Gloucester County Institute of Technology has come a long way in baseball

Junior pitcher/infielder Jake Danner could become GCIT's first boy athlete to earn a Division I scholarship. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Junior pitcher/infielder Jake Danner could become GCIT's first boy athlete to earn a Division I scholarship. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 31, 2013

John Marcucci knew that building the Gloucester County Institute of Technology baseball program was a major construction project.

He just didn't realize that some of his first players would take such a literal approach to the job.

"When we started, we had players come to practice in work boots and jeans," Marcucci said.

GCIT has come a long way in seven seasons. The Cheetahs made the state tournament for the first time in 2010, won a playoff game for the first time in 2011, and reached the South Jersey Group 2 championship game in 2012.

Now with seven of nine starters and six of the top seven pitchers back from last year's 20-6 squad, GCIT looms as a serious contender in both South Jersey Group 3 and the Tri-County Royal Division. The Cheetahs are No. 10 in The Inquirer's preseason South Jersey rankings.

"We worked hard every day to make this happen," said senior catcher Zach Funk, a four-year varsity player. "We have a great team chemistry because we know how hard we've worked and how far we've come."

Funk, second baseman Chris Gilcrest, and pitcher/outfielder Chris Guinta are part of a senior nucleus that has changed the culture of the program, Marcucci said. Those guys were freshmen when GCIT made the playoffs for the first time, losing by 10-1 to Haddon Heights in Group 2 action.

"I go back to that game," Marcucci said. "We fell behind early, but we kept battling. I think something changed that day."

From 2006 until 2010, the Cheetahs went 31-71, never won more than two division games in the Tri-County Conference, and generally were regarded as a soft spot on a lot of teams' schedules.

But they took a big step in 2011, posting a better-than-.500 record (11-10) and winning a playoff game (upsetting Cherry Hill West in Group 3) for the first time.

Last season was a breakthrough, as GCIT won 20 games and became the first boys' program in the school's history to reach a sectional final.

"I didn't think we'd be this good," said junior pitcher/infielder Jake Danner, who could become the school's first boy athlete to earn a Division I scholarship.

"But every year we've gotten more and more good players and we've gotten better and better."

The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Danner has a fastball that has hit 90 m.p.h. He was 7-1 with a 1.31 ERA last season, striking out 51 in 48 innings.

Danner, who also batted .459 with 11 doubles, has drawn recruiting interest from Maryland, Rutgers, and Stony Brook, among other programs, and has made the radar of major-league scouts.

"It's a little overwhelming," said Danner, who lives in Gibbstown. "I'm just trying to stay focused on high school baseball."

Funk batted .350 last season with six triples. Gilcrest batted .356 and scored 32 runs. Senior Mike Macaluso batted .328 with nine doubles.

Junior Tom Kleinhans hit .369 and scored 28 runs, and sophomore Ryan McKinstry batted .375 with 26 RBIs.

"It seems like the last few years we've gotten a few young kids every year who can really play," Marcucci said.

Despite their recent success, the Cheetahs suspect that some in South Jersey still question their legitimacy. They are OK with that, too.

"We use it as motivation," Funk said. "Last year's success probably opened some eyes, but there probably are people out there who think we were a fluke and that don't expect much from us this season. We feel like we can compete with anybody."


Contact Phil Anastasia

at panastasia@phillynews.com.

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