John P. Stevens High School has won just 14 baseball games in the past two years.
The Hawks have struggled since recording the best season in school history in 2016. That spring, J.P. Stevens won a program record 20 games and reached the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship game.
J.P. Stevens lost to East Brunswick High School, 1-0, in the GMC title game and to Woodbridge High School, 7-1, in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 sectional tournament. But still, for longtime coach Dave Marzano, the season was a highlight.
Marzano is about to enter his 18th spring as the Hawks’ head man. He is hoping 2019 will be more like 2016 than the last two years. The coach is confident that it will be.
“We have some talent and can win some games,” he said.
Marzano has outlined two goals for his Hawks.
“Finish above .500 and make the state tournament,” the coach said.
J.P. Stevens will open its season with a home game in Edison on April 1 against East Brunswick.
Seniors Shiv Patel and Steven Zederbaum will be in the lineup for that game, just like they have been for most of their careers. Patel and Zederbaum are going into their third and fourth years as starters, respectively.
Both are strong high school hitters. Patel will also be Marzano’s ace pitcher. Zederbaum will move to shortstop after three years as the Hawks’ second baseman.
The senior duo is the biggest reason why Marzano is confident.
Patel has 37 runs batted in and 24 runs scored over the past two years. He also hit .320 as a sophomore in 2017.
Zederbaum began his career as the only freshman starter on Marzano’s elite 2016 team. The Hawks needed a second baseman, and Zederbaum made just two errors in 29 games.
Now though, he can also hit. As a junior last spring, Zederbaum hit .312 with 14 RBI and 14 runs.
“Shiv uses the whole field as a hitter,” Marzano said. “And in the field, everything Steve does is mechanically sound.”
“He has also just gotten better as a hitter,” Marzano added.
The coach has already named both seniors as captains for this year. They are ready for that role and excited for the season.
Like Marzano, Patel and Zederbaum are confident in the roster.
“Our lineup should be strong,” Patel said.
“We have a good mix of guys,” Zederbaum added.
The lineup features a host of returning contributors.
First baseman Justin Smith has gap power. Centerfielder Joe Young adds speed. Third baseman Brandon Fong increased his muscle and strength in the offseason.
Catcher Casey Takemura missed most of last season with an arm injury. But he is back, and healthy. Marzano said he has “one of the strongest arms in the county.”
J.P. Stevens just needs to find pitching beyond Patel.
“We haven’t had that the last couple years,” Zederbaum said.
“We are looking for younger guys to come up big,” said Patel.
If the young guys step up, the Hawks can return to their winning ways of 2016.
“That year was 11 core seniors who were a bunch of brothers,” Zederbaum said. “Which gave us an extra push against other teams that didn’t have that chemistry.”