Hornets gaining experience on diamond as 2021 season marks return to play

Holmdel High School right fielder Tim Haggerty slaps a base hit up the middle during a game against Monmouth Regional High School on May 6 in Holmdel. Holmdel lost the contest 9-3.

HOLMDEL – The spring of 2020 was supposed to mark the opening of the Holmdel High School baseball team’s new field that had been in the works for two years.

After the Hornets’ fifth practice in 2020, Coach Chris Arecchi remembers staring at the field and wondering if his team would be able to play on it as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in New Jersey.

Ultimately, New Jersey high school athletic administrators cancelled the 2020 spring sports season and the Hornets had to wait a year to enjoy playing on their new diamond.

“I think the kids really appreciate being out here. I know my coaching staff and I appreciate being out here. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to play this spring after missing out on 2020,” Arecchi said.

An inexperienced 2021 squad is led by seniors Brett Hilshemier and Louie Curcio in the field, and senior Jake Umans on the mound.

Umans, who has committed to pitch at Alvernia University, has the most experience in the rotation after seeing time as a freshman and sophomore.

This spring, Umans has 18 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched and is the team’s “certified No. 1 starter,” Arecchi said.

Junior J.V. Lobifaro and sophomores Max Woodward and Brandon Cieplensky are other pitchers who will see time on the mound for the Hornets.

Hilshemier, at shortstop, and Curcio, at third base, will man the left side of the infield for the Hornets. Curcio is headed to play at Centenary University and Hilshemier is slated to join the Kean University baseball team.

Both seniors made an impact at the varsity level as sophomores in 2019, with Hilshemier contributing 12 RBI and Curcio scoring 12 runs and driving in five runs.

Curcio leads Holmdel in runs scored (7) and has two stolen bases.

Hilshemier has been Holmdel’s top hitter thus far, batting third, with nine hits and six RBI.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Arecchi said of Hilshemier’s play this season. “He’s a real athlete. He has put in the work over the last four years. The transformation he has made from freshman year to right now should be an example for all his peers to follow.”

Junior first baseman Sean Bresica has performed well hitting cleanup. He has eight hits and five RBI, including a two-run single in Holmdel’s 9-3 loss to Monmouth Regional on May 6 in Holmdel.

Senior catcher Jason Sparkes has Holmdel’s only home run to go along with four hits and four RBI. Arecchi said he is pleased to see Sparkes get the chance to play his first varsity season after missing out on that opportunity for the past two years.

Senior second baseman Andrew Woodward is another key contributor to the lineup and will continue his baseball career at Le Moyne College.

A newcomer who has made an impact is freshman centerfielder James Vallillo, whose play has impressed Arecchi. Vallillo also earned a starting role on the basketball team this past winter.

“To start two varsity sports as a freshman in high school is an impressive feat,” Arecchi said. “He has done both without missing a stride. He has taken the responsibility of playing centerfield like a mature upperclassman and he’s doing a good job rising to the challenge.”

Sophomore Tim Haggerty is another newcomer in the starting lineup and he is patrolling right field for the Hornets.

Holmdel will take a 2-7 record into a game against Mater Dei Prep on May 8.

Seeing his players giving a good effort in every game thus far leads Arecchi to believe that if they can put everything together at the same time, the wins will come.

“We have to be able to have a good pitching performance, a good defensive performance and swing the bats well at the same time,” the coach said. “If we do all three of those things on a given day, we can compete with anyone we play.”