The two All-Olympic Conference First Team players will anchor the Lions this spring.
Cherry Hill High School West senior John Stankiewicz and junior Nick DiVietro know how special it is to play for the Lions baseball program.
Both seniors grew up on the east side of Cherry Hill, but opted to attend Cherry Hill West with the hope of getting the Lions back to the state championship game for the first time in 25 years.
“I saw everyone had one goal, and it was winning,” Stankiewicz said of the program.
Stankiewicz and DiVietro are key players for a Cherry Hill West team that has won a combined 35 games over the past two seasons. Stankiewicz is Cherry Hill West’s ace on the mound, while DiVietro anchors the outfield defense and serves as the Lions’ leadoff hitter.
Head coach Dan McMaster talked of how Stankiewicz and DiVietro are the heart of the team.
“They’re an example of players who are not from the West side of Cherry Hill who decided to come here to really change the direction of our program,” McMaster said.
Stankiewicz, an All-Olympic Conference first team selection in 2016, established himself as the Lions’ ace in 2016. He went the entire month of April without allowing an earned run last season. His best start of the year may have came against Washington Township on May 2, when Stankiewicz pitched a complete game shutout, striking out 14 batters.
This year, Stankiewicz’s role is two-fold. While he will be throwing in Cherry Hill West’s biggest game each week, he will also be lending a guiding hand to the young Lions pitching staff.
“Our sophomore guys watch him and see how he goes about his business, not just on game day, but leading up to game day,” McMaster said. “He’s a real positive influence.”
Stankiewicz said it’ll be important to push the younger pitchers on the staff this year.
“We’re going to have to rely on some of our younger guys to get that experience,” he said. “So come playoff time, we’re ready.”
While Stankiewicz leads the Lions’ pitching staff, DiVietro anchors the position players. The Lions’ center fielder had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2016, hitting for better than a .400 average, stealing 26 bases and providing superb defense.
The key to DiVietro’s success is his speed. A two-sport athlete who also plays football, DiVietro’s speed helped him run for more than five yards per carry last season for the Cherry Hill West football team. In baseball, DiVietro’s speed shows up on both the basepaths and the outfield.
“He’s sound defensively, so he can cover a large majority of the outfield,” McMaster said. “He saves a lot of runs from a defensive perspective.”
The bat was the biggest question mark for DiVietro entering 2016, but after making some adjustments in the preseason, he developed a solid, line drive swing to vault him to the top of the lineup.
“When they moved me up in the lineup, that gave me a lot of confidence,” DiVietro said.
This year, postseason success is the №1 goal for the Lions. Despite all of the regular season victories the program has earned over the past three seasons, the Lions have not gotten past the sectional quarterfinals the past three seasons.
“We know what to expect,” DiVietro said. “Everyone in the program understands that. It’s either state championship or bust.”
McMaster said the team’s strength will be its depth and talent from its younger players. He hopes the combination of young talent and experience from players such as Stankiewicz and DiVietro provides a winning formula for Cherry Hill West this season.