Highlanders 2019 baseball squad hopes to improve 2018's 7-16 record
West Milford senior catcher Aidan McDaniel catches a bullpen session while infielders take part in drills during a recent team practice.
By Garrett Hemmerich WEST MILFORD – The West Milford High School baseball team is set to kick off the 2019-20 season and improve on last year’s 7-16 record. Seven of the Highlanders’ losses last season were decided by just one run, and five of those losses went into extra innings. “After a disappointing 2018 season where the team lost many close games, that experience will be invaluable in a new season,” Head Coach Joe Jordan said. This will be Jordan’s 11th season as head coach and his 17th overall after spending the previous six years as an assistant coach. The Highlanders have numerous starters returning to the lineup this year, including seniors Mike Wis, Joey Hubinger, Zack Milko, Chris Gomez, Brandon Licuris, Aidan McDaniel, Jack Vreeland, and Andrew Corter. According to coach Jordan, pitcher/in-fielder Wis was the ace of the pitching staff last season, as well as one of the team’s top infield defenders. “Wis has been a starter since his freshman season and has the most varsity game experience among returning players,” said Jordan. Hubinger was the MVP of 2018, when the pitcher/third-baseman led the team in both batting average and on-base percentage. This season, he’ll also be counted on as a pitcher, according to the coach. Milko, who is committed to Dartmouth University to play quarterback in its football program, returns as the Highlanders’ starting center-fielder, looking to bounce back after missing almost the entire 2018 season due to an injury. In-fielder Gomez returns for his third year as a starter and fourth as a varsity letter winner. He led the team in runs scored in 2018 and was tied for the lead in hits. “Gomez brings solid defense to the the infield and will be counted on to be a speed player at the top of the lineup,” Jordan said. Licursi returns for his second season as a full-time starter at first base and pitcher. He tied for the team lead in hits and led the team in RBI's in 2018 . Licursi, who also set the single-game RBI record last season, will be counted on as one of the team's top starting pitchers as well. McDaniel was among the top hitters in West Milford’s lineup last season and now returns for his third season as the varsity catcher. “McDaniel is a solid defensive catcher who has shown a consistent ability to manage the West Milford pitchers,” said Jordan. Vreeland returns as a second-year starter and, according to his coach, the player provides a solid defensive presence in the outfield, where he can play all three positions. He will also be relied on as one of the top pitchers this year. “Vreeland will look to improve on an impressive ending to the 2018 season where he threw a near perfect game in his last start, pitching a one-hitter in eight innings,” Jordan said. Corter, who was one of West Milford’s leaders in both batting average and stolen bases last year, returns to the outfield. According to coach Jordan, all of the returning players bring valuable experience since they’ve all been varsity starters for multiple seasons. Beyond returning players, coach Jordan expects some newcomers to compete for playing time, including seniors Jimmy Patton, Zach Zweil, Corbin Johnson, and Rocco Gerace, along with juniors Billy Egan and Jordan Araujo. The Highlanders have its work cut out for them, as the team faces a challenging schedule that includes top local teams like St. Joe's Regional, Ridgewood, and Ramapo. “If (we) can pitch and play solid defense, there should be no reason the team cannot be amongst the top teams in the Big North Conference and Passaic County,” said Jordan. For the second season in a row, the Highlanders will be heading to Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, at the end of March for spring training.