MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville baseball team has a decidedly different look from the one that went to the sectional finals in 2019.
After losing to Roxbury in the North 1, Group 3 final that season, Montville was ready for another big year in 2020, before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it did get to send its seniors off with a quick three-game appearance in the New Jersey Last Dance Tournament last summer, this year will likely be the first year of varsity baseball for many players on the team.
But regardless, when it opens the 2021 season on Monday at home against Randolph at 4 p.m., it will be a game that players have waited almost two years for.
“It’s hard to describe. It’s been such a long time," Montville coach Ian Schwindel said. "But a lot of these guys have been looking forward to this, and we’re having a pretty good time with it right now. I’m sure Monday, that’s going to amp up even more. It’s all happening pretty fast. They’re enjoying themselves, for sure.”
Schwindel, who enters his second full season as head coach of the Mustangs after leading the team to the sectional finals and county semifinals in 2019, will have a much different group of players this time around, many of which will be getting their first taste of varsity game action. As disappointing as it was to have lost the 2020 season, it has given Schwindel and his staff the opportunity to essentially put their mark on the program in terms of establishing the culture and identity that they want going forward.
“If you look on the bright side of things, it’s allowed me and the coaching staff to put our imprint on things," Schwindel said. "It’s fresh, almost like a reset button with no carryover from the way things were to how they are now. The way we envision things to go, we can kind of set in stone with a fresh group, because everybody across the board is fresh with us. That’s been a positive."
And although there isn't much in the way of experience, there are quite a few players who have shown some promise through the preseason. Senior Johnny Jarvie and sophomore Ian Kaiser are expected to be the team's top two starting pitchers, and both have impressed thus far.
Jarvie, a Drew University commit, will make the first start of his varsity career on Monday on opening day against Randolph. Schwindel had nothing but positive things to say about the senior, who despite not having a season in 2020, continued to work hard and play club baseball.
"He's consistent, he’s a very hard worker," Schwindel said of Jarvie. "This is his thing, he doesn’t play anything else, and just hasn’t stopped working since we got shut down. He’s been waiting since last year for his opportunity and he’s ready for it.”
Kaiser, on the other hand, is a left-handed pitcher who will likely pitch some important innings this season, in addition to being the team's starting center fielder.
“Kaiser’s been very impressive, as a sophomore, the way he carries himself," Schwindel said. "Not having played a high school baseball game- he didn’t play last year- but he was figuring to be up with us in some shape or form. But the fact he jumped into his first scrimmage and hit a triple and a double, and kind of hawks everything down in the outfield, which is pretty impressive to see. He plays a lot of club baseball with the DiamondJacks in New Jersey, so he’s used to the competition, but he’s transitioned to the high school game pretty seamlessly. He’s had a strong couple of games, he’s got a home run, triple, two doubles."
The pitching staff is expected to be rounded out by junior Ryan Nieskens, senior Dan Culmone, and sophomore David Bettio.
Nieskens will likely start at first base, with Jarvie getting some work there when Nieskens is pitching. Culmone will start at shortstop, with junior Triston Perez at second base and sophomore Karl Monaco at third.
Junior Brian Lovaglio will handle the catching duties, and his ability to get on base may land him in the leadoff spot, although the lineup is still very fluid at this point.
"Lovaglio has been impressive behind the plate, he does a great job," Schwindel said. "He gets on base. He’s put together a bunch of hits and walks, and has a nose for getting hit by the baseball- he’s been hit like three times already. I led him off yesterday, and it might stay that way. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he gets on base, and then we can run for him, so we’ll see."
The outfield will be anchored by Ian Kaiser in center field, with Nick Park, Zach Goldberg, Alex Simon, and Luke Becker all expected to compete for spots at the corners.
While this is a young and inexperienced team, it is the same situation that many teams across the state will find themselves in after missing last season. It's unclear exactly what this year will bring, but Montville still has its sights set on finishing the year at the top.
"Our expectations don’t change regardless of who we’re playing," Schwindel said. "We’re always looking to compete for the conference, county, and state championships. We don’t know what we’re going to get yet, but we’ve been getting markedly better each scrimmage. While we’re young, I think we’re going to compete, and that’s pretty much our thing. We’re going to dig in and go after the baseball on defense, and try to grind out some runs and play our brand of baseball.”
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