Hillsborough High School returns the core of a baseball team that went 7-15 in 2018.
That doesn’t sound like a good thing, but it actually is.
The Raiders lost 10 games by three runs or less last spring, including six by one run.
There is talent on Hillsborough’s roster, especially on the mound in seniors Ishaan Parikh and Nick Scerbo, and in the outfield with All-Skyland Conference selections in Chris Zickert and Jason Wolff.
Hillsborough opened its season with a road game on April 2 at Bridgewater-Raritan High School. Given their talent, the Raiders are buying into baseball’s eternal cliche: that hope springs eternal.
“We’re a threat,” said Hillsborough’s senior first baseman, Vince Gambardella, who hit .367 last year.
“We’ve been playing together for a couple years, so we’re getting stronger as a unit,” said Wolff, who batted .386 a year ago. “So this year we’re going to do a lot better.”
“We have a solid pitching staff, a good defense and our offense should be able to score enough runs,” added Andrew Lagerman, Hillsborough’s senior shortstop, a .357 hitter in 2018.
Lagerman’s explanation captures why the Raiders think they will be better at closing games this spring. Hillsborough’s coach, Eric Eden, does not have some Mariano Rivera ace in the hole to slam doors on opponents. But the coach and his players believe complete play will lead to comfortable victories.
It starts with pitching in high school baseball, and Hillsborough has two gems in Parikh and Scerbo.
Parikh, a calm ace, does not overpower hitters. He throws pitches that move and induces weak contact, or easy plays for his fielders to make. The senior went 4-2 with an 0.70 earned run average last spring. He is committed to pitch for Emory University next year.
Scerbo recorded a 2.10 ERA in 2018, and is also a collegiate recruit. The senior will pitch for The College of New Jersey in 2020.
The duo should give Eden the best hand in the game: double aces.
“They are a really solid 1-2 punch,” Eden said. “Their work ethic is phenomenal. They both know how to pitch. They aren’t just throwers.”
Hillsborough’s lineup is also headlined by collegiate commits in Zickert (Stevens Institute of Technology), Gambardella (Neumann University) and Lagerman (Pennsylvania College of Technology). Eden said they, along with Wolff, can add speed and power. Gambardella has been on fire this preseason, blasting four home runs in six scrimmages.
Eden has a well rounded ball club. It just has to find ways to win ball games. That’s why the coach is ingraining a micro, division of labor type mindset into his squad this spring.
He is channeling a coaching legend, New England Patriots boss Bill Belichick, to do it.
“Our motto is ‘Do your job,'” Eden said, echoing Belichick’s famous motto for his Patriots. “Control what you can control. Then we can be really, really successful this year.”
The players think Hillsborough can be really successful in this campaign.
“We want to win the (Somerset) County championship, the Skyland Conference and bring back a state championship to Hillsborough,” Parikh said.
“We all have those same goals,” Gambardella added. “Bringing it home.”
Hillsborough has not won an NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament title since 2006.