No doubt about it, the West Milford High School baseball program was confronted with several obstacles this year both during their games-facing many tough opponents-as well as dealing with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our team navigated through COVID protocols, quarantines, injuries and a variety of distractions that came along with this season and were right there competing with the best right until the end,’’ West Milford head coach Joe Jordan said.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the season was filled with great individual performances and great moments for our team after being away from the field for over a year,” Jordan added. “I think our players and coaches realize we can be on the verge of something big next season, but also understand it’s a very difficult game given the variables that can affect your season for better or for worse.’’
True to form, the Highlanders stood tall and weathered the storms in front of them and continued their victorious ways in 2021.
696 days between games
“There were a number of games that stood out,’’ Jordan said. “The opening day, 10-0 win against Kennedy stood out not because the team won or the nature of how we won, but that it was the first time our baseball team played an official game in 696 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the 2020 season. I think everyone involved, the players, coaches, opposing team and officials were all just glad to be back on the field.
First full game no-hitter against Wayne Hills
“The team had big road wins against tough DePaul and Passaic County Tech teams,” the coach added. “Our win at Wayne Hills also stood out, getting the first full game no hitter in program history. Junior Christian Aiello went six and two third innings and struck out 11 and had to be removed from the game with one batter left due to the pitch limit and junior Cody Eldridge got the final out for the combined no hitter.
Walk off wins
The team had two walk off wins, a 7-6 home win over Lakeland where we trailed 6-3 in the final inning and scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to beat our arch rival. It was a great comeback win where senior Dylan DeFreese hit the game-winning single scoring senior Aksel Malatak.
The other walk off win was a 4-3 win over Passaic Valley where junior Kai Foster drove in the winning run.
The County Tournament win over Hawthorne and (NJSIAA Sectional) State Tournament win over River Dell 11-2 at home stood out because it was the first high school tournament games most of the team had ever played in.’’
A number of student athletes mentioned above emerged as leaders for the Highlanders this spring.
“Seniors Aksel Malatak and Jack Leonard both had injuries that kept them out of some games but they battled through them and finished their senior season on the field as key contributors to the team,’’ Jordan said.
““Senior Luke Milko also was a three-sport athlete whose experience from those sports helped him have a great season. Seniors Rob Markson, Dylan DeFreese and Kyle Fernley all were key contributors for our team during various parts of our season.
“Our team also had a wealth of juniors who emerged as great leaders for our team, as I’ve always believed there’s nothing that can prevent a non-senior from being a leader on your team and we certainly had that.’’
West Milford navigated through a challenging schedule to finish with a sold overall record of 14-10, with a mark of 7-3 in the Big North Conference Independence Division. They advanced to the NJSIAA North 1 Group 3 Sectional Tournament.
“Many things give our team optimism for next season,’’ Jordan said. “Though we lost six seniors who made sizable contributions to our team, we now return a majority of our team that now has not only varsity experience, but big game experience. We nearly repeated as Conference champions and advanced in the County Tournament and State Tournament, where we lost to the No. 1 seed and eventual Sectional champion Pascack Valley 2-1 in the North 1, Group 3 quarterfinals in the last inning.’’