The Hopewell Valley Central High School baseball program has been the model of consistency over the last several years.
A season ago, the Bulldogs finished 25-3 and reached the semifinals of the Central Jersey, Group 3 state sectional tournament. Hopewell Valley has averaged 20 victories a season over the last five years and has not had a losing campaign since 2013.
This spring's version of the Bulldogs is less experienced than the team has been the last few years, but that doesn’t mean expectations for success are any less.
“We have that expectation of doing well and we set the bar high,” Hopewell Valley coach Ken Harrison said. “Hopefully they meet the bar and we don’t lower it. We want them to raise it.”
Hopewell Valley evened its early-season record at 2-2 with a 4-3 victory over Steinert on Monday. Tony St. John worked six innings and Jack Haynes worked the seventh on the mound in the victory, At the plate, Jason Greenzang and Kenny Tagliareni each recorded two hits to contribute to the victory.
“Last year we had a good group of seniors who had been varsity players but not all varsity starters,” Harrison said. “But when it was their turn they were ready and played outstanding. Some of them played when they were younger. Andy Blake started as a sophomore and had that experience. Having that experience always helps.
“We usually have a good mix of older and younger and when the older players graduate, the younger players are ready to step in.”
Harrison hopes that is the case again this year. The Bulldogs have five seniors on the roster this year, but will also be relying on a number of younger players to play key roles.
“We area a little young,” the coach said. “We’re doing a lot of teaching. We’re going to have some growing pains and being young leads to some of inconsistency. The first four teams we have played have been quality teams. Every win is nice. (Steinert) was a good win for us coming off a loss to Hamilton West on Saturday. We had a gritty and gutty performance. Our pitching was very good, which gave us a chance.”
St. John is one of the seniors on the roster this year. He’ll pitch and also play some first base. Dylan Joyce is a lefty pitcher who is in his fourth year with the varsity. Grayson Russo was a platoon player last year and figures to play full time this year. Mark Porpora split time last year and would play shortstop when Blake pitched. He’s now the full-time shortstop. Liam Cleary will be out the lineup for a bit while he recovers from an injury after being hit by a pitch against Hamilton West.
Three juniors who played a year ago are back this season and will play key roles. Greenzang will pitch, play first and play in the outfield, while Tagliareni plays second base and Haynes pitches and also plays center field.
“Those guys have experience and we did well last year, so they hav that winning attitude and experience of being in pressure games,” Harrison said.
The Bulldogs have a freshman at catcher with Mike Boyer, while sophomore Cole Garrow will play some first and third base.
“We have talked about finding an identity and what are the things we can hang our hat on,” Harrison said. “What are we good at? We have to go out and play to those strengths. It’s a learning experience for some of these guys with the speed of the game and level of pitching. There is a big difference in velocity and sharpness in the pitching they are seeing.”
Hopewell Valley was scheduled to be home to Ewing on Wednesday and will play at Hightstown on Friday.