By BRIAN CUNNIFF
There are a few storylines surrounding local high school baseball before a regular-season pitch has been tossed this spring.
For starters, each of the area teams is optimistic for improvement after enduring mostly rebuilding campaigns with relatively young rosters last season.
Second, Cape-Atlantic League realignment has placed Cape May Tech, Lower Cape May and Middle Township in the United Conference, along with Bridgeton, Buena and Pleasantville, forming a conference in which all three local teams should compete just fine.
Third, there’s a new head coach in the area at Cape May Tech in Sam Picketts.
And finally, Wildwood Catholic will not field a team for the second straight year due to low numbers. The Crusaders were looking to play at the junior varsity level only this season, but never had enough players on the field in the preseason to field a full team so the school decided to halt the program once again.
The following is a look at each of the area’s high school baseball teams:
CAPE MAY TECH
Cape May Tech finished 8-13 a season ago. Included in that win total was the program’s first-ever state playoff victory, an upset over Buena.
The Hawks begin the season with a new head coach in Sam Picketts, but there’s a lot of familiarity there as Picketts is already also the school’s head boys basketball coach.
Tech lost a couple of transfers ahead of the start of this season, but still brings back seven players, six of whom were regular starters last season.
One of the team’s top players is sophomore Tanner Oliva (P/1B), who hit .308 with 21 RBI and pitched to a 3.75 earned run average as a debutant in 2021.
Other returnees include seniors Tyler McDaniel (P/INF) and Nate Archbold (P/OF), juniors Sheldon Marsden (C), Adam Dille (OF) and Nick Boehm (OF/P) and sophomore Ronnie Neenhold (3B/1B), who posted 14 RBI as a freshman.
The top newcomers include senior Andrew Steinhauer (OF) and juniors James Murray (SS/P) and Donnie Seitz (INF/P).
Tech is optimistic that its pitching depth can keep the team competitive in the new-look CAL United Conference. The Hawks will also attempt to secure a first-round home game for the South Jersey Group I Tournament.
Picketts is assisted by Warren Wade and Jason Godfrey.
The Hawks are scheduled to open the season Friday with a home game against Absegami.
LOWER CAPE MAY
Lower Cape May brings back seven starters from last season and adds a handful of talented younger players so the Tigers are optimistic they can improve upon last season’s 5-15 campaign.
Returning starters include seniors John Roach (2B/P), Evan Golden (UT/P) and Jake Kronemeyer (INF), juniors Kyle Satt (UT/P) and Kody Lewis (INF/C/P) and sophomore Evan Shoffler (INF/P).
Also back are juniors Anderson Ryan (OF/P), Ryan Pew (UT/P) and David Brown and sophomore Hunter Ray (UT/P).
Other seniors out for the team include Ryan Leininger (OF), Colin McGinn (UT/P) and Toby Oswold (UT).
Newcomers expected to compete for varsity time include sophomore Pat West (1B/P) and freshmen Matt DiCave (INF/P), Cade Heacock (INF/P) and Aydan Heacock (OF/P).
Head coach Ryan Slaney believes his team will be strong defensively but could lack pitching depth.
The Tigers hope to produce a winning season and compete for the United Conference title.
Lower opens the season Friday at home against Egg Harbor Township.
Middle Township was a seven-win team last spring. The Panthers bring back some of their top players and should be improved.
Leading the way are four seniors, all of whom have multiple seasons of varsity experience. They include Mike Adelizzi (OF/), who batted .429 last season and is most likely the team’s No. 1 pitcher; Ben Harris (OF/P), a solid defender with speed; Ryan Gallagher (INF/P), a first-team CAL all-star last season after batting .451 with 20 stolen bases; and Owen Hall (INF/P), a team captain now in his fourth season with the varsity.
Other returnees include junior Vinny Povio (OF) and sophomore Tyler McDevitt (OF/P).
Sophomore Mason Blizzard (C), a transfer from Cape May Tech, is one the notable newcomers.
A handful of younger players are also expected to contribute.
Middle, coached by Chris Branigan, should compete well in the revamped United Conference.
The Panthers open the season Friday at home against Holy Spirit.
Wildwood returns seven starters from a five-win team last season and should be improved.
The Warriors feature some pitching depth but do not have a real ace. Defense will be important behind a staff that isn’t expected to generate many strikeouts.
Wildwood returns three senior starters in Dom Troiano (SS/1B/P), Ernie Troiano (UT/P) and Josh Vallese (OF/1B/). Dom Troiano posted a 3.32 ERA while Ernie Troiano batted .360 in 2021.
Other returning starters include junior Joey Mormile (INF/P) and sophomores Junior Hans (C/SS/P), Ryan Troiano (UT/P) and Harley Buscham (3B/OF/P). Junior Al Sanzone (1B/OF/P) also returns with some experience.
The top newcomers include sophomore Novian Craig (OF/1B/P) and freshmen Broc Denke (OF/P), Brian Cunniff (UT/P) and Jacob Craig (OF/1B/P).
Other newcomers with the varsity include sophomores Lance Lillo (OF/3B/1B) and Ricky Valez (OF/P) and freshmen R.J. Blanda (OF/2B) and Christian Diaz (OF/P).
Wildwood is optimistic it can compete for a winning season and be competitive in the Tri-County Classic Division.
Wildwood is coached by Rich Hans, who enters his 21st season four wins shy of 200 for his career.
The Warriors open the season Friday at Pitman.