Cioffi leads Neumann in offensive eruption

Jaiden Cioffi started his game by slamming an RBI double down the left-field line. He added another RBI double an inning later then saved at least two runs, making sensational hit-saving plays at shortstop. In case Sugar Valley did not understand how much Cioffi means to St. John Neumann, the senior captain threw two hitless innings and struck out eight.

Monday’s outcome at Brandon Park was never really in doubt. The Knights erupted for a season-high 17 hits, built an 8-0 second-inning lead and romped to a 20-6, 6-inning win. Really, it became a showcase for why Cioffi is so valuable and what he has done for this program that could reach the postseason two years in a row for the first time ever.

Cioffi went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, four runs and two stolen bases as Neumann (4-3) won for a third time in four games and continued trending upward.

“Jaiden leads by example. Whenever the bell is rung and his name is called he always answers the call,” Cioffi said. “Hopefully these young guys understand that and feel that because someday soon it’s going to be one of them that we lean on when things get rough and we need them to answer the bell. He’s showing us the way.”

Cioffi helped Neumann reach the playoffs last year and is doing all he can to make this another memorable year. The four-year starter is Neumann’s lone senior and the future looks bright, but and his teammates are making the present look pretty good, too. The Knights are playing well and two of their three losses are by four combined runs, including against perennial district title contender Montgomery.

The big early lead yesterday allowed coach Cory Burkholder to use all 14 players and several reserves received significant playing time. Many did damage as nine players combined for the 17 hits and 13 players reached base. Cioffi, Solomon Grant and Naaman Amos all delivered three hits and Amos added four RBIs.

Kyle Ferguson and Keon Burkholder added two hits each and five pitchers combined on a 5-hitter as Neumann scored in all but one inning. It also produced multiple runs four times.

“We definitely used this game as a confidence booster with everybody getting hits. Everyone got a chance to throw and we even got some of the younger guys in so it was fun,” Cioffi said. “To see guys hitting their strides and making good contact and hitting the ball, that’s a big boost for us.”

“We were off for almost a week, so it was nice to get back and get a game like this under our belts,” Cory Burkholder said. “We got everyone in the program in today which is a bonus for us and everyone got to bat. It’s what makes coaching fun.”

Neumann had a lot of fun in the second inning, scoring six times and putting its first eight runners on base. Even the first out that inning was a productive one with Josiah Reid lofting a sacrifice fly. Jeffrey Hamilton ignited the rally with a double before Jimmy Weller, Burkholder, Grant and Ferguson followed with singles. Cioffi crushed an RBI double to the center-field fence and Amos added an RBI single as Neumann took control.

The Knights twice batted around, scoring seven times in the sixth inning and opening a 20-4 lead. Grant and Amos highlighted that burst with two-run singles. Reid added an RBI single and was one of 11 players who scored at least one run. Matt Harbaugh was one of those players and came off the bench to hit an RBI single while reaching base three times.

“I believe that we’re just now hitting our stride and we’re finding out who we are,” Cory Burkholder said. “Like most teams this time of year we’re learning who we are and who’s going to be there. We’re building that camaraderie.”

Cioffi helped increaes that, overpowering Sugar Valley on the mound and pumping up his teammates. The hard-throwing right-hander pulled off the rare achievement of striking out four players on consecutive innings because of a strike-three wild pitch and an error that allowed two strikeout victims on base. Trailing 13-4 in the fifth, Sugar Valley nearly worked its way back into the game, loading the bases without a hit.

As quickly as Sugar Valley gained momentum, Cioffi ripped it right back Neumann’s way. He blew away three straight batters, striking them out on 15 pitches. Cioffi, Grant, Ferguson, Burkholder and Amos all showed their stuff, combining for 14 strikeouts. That pitching depth is a luxury most previous Neumann teams have not had and one that could make Neumann dangerous if it reaches the postseason.

“I had been struggling, so that was definitely a confidence boost for me being able to mow them down like that, but I definitely have to get back to work against CMVT (Wednesday),” Cioffi said. “We have probably 4-5 solid pitchers and we’re just asked to throw strikes and execute and do our jobs.”

Neumann 264 107–20 17 6

Sugar Valley 022 002–6 4 7

Solomon Grant, Kyle Ferguson (2), Keon Burkholder (3), Jaiden Cioffi (4), Naaman Amos (6) and Amos, Grant (6). Naaman Conoway, Corbin Homan (2), Garrett Walizer (6), Blaine Falk (6) and Josh Weaver. W–Ferugson, (1-1). L–Conoway.

Top Neumann hitters: Grant 3-4, RBI, 4 R; Cioffi 3-4, 2 2Bs, 4 RBIs, 4 R, 2 SBs; Ferguson 2-3, 2 RBIs, 2 R; Amos 3-4, 4 RBIs, R; Josiah Reid 1-4, 2 RBIs; Jeffrey Hamilton 1-4, 2B, 2 R; Burkholder 2-4, RBI, 3 R; Jimmy Weller 1-2, R; Matt Harbaugh 1-2, 2 BB, RBI, 2 R. Top Sugar Valley hitters: Kaidin Leigey 2-3, BB.

Records: Neumann 4-3.