WESTFIELD, NJ — Even after their marathon season, the Westfield High School varsity baseball team is still adding hardware to the trophy case.
The Union County Conference recently announced the All-Union County League teams, in which the Blue Devils saw three players earn accolades. Recent graduates Chris Wagner, Cory Hiltz and Jake Vall-Llobera were all named to the Watchung Division First Team.
The ever-constant presence in the dugout, Bob Brewster, was named Union County Coach of the Year.
Keeping the team cool, calm and collected under pressure, Brewster guided the Blue Devils past 10 elimination games, four in the county tournament and six in the state tournament.
“My whole thing is always that to tell them, ‘One and done, guys — just survive and keep moving on,’” Brewster said. “We didn’t mind taking chances, we didn’t mind stealing bases, taking an extra base here or there, and I think that was a big thing for us. It paid off.”
More than 600 wins into his tenure at WHS, Brewster still does not shy away from ambitious play calls. But coaching can only go so far, and the man behind it all gives greater credit to the kids in front of him.
“The reason a coach gets the Coach of the Year award is because of how well the kids played,” Brewster said. “Our kids came through in the clutch a number of times, winning extra-inning games, coming from behind in a few games. We just always tell them to go out there and have fun.”
Many key players stepped up big for the Blue Devils throughout their final stretch. A commanding presence at the plate, the 6’4” first basemen Chris Wagner hit a grand slam to put the Blue Devils ahead in the Union County semifinals. For all his clutch efforts, along with batting a staggering .452 on the season, Wagner was a sure-fire pick for First Team.
Although the recent honor is an added bonus, Wagner will always remember his heroic blast above all else.
“We were losing late in the game and I told myself that I had to produce some way at bat when the bases were loaded for me and I hit a grand slam to take the lead,” Wagner said. “Seeing the reactions of my teammates and the crowd was surreal and it felt like it was a dream. It was an unreal moment and to do that for my team is something that I will definitely never forget.”
Also not shying away from pivotal moments was senior pitcher Cory Hiltz. Another pick for UC First Team, Hiltz toed the mound in many elimination games, including the ultimate Group 4 state finals.
“It’s a tremendous achievement to say I was able to pitch in the Group 4 State Finals,” Hiltz said. “We ended up on the losing side of things, but it was still amazing that we were literally the last game being played in New Jersey. And for that, we kept our heads held high.”
Although the Blue Devils couldn’t ride off into the sunset with a state championship, Hiltz points to his post season honors as a nice compensation.
“Having First Team Union County is a very humbling achievement,” Hiltz said. “But I put individual accomplishments under my team’s accomplishments. It’s nice to say I have that under my belt, but knowing the my team finished amongst one of the top teams in New Jesrey at the end of the year is even better.”
Pitching was the driving force behind the Blue Devils impeccable run, but many powerful bats on the offensive side of the ball backed up the likes of Hiltz. Graduated senior Jake Vall Llobera put on a strong season, finishing with 12 extra base hits and a batting average of .394.
An exceptional dual-sport athlete whose main loyalties lie with football, Vall Llobera is excited to secure First Team honors to conclude his baseball career.
“It feels great to be acknowledged for my play throughout the year, especially after my commitment for football,” Vall Llobera said. “It’s weird knowing I won’t play any more baseball. The thing I’ll miss most about it is the individual responsibility each player has and their ability to change the game with one swing of the bat. In football, it’s rare to have a kid completely take over a game and win it for his team. But in baseball anyone can be the hero at any point.”
All three honorees played the role of hero at one point of the season or another, and for that, all three have proven their ability to compete athletically at the next level. Vall Llobera will pursue football at Johns Hopkins University. Wagner and Hiltz plan to play college baseball at University of Scranton and Monmouth University, respectively.