This year’s returning Deptford baseball players will be the first to admit that last year’s season didn’t go the way they would have liked.
After getting just one scrimmage in before the start of the regular schedule last year because of COVID restrictions, the Spartans started their season with a 27-0 loss at home against Clearview — the eventual South Jersey Group 4 sectional champions — in a five-inning no-hitter.
The loss, unfortunately, set a dreary tone for the remainder of the 2020-’21 season, which Deptford finished with a 3-17 record.
“Last season didn’t start off how we wanted it to, between us getting shut down for a bit before the regular season and then with how we played that first game,” said junior Mike Faulls. “It just kind of set a bad tone – and it went downhill from there.”
Entering this season, the young roster took full ownership of what was a disappointing year and prepared to start the 2021-’22 season off on the right foot.
“We knew we had a lot to work on this offseason after going 3-17 last year, but everyone got in the weight room and did the right things to get prepared for a new season,” said junior Jackson Grier.
“We feel like we have that kind of underdog mentality this season,” Faulls said. “So we embraced it and got to work.”
After just three games, the Spartans have so far met their goal of starting off better than they did last season: A 16-2 win over Pemberton on the first day of April marked the beginning of a new year.
Grier went 2 for 4 to drive in three runs during the season opener, while Faulls smacked two doubles to drive in two runs of his own. Freshman Connor Haley drove in a game-high five RBI’s for Deptford while senior Mike Lerro also drove in four.
On the mound for Deptford in the five-inning opening-day win, Faulls pitched a complete game, allowing two earned runs on four hits and struck out seven batters. Just four days later against Cumberland, Grier pitched 6.2 innings and allowed an unearned run off two hits while striking out nine.
The victory, first-year head coach Dave Prager said, helped bring the team a confidence boost to start the season.
“These guys were all young last year, and they still mostly are now, but a win like that helps get the confidence there to help show them that they really do have the ability to put up some good numbers like that offensively,” Prager said.
“Especially as a young team, it was good to show early on that they can go out there and get the job done in such a big way.”
Entering the season, Prager and his coaching staff set the team’s game-day goals: scoring at least five runs per game and limiting their opponents to three. A win is a win of course – and you take one any way you can – but Prager believes those goals are a realistic pathway to success for his squad this year.
“One thing we wanted to be able to do this year was start fresh … We wanted to kind of send a message this year that shows that we can put up a lot of offense and that we can play clean baseball to the best of our ability,” Prager said. “And they did a great job of proving that they can do that in the first game out there.”
Sophomore Chase Stocklin, who came in to pitch to the last batter in the win over Cumberland and recorded a one-out save, returned to the leadoff spot this year after doing so for much of the second half of last season, adding even more depth to a young roster entering 2021-’22.
Having seen the change of heart and determination among his teammates in the offseason, Stocklin likes what he sees from the Spartans as the season gets underway, and he hopes to enjoy as many wins as possible with a junior-heavy lineup.
“I feel like I got used to the game pretty quickly last year, even as a freshman, which I’m still kind of doing now as well,” Stocklin said. “As for the team that we have here, my goal’s just been to try and make it as fun as possible here for my boys.
“We’re a young team, mostly juniors, and I want to enjoy every game as much as I can with them this season.”