By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
Mike Engelhardt is hoping that his final year on the Hillsborough High School baseball team is an encore to last spring.
The senior outfielder highlighted his junior season with a standout performance at the plate to help the Hillsborough High School baseball team capture the Somerset County Tournament. In addition to a state tournament run, the Raiders will be looking for their fourth SCT crown in five seasons.
“It’s our goal every year,” Engelhardt said. “In three of last four years, we’ve gotten it. It’s always our goal and we always find ways to win big games. Hopefully that’ll continue.”
Last year, Engelhardt’s two-run double broke open a scoreless game. He also scored the Raiders’ third run in the 3-1 victory over Watchung Hills. The Warriors took a measure of revenge in last Friday’s season opener when they rallied for a 5-4 win over Hillsborough.
“In the beginning, we really struggled hitting,” Engelhardt said. “We knew we’d come around. We were down, and then we took the lead and we were up. Then we were behind. It was a roller coaster.”
The Raiders ended up on the wrong side of that one, something that they don’t expect much of this year. They were scheduled to play Immaculata on Wednesday and face Phillipsburg today, Friday, as they look to start a big year.
“We’ve been playing with each other for years,” Engelhardt said. “The chemistry is there. I think the talent is there too. I think we definitely have a team that can compete this year.”
The Raiders pitching has been bolstered by the return of Jeff Serin from elbow problems that kept him off the hill last year. A trio of good arms leads the Raiders this season.
“(Serin) will be one of our top pitchers,” Engelhardt said. “And we have Asher Maston. Max Guidice probably has our most varsity experience. We have a good pitching rotation.”
Asher Masten struck out four against Watchung Hills before taking the loss. Hillsborough trailed, 2-0, until posting three runs in the sixth inning and another run in the top of the seventh inning for a 4-2 lead. Watchung came back with three runs in the seventh inning to earn the win.
“They were able to hit the ball,” said Engelhardt, who said he was proud of the way that the Raiders got their offense going late.
“It was more of our approach,” he said of the change. “Their pitcher was living on the outside corner and we kept rolling over. Our team came together and rallied up. It was a good thing to see early in the year.”
Hillsborough is figuring out how all of its pieces will fit. The Raiders looked good through the preseason with only a pair of losses in six scrimmages.
“I think our question mark was overall on the offensive side,” Engelhardt said. “We know our pitchers haven’t had a lot of varsity experience, but they’re good pitchers. We know we just have to put up two or three runs and that’ll give us a good shot every game.”
The Raiders have a senior-heavy team and most games they expect to start only one non-senior. They are hungry to continue a tradition of success.
“I feel like we lost a couple key players,” Engelhardt said. “We had back-ups that were able to step up. I think overall we were able to fill gaps easily and the transition should be good.”
Engelhardt will patrol center field again and is hitting second or third in the lineup. This is his second full season on varsity after being an all-conference performer a year ago.
“I think it was a great experience,” said Engelhardt, who is still considering his college options and could play at the right fit. “I went in not thinking I’d play much. I was lucky enough to get a lot of opportunities and was able to take advantage.”
Hillsborough will take a familiar philosophy to the plate. They are feeling more confident in their offensive abilities after seeing the lineup in the preseason.
“I think our offense is going to be very underrated,” Engelhardt said. “We have a lot of good hitters in the lineup and I think we’ll be able to put up runs.
“I think we have a very good mix,” he explained. “We have some kids that can run. We’re definitely going to play small ball because that’s what Hillsborough does. And we have a couple kids that can hit the ball.”
Hillsborough’s bats sprung to life over the final innings against Watchung, and that is something that the Raiders will need the rest of the year if they are to defend their SCT championship and make a state tournament run.
“I think we definitely have a target on our back,” Engelhardt said. “We go in with the mindset that we’re going to see the best pitchers. I think if we play the way we know we can play, we’ll still have a successful year.”
HILLSBOROUGH: Baseball looks to extend its tradition of success
By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group