Sports

Win No. 700 A stepping stone to many more for Florham Park resident and Seton Hall Prep's Mike Sheppard, Jr.

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Florham Park's Mike Sheppard, Jr. is the subject of a cover story in the July issue of Diamond Nation Magazine. Credits: Courtesy Diamond Nation
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Win No. 700 a stepping stone to many more for Seton Hall’s Mike Sheppard, Jr.

Forgive sportswriters. We can’t help doing the math and history thing, especially when it comes to Seton Hall Prep coach and Florham Park resident Mike Sheppard, Jr., who can only be described as a mathematical and historical anomaly.

Who coaches 925 games in 31 years and wins 718 of them?

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Sheppard, Jr., the eldest son in one of New Jersey’s leading baseball families, picked up career victory No. 700 in a 2-0 decision over Super Essex Conference rival West Essex on April 20. Gracious as always in the throes of important victories, Sheppard has to be dragged through these milestones grudgingly. He’d much rather be running a post-game drill than conducting post-game interviews or eating a No. 700 cake with his name on it.

“I didn’t make the kids aware of it,” said Sheppard, Jr. “I didn’t want to put any undue pressure on them. When a bunch of photographers started coming around, some of our players were wondering what was going on.”

In fact, it likely annoys Sheppard that his name was in headlines after the game instead of Gerard DePhillips, who pitched six innings of three-hit, shutout ball with six strikeouts and one walk to deliver the milestone to his coach. Sorry, Gerard, this one was about the boss.

“We were reflecting about it,” said Sheppard. “Thirty years in coaching. It’s really about how fortunate I’ve been to be around good people, including my coaches and players. They’ve been team-oriented. They’ve worked hard. I’ve had strong, loyal coaches. Frank Gately has been my right-hand-man for 26 years. Every member of my staff is a former player of mine and our administration has been very supportive.”

Victory No. 700 moved Sheppard into exclusive company in the Garden State. He joins four other coaches with at least 700 career wins. The top two, Ken Frank of Toms River South and Marty Kenney of Christian Brothers Academy, are still active Jersey Shore legends. Frank just completed his 39th season and leads the state with 847 victories. Kenney, through 43 years, boasts 777 wins. The next two legends on the all-time victories list, Memorial of West New York’s Tony Ferrainolo (754 wins) and Morristown’s Harry Shatel (752), left us way too early.

“My dad always spoke so highly of Mike,” said Bruce Shatel, the Delbarton coach and son of Harry Shatel, who was, at one time, the all-time victories leader. “He is a coach I admire and a gentleman I am honored to call a friend. Seven hundred wins is an accomplishment he should be very proud of, but, knowing Mike, he will deflect any credit.”

The only math Sheppard truly enjoys involves miles per-hour, pop times and seconds from home to first. That won’t stop us from sharing some numbers that compare to the 97 mile per-hour fastball Rick Porcello threw as a Seton Hall Prep senior in 2007 or Eric Duncan’s 60 RBI in 2003.

Sheppard’s career record of 718-193-4 equates to a .787 winning percentage. His average season record is 23-6. Consider the man is just 57 years old and is working in a job he cherishes and coaches a sport he is passionate about. Can anyone not see him reaching 900 wins, 1,000 anyone?

There is an abundance of evidence that reveals Sheppard has a penchant for crunching time frames into insignificance. He entered the 2012 season with 585 wins and began 2016 with 690. That’s a gaudy 105 wins in four seasons. Sheppard’s teams won 90 games from 2007 to 2010. That’s 200 wins in eight seasons. Shall we continue? Just to prove he is not insistent on round numbers, Sheppard’s Pirates won 136 games in the four prior years, 2004-’07.

Recent history shows that Sheppard’s wins per-season average has elevated significantly. Seton Hall is 470-89-1 (.839) in the 17-year period from 2000-'16; an average of 27.6 wins per-season. Since winning his 600th game, Sheppard’s Pirates are 118-14. Given those numbers, neither 900 nor 1,000 wins seem out of range for Sheppard.

More to the point…

“That he only has 193 losses is crazy!” exclaimed Roxbury coach Greg Trotter. “You can pencil them in for 25 wins every season and they do it because they work so hard.” Trotter and Sheppard have been much-respected rivals for every one of Trotter’s 15 years at Roxbury. “Mike’s players are tough as nails and that comes from him.”

Roxbury played Seton Hall twice a season in the old Iron Hills Conference before the birth of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference and the Super Essex Conference set them on different paths. But Roxbury – like Morristown and Randolph – still meets Seton Hall as an independent once each season.

“The Iron Hills was a brutal conference with Seton Hall at the top,” said Trotter. “Mike gets kids who are very talented but what is most remarkable is that he gets them to buy in to his system. The kids on his pitching staff learn to pitch and how to carry themselves on the mound. And his teams play great defense all the time.”

Sheppard’s success is best revealed in his championship teams, which often reflect their coach’s personality and stubbornness for efficiency. His teams have won seven NJSIAA Non-Public A championships, including the 2016 title, the least forgiving of all the state groups in New Jersey. Seton Hall owns 10 Non-Public A North sectional titles, 14 Greater Newark Tournament (Essex County) titles and 17 conference championships, 12 in the Iron Hills and five in the Super Essex Conference. The school based in West Orange finished No. 1 in The Star-Ledger Top 20 in 2001, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07 and, yes, one more time this spring when the Pirates defeated St. Augustine in the state final and wrapped up the No. 1 ranking in the state for a sixth time.

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