MILLBURN, NJ - While many high school baseball coaches have been lamenting the unseasonable snow, soggy grounds, cold weather and the late arrival of spring, at least one coach in the area has actually viewed those elements as a blessing.
Millburn varsity baseball coach Brian Chapman has made the best of a bad weather situation and found something to appreciate about having his 2015 players confined to indoor spring training sessions for much of March.
"We are very inexperienced, with only three players with any type of time logged on the varsity," said Chapman, beginning his fifth season as the Millers' head coach. "With this type of team, it's actually been a blessing to be spending so much time indoors. It has allowed us to really focus on the small things and the fundamentals that are integral to winning in high school baseball."
Millburn, which opens its season at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 1 at Belleville, returns just two regulars from its 22-9 team last year that won its second straight Super Essex American Division crown and its second North Jersey, Section 2, group championship in four years. In four seasons under Chapman, Millburn is 86-30.
Senior Max Jacobs is a four-year varsity player who went 6-0 on the mound last year with a 1.99 ERA and batted .306 with 10 RBI. He will split time on the mound and in one of the three outfield spots.
The other returning player is third-year varsity player, junior Kevin Czapelski, who will share time at first base and on the mound. The only other player with varsity experience is junior right-handed pitcher Brian Lannino, who was 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA last season.
"Like most teams, we will go as far as our pitching takes us," Chapman said. "We don't have the depth we've had the past few years but if we can stay healthy we will be able to compete with anyone on our schedule."
The rest of the spots will be filled out by a group that includes the following outfielders: senior Jack Schwartz, sophomore Richie Schiekofer, junior Nick Minter, senior Jared Harris, junior Dean Schweinler, and senior Kyle Weissman.
The remaining infield spots will go to a group that includes senior Max Nesser, senior Matt Abrams, junior Mike Garawitz, junior Johnny Serruto, junior Ryan Adelman, freshman Peter Gula and junior Jordan Brisgel.
The catching duties will fall to either senior Max Birner, freshman Peter Serruto or sophomore Jared Nemet.
"We are still finalizing position battles and our lineup is a work in progress," the coach said. "We feel like we are going to have a very versatile lineup that will be able to attack pitchers in a multitude of ways. We have pretty good team speed and, while we may not have any big boppers, we feel like our kids are going to craft quality at bats from the one spot through the nine spot.
"Sometimes," Chapman said, "a lineup like that can be tougher for guys to navigate through then a lineup with a few studs in the middle."
The pitching staff will consist of Jacobs, Lannino, Czapelski and then a combination of Abrams, Adelman, Garawitz, and Schweinler.
Chapman said he hopes the Millers will be "competitive in the conference and (we) would like to make a run in the county and state tournaments."
Following the opener at Belleville, Millburn will play Immaculata at the Diamond Nation complex in Flemington at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 2. The Millers don't have a home game until they host the Phil Krug Tournament on April 11.