By Josh Lashley
With high expectations, along with much preparation in all facets of the sport, the West Milford High School baseball program is ready to take the field for the 2022 season.
“We will be a senior heavy team after many of our players were first time starters last season due to the lost Covid season in 2020,’’ West Milford head coach Joe Jordan said. “We have six regular starters returning from last year’s team, five of them seniors. It’s difficult to just look at a few to lead the team. We are the type of sport where a new leader can emerge on a new day.
“Our returning players lacked experience at the varsity level last season and did a remarkable job handling the demands of the season and the adversity and distractions that can often derail teams and their leadership.’’
The Highlanders tallied a solid overall record of 14-10, with 7-3 in the Big North Conference Independence Division last year. They also advanced to the NJSIAA North 1 Group 1 Sectional Tournament quarterfinal round last spring, before losing to eventual Sectional champion Pascack Valley, 2-1.
“We expect to compete for Conference, County and State Sectional championships,’’ Jordan said. “We feel the experience of last year has given us the opportunity to take the next step and reach those goals. With an inexperienced team we played for the Conference title in our final Divisional game of the season, where we fell short to Wayne Valley.’’
The Highlanders compete in the Independence Division along with Lakeland, Passaic Valley, Fair Lawn, Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley.
“We view our team as a contender,’’ Jordan said. “Certainly with our team finishing one game behind co-champs Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills, those two teams will be the teams to beat until someone takes their spot at the top of the Conference.’’
West Milford faces a challenging non-league schedule this spring.
“We will play a top independent schedule, where the team will play St. Joe’s Regional, who finished No. 1 overall in New Jersey in 2021; Montclair, who advanced to the Group 4 Final in 2021; Ridgewood and Mountain Lakes,’’ Jordan said. “We will play Livingston in the Autism Challenge at North Brunswick on April 23, an event that features 40 of the top teams in the state to benefit Autism Awareness.
“The team will play three night games at home this season. The first being May 4 versus Passaic Valley, where the softball team will also play under the lights on the field next to us. The team will also honor the 10-year anniversary of the 2012 State Sectional Championship team with a pregame ceremony on May 24 against Wallkill Valley. We will also host our annual Little League/Senior Night on May 18.’’
Among the key returning varsity tested student athletes for the Highlanders are Christian Aiello (senior, pitcher/outfielder, 4-1 pitching record, 1.77 ERA, 77 strikeouts, First Team All-County and First Team All-Conference in 2021), Joe Palminteri (senior, outfielder, .417 batting average, two home runs, 33 RBI, First Team All-County and First Team All-Conference in 2021), Kai Foster (senior, short stop, 21 walks and a .474 on base percentage in 2021), Kyle Bednarski (senior, pitcher/first base, four pitching wins and nine strikeouts in 2021), Seamus McGuinness (senior, third base, 25 hits and nine stolen bases in 2021), Collin Goldberg (senior, pitcher/first base/outfield), Nick Lamothe (senior, second base) and Will Craten (junior, catcher),
Patrick Henzley (senior, outfield), Ryan Lombardi (junior, outfield/catcher/pitcher), Brandon Scrimenti (junior, pitcher/infield) and Mike Collette (junior, pitcher/infield) are among the welcome newcomers to the varsity roster for West Milford.