While there will still be plenty of time before the state tournament cutoff on May 17, the first week of the 2023 high school baseball season could potentially reveal some early returns on how teams in the Super Essex Conference might shape up in division races as a brand new spring campaign is unveiled on Monday (April 3).
The SEC’s top division, the American will begin with gusto in season openers as Caldwell visits Millburn and Montclair is at Seton Hall Prep.
Then, on Tuesday, the two newest members to the SEC-American, Caldwell and Columbia, are slated to clash at the Bonnel diamond in West Caldwell.
Perhaps the biggest game of the season’s initial week is scheduled to occur Wednesday (April 5) with a 10 a.m. start due to some schools being on a pre-Easter spring break as SHP will travel to Millburn.
While the Pirates were hit hard by graduation from last spring’s 21-7 Greater Newark Tournament championship squad, and will field a young ball club this spring; the time-honored diamond program always seems to reload quickly and with plenty of talent still in tow under longtime coach Mike Sheppard, Jr.
Millburn (25-6 last spring) returns the most experience of any team in the SEC-American and should be well stocked for a strong run at both a GNT title and North 2, Group 3 state sectional crown.
On Thursday (April 6), SHP is at Columbia, which looks to refill several spots in the lineup after graduation hit last season’s 17-12 squad which was one of the best hitting teams in Essex County in 2022.
Coach Ryan Muirhead’s Cougars return one of the SEC’s premier hitters in Lafayette College-bound senior catcher Brandon Doubek, who is coming off a junior season in which he had 5 home runs, 33 RBI and a 449 batting average.
To close out the first week of the SEC season on Friday (April 7) Millburn travels to Nutley where the Maroon Raiders look to improve on last season’s 14-11 squad which struggled to a 4-8 mark in the SEC-American Division.
Coach Brian Chapman’s Millers, who like SHP had a 10-2 division record at the top of the SEC-American in 2022, boast a terrific cast of starting pitchers with sub 2.00 ERAs last spring led by University of Florida-bound right-hander Steven Echavarria (1.79 ERA), Georte Washington University-bound left-hander Drew Oppenheim (1.69 ERA) and talented sophomore righty Alex Faust (1.76 ERA).
While the Millers had to bid adieu to outstanding catcher Matt Hollender and steady second baseman Copeland Culp, there is experience throughout the position players including slick-fielding shortstop Robert Schneider, outfielders Alex Wilson (7 doubles, 4 HR in 2022) and Jack Meyeerowitz (33 hits in 2022), DH-first baseman Ethan Axelrod (10 doubles last spring) and sure-handed third baseman Matt Weiner (5 HR in 2022).
SHP’s new-look lineup will still have Sacred Heart-bound slugging first baseman Eli Foster (.319 BA, 19 RBI last spring) and Rutgers-bound pitcher Justin Shadek (0.84 ERA, 33 K’s in 25 IP in 2022). Ryan Probst is another veteran player back and he figures in as the team’s second baseman this spring.
The Pirates graduated some primetime performers off the squad that edged Millburn, 3-1, in the 2022 GNT semifinals and then cruised by Bloomfield in the final, as slugging shortstop Chris Maldonado (Vanderbilt), pitcher-third baseman Ryan Sprock (Elon) and top pitchers John Cerwinski (Penn) and Patrick Walega (Lafayette) have all moved and are now playing at the next level.