The Vikings are hoping last year’s tournament victories lead to playoff success in 2017.
Eastern Regional High School baseball won a few titles last season. The Vikings were Olympic Conference American Division champions, took him first place in the Camden County Tournament and won the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic tournament for the first time in program history.
However, the one title the Vikings missed out on was the state tournament. Eastern lost in the opening round of the South Jersey Group IV tournament in 2016 against Toms River North. The Vikings’ last sectional title came in 2014, and for seniors such as Lou Priolo and Davis Schneider, this year’s goal is to bring postseason success back to Eastern.
“After we lost that first-round game, it was difficult,” Priolo said. “But from that moment on, we’ve been so anxious to get back on the field and prove that was just a fluke last year.”
Eastern will have a different look on the mound this year after losing multiple seniors to graduation. Junior Jesse Barbera, who earned the win in Eastern’s Diamond Classic championship victory over Gloucester Catholic High School, is expected to be a key arm this season.
“We’re looking for him to be a key contributor,” head coach Rob Christ said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s an excellent basketball player and he’s a competitor.”
Another player expected to get more time on the mound in 2017 is junior Jack Herman, who set school records in 2016 with 52 hits and nine home runs. This season, however, he will be on the mound more after only throwing about 10 innings last year.
“I’ve been throwing a lot lately,” Herman said. “I’ve been throwing a lot of bullpens. Since we lost pitchers from last year, we’re going to need a couple arms.”
Priolo is also expected to get some time on the mound as a middle reliever after pitching only about 10 innings last year. He feels the key to the staff’s success is keeping runners off the basepaths and throwing strikes.
“As long as we get the ball over the plate, we’ll be pretty successful,” Priolo said.
Offensively, Herman will again be featured in the heart of Eastern’s lineup along with Schneider. The two combined for more than 60 RBIs in 2016.
“They have to pitch to one of us,” Schneider said. “They can’t walk both of us, and if they do, we have a lot of people behind us.”
Christ said one of the keys to Eastern’s success is its offensive depth. He feels the lineup can produce runs from top to bottom.
“We feel good about a lot of the guys in our lineup,” Christ said. “That’s one of the keys to our success, because there’s no way to pitch around everybody.”
Herman, Schneider and Priolo all spoke of the importance of Eastern’s defense this year. The Vikings emphasize defense every season, but with a young pitching staff, Herman said it’s important for the team to make plays in the field.
“Our defense is pretty stellar, too. Our left side of the infield, nothing gets by them,” Herman said.
While Eastern ultimately wants to have success in May and June, the Vikings’ focus is on the season’s opening month. Last year, Eastern came out of the gate sluggish. This year’s team is determined not to repeat last year’s start.
“Last year, we wanted to come out of the gate hot, and obviously that didn’t happen,” Schneider said. “This year, we’re expected to win. We have to live up to that.”
“Going into this year, we have to make sure we stay on it and take advantage of how good we are and not blowing off every team.” Herman said.