hits. Capriotti threw shutout ball for the win.
Buena's seniors have plenty of big-game experience. In addition to last season's South Jersey title, the Chiefs also won the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic in 2011. That tournament features 16 of South Jersey's top teams.
"They know how to win," Grose said. "They're a confident bunch of kids."
And even though West is gone, his presence still is felt.
"Our players work hard," Grose said. "George left us with the idea that if you work hard, good things will happen. We believe we can win every game."
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