C.J. Hendricks is entering his fourth spring as South Brunswick High School’s baseball coach.
In Hendricks’ first season, 2016, the Vikings reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament championship, losing to Hunterdon Central Regional High School, 12-2.
But in the coach’s next two seasons, South Brunswick lost in the first round of the state sectional tournament. It even lost to rival North Brunswick Township High School, 3-1, in last year’s opening round.
Hendricks thinks this spring will be more like 2016. The coach is confident that his Vikings can make another playoff run.
South Brunswick enters the season with three senior aces in Jacob Ciccone, Justin Cross and Mike Reyes. It also has a trio of reliable hitters in Reyes, Mike Slover and Nick Delacruz.
The program has 15 seniors overall this spring. Six are returning positional starters. Six others are pitchers with varsity experience.
“This team has enough talent to have a coming out party,” Hendricks said.
The party will begin on April 1.
South Brunswick will open its season with a road game at Old Bridge High School.
Ciccone has been Hendricks’ ace since his sophomore campaign. The left-hander will likely open the season on the mound for the Vikings.
Last November, the senior committed to pitch for Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. As a junior last spring, he recorded an 0.70 earned run average and struck out 57 batters in 50 innings.
“He’s one of the more dominant pitchers in Middlesex County,” Hendricks said.
Cross is not far behind his teammate. He posted a 1.17 ERA in 30 innings last season.
Reyes is a really good third starter behind Ciccone and Cross, too. He finished 2018 with a 3.13 ERA in 15.2 innings.
“Justin stays around the plate and is calm and collected,” Hendricks said. “Mike also has a calm demeanor.”
Reyes starts after Ciccone and Cross because he also needs to focus on hitting. As a junior, he hit close to .360 and led the team with four home runs and 16 runs batted in.
Hendricks called Reyes his “best two way player.” Reyes’ challenge this spring will be adjusting to pitchers that know him now. But with more protection in the lineup, he should be able to do that.
South Brunswick didn’t hit very well in its last two campaigns. Hendricks said hitting prevented the Vikings from advancing deeper into the postseason.
Last season, though, Slover and Delacruz showed signs of emerging into elite bats.
Slover hit .341 in 44 at-bats. Delacruz earned the starting shortstop job more than halfway through the year and proceeded to mash, batting .415 with 10 RBI.
“Mike can put the ball in the gap at any point,” Hendricks said. “Nick has great hands to the ball and sees it well.”
Hendricks has some talented hitters, but the Vikings need to improve as a lineup. The coach likes to play small ball, and South Brunswick struggled in those spots last year.
“The hits that come behind those miscues end up with guys getting stranded,” he said.
If South Brunswick develops a solid lineup, it can make good on its promising outlook.
“There’s no reason we can’t play at the highest level since I’ve been here,” he said. “This team has that much talent.”