By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — A local high school baseball program that has often struggled to compete since first joining the Cape-Atlantic League close to 30 years ago is serving notice that those days may be ending rather soon.
Blessed with a good mix of a handful of experienced veterans and some extremely talented newcomers, the Hawks have been playing competitive baseball this spring, particularly over the last two weeks.
Cape Tech improved to 3-3 after Thursday’s 10-0 win in six innings over Pilgrim Academy in a non-league game. The win was the team’s third in four games after losses to Millville and St. Joseph to start the season.
Seniors Aidan Hofmann and Joel Sheptock and junior Tyler McDaniel are the top holdovers from when the Hawks last played in 2019, with the 2020 campaign wiped away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, freshmen Tanner Oliva, Patrick Bean and Ron Neenhold are debutants already showing they belong at the varsity level.
“At first I really thought we’d struggle a little bit because of a lack of experience,” Tech coach Kyle Morinelli said. “But they’ve really bonded as a group and come together and learned to play with one another and it’s starting to click now.”
Through six games, Hofmann has scored a team-best 11 runs to go with a team-best 10 stolen bases. He’s been on base consistently, batting .333 with two doubles and a home run while also walking 10 times. Sheptock has scored 10 runs. McDaniel leads the team in innings pitched. Dom Vitiello, another senior, has also been a key contributor.
“Just bringing the experience they have has been a big help,” Morinelli said of his older players. “Those few older guys we have are the only ones that got some experience from two years ago. They’re showing the younger guys what it’s like to play in the CAL.”
Those younger guys are acclimating quickly. The offensive numbers of Oliva are particularly impressive. He has an incredible 16 RBI through six games, helped by his nine hits in 17 at bats. Four of his hits have gone for extra bases, including an RBI triple blasted to deep right-center field in Thursday’s win over Pilgrim.
“I’m very excited about our younger guys,” Morinelli said. “Those kids bring a lot of talent and even though this is their first year in high school, they bring a lot of experience to our group through all the travel teams they’ve been playing for.
“Tanner probably has more RBI now than our leaders did two years ago for the season. He’s jumped into that role as the four-hole hitter and has really taken it over. Pat Bean has taken control of our infield defensively. And Ron Neenhold is playing great for us at third and first base.”
Among the highlights so far for the Hawks was a 10-0 win over rival Lower Cape May. Oliva tossed a one-hitter and had five RBI in the win.
Tech also acquitted itself well in a 12-3 loss to St. Augustine, traditionally one of South Jersey’s top programs. They made the contest go the full seven innings and also threatened throughout the game, twice leaving the bases loaded without scoring in an inning.
While the future certainly seems bright, the Hawks believe they can accomplish big things in 2021.
“Our main goal is to win our school’s first state playoff game,” Morinelli said. “We really think with the group we have right now that we can do it.”