Tony Santa Maria will play baseball in his home state next next year.
The 2020 Atlantic County Institute of Technology graduate is transferring from Iona College to Rutgers University. His eligibility will take place immediately, and he can join the Scarlet Knights this upcoming fall in preparation for the 2022 season, the university said in a release Thursday.
Santa Maria will receive a full academic and athletic scholarship to the NCAA Division I program in Piscataway, Middlesex County.
“Definitely the close to home factor played a role (in his decision to transfer),” said Santa Maria, 19, of Absecon. “They are giving me a great opportunity to come in and play right away. I mean, it is in a great conference (Rutgers competes in the Big Ten). I wanted to be able to play in top conferences, and help myself farther down the line.”
Rutgers also announced Thursday that Manhattan College standout Nick Cimillo will transfer to the program. Manhattan and Iona both compete in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Cimillo was the MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2019.
As a freshman this season at Iona, Santa Maria was named to the MAAC All-Rookie team. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound shortstop batted .286 with a .367 slugging percentage and a .383 on-base percentage. Santa Maria had 14 hits, including a double and a home run, scored 10 runs, drew seven walks and drove in five.
Santa Maria started all 14 games for the Gaels.
“Before I started the whole (transfer) process, Rutgers was definitely one of my options,” Santa Maria said. “One of the biggest factors, for sure, was the coaching staff. Once I met the entire coaching staff, it felt it was the right decision for me. They have a mentality of winning, and they are bringing in a bunch of guys. That team is going to be solid.”
Rutgers features Jayson Hoopes (St. Augustine) and Jordan Sweeney (Egg Harbor Township), both former standouts in the Cape-Atlantic League. The Scarlet Knights have already recruited EHT rising junior Justin Sweeney, Jordan’s younger brother, and Holy Spirit rising senior Trevor Cohen.
Many other South Jersey talents play for the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers finished 21-23 in 2021.
“Tony will come to Rutgers with three years of playing eligibility remaining having only completed one COVID-shortened season thus far,” Rutgers coach Steve Owens said in a release Thursday. “He is very well-rounded defensive player with a strong arm, advanced glove skills and range. Offensively, he is a right-handed hitter with a high on-base percentage and excellent bat control. ... We are excited about how he plays the game and the energy and confidence he displays.”
Iona finished 3-11 in 2021.
“I’m very excited to go to a team that is ready to win,” Santa Maria said. “They had a great season last year, and I’m just excited to see what I can contribute to the team this next year.”
This summer, Santa Maria is competing for the Watertown Rapids of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. As of Thursday, he is fourth in the league with a .372 batting average. He has 32 hits, including three doubles and two triples, 24 runs scored and 13 RBIs in 25 games. He has 10 stolen bases.
The Rapids are based in Watertown, New York. The team has four games remaining.
“I’ve been up here for about two months now, and the competition is good,” said Santa Maria, adding this experience will help him succeed at Rutgers. “I am just going out there and trying to get better and getting my reps in. It’s been working out pretty well.”
Santa Maria was a first-team Press All-Star as a junior in 2019. He batted .431 with four home runs, 24 stolen bases and 23 runs scored. He did not plays as a senior as the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just want to go in (to Rutgers), play great defense, be able to hit, be a good teammate and do all the little things,” Santa Maria said.
Contact Patrick Mulranen: 609-272-7217