In 2018, Hillsborough High School won seven baseball games.
This spring, the Raiders have already won nine times, and the season is not even half over.
A dominant pitching staff with no weak links has corrected the club’s biggest flaw from a year ago.
The 2018 Raiders lost 10 games by three runs or less. But the 2019 Raiders are 6-1 in close games—and 9-1 overall.
They are also leading the Skyland Conference’s Delaware Division with a 4-0 mark. Hillsborough is even the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Somerset County Tournament.
Coach Eric Eden’s club has a double bye in the 15-team bracket for the county tournament. Hillsborough will open tournament play with a quarterfinal home game on May 4.
Hillsborough has eight reasons to be confident in the Somerset County Tournament. Seven are right-handed pitchers. The other, ace Nick Scerbo, is a left-handed hurler.
Junior Joey O’Donnell has the highest earned run average on Eden’s staff, and it’s 2.52. Hillsborough’s three starters, Scerbo, Ishaan Parikh and Liam Smith, are a combined 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA. Four Hillsborough relievers, Angelo Monaco, Andrew Rygiel, Cooper Whaley and Tyler Boose, have ERAs of 0.00.
As a team, the Raiders have allowed just 14 runs in 10 games. Every player is pitching like an ace, basically. That gives the entire ball club a lot of confidence.
“When you have arms like that, that’s when you can make a run,” Eden said. “I think we have a special group here.”
“It helps knowing you have guys that can take the pressure off your arm at times,” Smith added.
Hillsborough’s pitching staff is even deep enough to overcome a major injury to its best hurler.
During an April 8 home game against Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Scerbo suffered a fractured wrist when he got hit by a pitch. The senior has been out ever since, but his teammates have stepped up in his absence.
No one more so than Monaco, a junior who has turned into Eden’s relief ace. Monaco has not started a game this year. But since Scerbo’s injury, the right-hander has closed out four tight victories.
In some appearances, he plays a traditional closer role. He earned a one inning victory in a 3-2 home triumph over North Hunterdon Regional High School on April 16.
But on other occasions, the junior embraces more of a long man role. Two days after the North Hunterdon victory, on April 18 at Watchung Hills Regional High School, Monaco pitched 4.2 shutout innings in relief.
After falling behind early, Hillsborough came back to win, 4-3, late. Monaco stabilized the game and gave the Raiders a chance.
“Going into the season, I saw Angelo as a spot starter,” Eden said. “But he has jumped into the role of, ‘Whenever you need me,’ so I use him as much as possible throughout the week.”
“Angelo has filled in a role we needed,” Parikh added.
The coach can turn to any of his arms right now, which is a major advantage. But Scerbo, with a 0.00 ERA in 11 innings, is unquestionably the team’s ace.
That’s why Eden is holding out hope that the senior will come back for the postseason. Scerbo is already throwing bullpen sessions again. He is also seeing a doctor this week to examine when he can return to pitching in games.
“Nick hopes to be back in the next week or so,” Eden said. “That might be wishful thinking, but it would be great to have him.”