By Phil Anastasia
Cherry Hill East baseball coach Erik Radbill always knows where to find his top senior pitchers.
"Somebody will say, 'Where's Nick and Mike?'" Radbill said. "The answer is always, 'They're in the (training) room, working out.' They are always pushing themselves to get better."
Nick DiEva and Mike Brambilla have some extra motivation this spring. Not only are they determined to make the most of their senior season, they are driven to reverse Cherry Hill East's fortunes and return the Cougars to their accustomed status as one of South Jersey's best teams.
"There's only one way to go, and that's up," DiEva said. "To me, that's a great way to start a season."
Cherry Hill East, which opens the season Wednesday at cross-town rival Cherry Hill West, went 8-14 last season. The Cougars lost a stack of close games, thanks to a series of small mistakes as well as a spring-long struggle at the plate.
One thing the Cougars were able to do pretty well in 2013 was pitch, with DiEva and Brambilla combining to keep their team in most games.
"It's tough when you lose a game 2-1 to a team like Washington Township," Brambilla said of a 2013 Minutemen squad that won both the Olympic American division and Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic titles, the latter in dominating fashion.
Brambilla, a left-hander who has signed with Monmouth, believes this season will be different.
So does DiEva, a righty who has signed with Stony Brook.
"It's going to be great to prove people wrong," DiEva said.
Radbill hopes the Cougars will execute better and hit the ball with more authority. They return seven of nine regulars in the lineup.
But the key will be the pitching staff, and that's why the coach is so optimism. With DiEva and Brambilla, the Cougars have a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation and some other capable arms as well.
"They're both four-year varsity players," Radbill said of his two top pitchers. "So we've watched them develop. And they've both made a big jump from last year."
DiEva is a power pitcher with a fastball that regularly touches the high 80s in mph on the radar gun. He was 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA last season, with 43 strikeouts in 28.1 innings.
Brambilla is more of a control pitcher who specializes in movement and change of pace. He was 2-2 last season with a 3.59 ERA.
One thing they have in common is a fierce work ethic.
"We both will work until we can't work anymore," DiEva said. "It's great to have somebody else like that. We'll go until we can pick up a ball anymore, until we can't function anymore."
Said Bramilla: "It's great to have somebody else who is that dedicated to baseball. We push each other in a good way."
Both athletes grew up in Cherry Hill and were aware of each other as standout players in different Little Leagues -- Brambilla in Cherry Hill American and DiEva in Cherry Hill Atlantic.
They went to different middle schools but grew friendly as members of the same Tri-State Arsenal AAU travel team during those years.
"That's when we really got close," DiEva said. "It's great to think we came up together and got friendly and now we're both seniors and getting ready to go to Division I programs."
Like his teammate, co-ace and frequent workout partner, Brambilla said he pushed himself to the limit this off-season for one reason: To create a senior year to remember.
"I feel like I haven't really proved myself and as a team we haven't really proved ourselves," Brambilla said. "This is our opportunity to do that."
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