WARREN, NJ - The Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) varsity baseball team isn’t rebuilding, they’re reloading.
The Hustlin’ Warriors graduated and lost a whopping 14 total seniors, including pitcher Brian Reiss, second baseman Matt Mastrobattista, outfielder Chris Roth, first baseman Ed Poggi, outfielder Eric Plesko, catcher John Port, and pitcher Tyler Lombardo from a 2016 team that went 27-5 and advanced all the way to both the Somerset County Tournament final and the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 final.
But Joe Tremarco is optimistic about this group and their chances of repeating their accomplishments from last year. The fourth year head coach said he prepared for the restocking of talent since 2014.
“Even with losing the 14 guys last year, we have the right pieces back this year,” Tremarco told TAPinto.net in a phone interview. “I can’t stand the word rebuild. Being a group four school and having a reputation that we have in our division it’s going to be more of a reloading year.”
Key returners for the Warriors include senior outfielder Nick Mink, senior shortstop Tyler Kulisz, senior pitcher Kevin Sylvestri, junior first baseman Brandon Hylton, and junior pitcher and third baseman Mike Murray. Some vital newcomers to the squad are junior catcher Jeff Poggi, junior second baseman Tyler Riley, senior pitcher/outfielder James Dassinger, senior pitcher Dylan Murray, junior pitcher Joe Blajsa, junior pitcher/third baseman Nick McGann, junior outfielder/pitcher Mike Recenello, sophomore outfielder James McKenna, and sophomore pitcher Nick Isherwood.
“We got a lot of guys who are competing for starting spots which for us is what we preach. “We want them to come in and compete with each other everyday and the rest will take care of itself,” Tremarco said.
Kulisz, Hylton, Mike Murray, Riley, and Poggi according to Tremarco are being recruited to play ball in college. Sylvestri, who is coming off a limited role as a junior mostly as a closer due to an injury suffered as a sophomore, is a George Washington University commit.
The 6-foot-2, 165-pound right hander will team up with Mike Murray on the mound to make a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation on a deep pitching staff. Sylvestri, a team captain this year, allowed only four runs (three earned), 12 hits, 10 walks, while striking out 22 batters in 25.2 innings of work last season.
Offensively, Hylton looks to lead the way after he made waves as a sophomore by being selected an All-Group 4 second team member by NJ.com.
“He had a good year as a sophomore last year,” Tremarco said. “We’re expecting some really big things out of him this year. He’s that next level kind of athlete that’s just a freak of nature.”
Tremarco is also looking for production from their two other leaders and captains in Mink and Kulisz. The latter hit a solid .417 last spring. The coach also was quick to bring up and praise Mike Murray, Poggi, and Riley needing the trio to step up as well.
“We have a very strong offensive lineup,” said Tremarco, who doubles as a teacher at WHRHS. “There won’t be an easy out one through nine.”
Getting to the postseason and advancing as far as they did reaching the championship games is invaluable experience for the players that returned. For one, they know what it takes to get there, what they need to do to win those games, and know what to expect from the atmosphere and the pressure.
“To be able to put a guy in those situations, it’s something you can’t recreate in practice,” Tremarco said. “For them to go through it last year and feel the bitterness of the loses, you learn more from losing. Our guys definitely have a chip on our shoulder and that’s kind of fueling the fire so far this upcoming season.”
For Tremarco and the Warriors, the goal is to make to their third straight SCT final and have a 20 win season for the second year in a row. It’s all about riding momentum as the season progresses.
“We want to be playing our best baseball in May,” Tremarco said. “April, we take it for what it’s worth and learn from our losses and kind of figure out who we are as a team, but we want to hit May running with a good feeling and good mojo and I feel like we should be just as competitive if not more than last year.”
The Warriors begin the season this Saturday with a road game at Bayonne at 6 p.m.