Former rivals join forces on Williamstown's coaching staff

Williamstown HS boys baseball pitching coach Rocco Cornacchia (left) and Williamstown's head coach Joe Smith relish the opportunity of coaching together.

They're not exactly fire and ice.

"More like oil and water," Rocco Cornacchia said of the contrast between himself and his former rival, long-time friend and current boss, Joe Smith.

Cornacchia spent the previous 24 seasons as the head baseball coach at Clearview. He had green and gold in his blood.

Now Cornacchia wears blue and white. He has become the pitching coach at Williamstown, one of Clearview's fiercest rivals.

Cornacchia has joined forces with Smith, Williamstown's head coach, after years in opposite dugouts.

"It's a little strange," Cornacchia said. "I still enjoy coaching, and Joe and I have been close friends forever. So this is a great situation. But it still feels weird."

The soft-spoken Cornacchia works with the Braves' pitchers and catchers, sets up the rotation, arranges off-day bullpen sessions and calls pitches during the games.

"I trust him because I know, whatever he does, he's going to do the right thing," Smith said. "Of course, if somebody gets a hit, I'll be like, 'What did you call that pitch for?' "

Cornacchia said the two have been close friends since a rainy day in the 1990s when Smith was coaching at Delsea.

"I think they closed airports that day, but they played," Cornacchia said. "I'm in the third-base [coaching] box, and there was water up to my ankles. They beat us, 1-0, and I hated his guts that day.

"But we became close friends, and we've been close ever since."

Cornacchia said he appreciates the way the fiery Smith engages his players.

"I've always admired the way he motivates kids," Cornacchia said. "The way he does it, I was never able to do that."

Smith said Cornacchia has his own way of reaching players.

"I love the way he talks to kids," Smith said. "He has a different approach than me. It works."

Williamstown senior right-hander Justin Rouse, a Rhode Island recruit, said the two coaches have a decidely different approach.

"Coach Smith, his first reaction is to yell," Rouse said. "Coach 'Roc,' he's calmer. He tries to be positive in everything we do. It's good how they both do things differently."

Cornacchia retired as a guidance counseler and head coach at Clearview in June in large part to take care of his 92-year-old mother. He said Smith called him soon afterward and asked him to join the Braves' staff.

"We had a game [at Toms River] the other day, and I couldn't get anyone to take care of Mom. So I missed the game," Cornacchia said. "When I was a head coach, I never could have done that. That's the kind of thing Joe will do for me."

Smith noted that the Braves won that game.

"We're 1-0 without you," Smith said.

"He's been waiting to play that card," Cornacchia said.

The close friends are the coaches of the last two South Jersey Group 4 champions. Williamstown won the title in 2015, and Clearview captured the crown in 2016, capping one of the best seasons in program history in Cornacchia's swan song.

On April 5, Williamstown visited Clearview. The Pioneers won the emotional game, 7-5.

The Tri-County Conference Royal Division rivals play again April 28 at Williamstown.

"It's bittersweet," Cornacchia said of coaching against Clearview. "I couldn't sleep the night before we played them the last time. I had such great relationships with those kids. I loved coaching there."