HOWELL – The wheels have been placed in motion for Coach Eric Johnson and his Howell High School baseball team to have a 2022 season to remember.
The Rebels (16-4) won the program’s first Shore Conference division title in 32 years on May 4 when they completed a two-game sweep over Long Branch to claim the A North Division crown.
With a division title in their pockets, the Rebels are now turning their attention to the Shore Conference Tournament and to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament.
“It was great,” Johnson said about winning the A North title. “The players recognized how special it was to win the title; 32 years is a long time without having won one. I am really proud of the guys and the success they have had this season.”
Johnson has coached the Rebels for 12 years and he called this season the best of the bunch. He is looking forward to seeing what else his players can accomplish.
“We have a lot of good baseball players. We have had the talent to be this good in the past, but we always had an injury or something affect us. This year, everyone is healthy and has helped lead us to this success,” the coach said.
At the plate, the Rebels are led by junior outfielder Russell Halvorsen.
Halvorsen missed the first five games of the season with an injury, but he has come on to hit .544 with 27 hits, five home runs and 27 runs scored.
Senior shortstop Thomas Strauch leads the Rebels with six home runs and 28 RBIs. Sophomore Braden Walsh has contributed to the offense with 27 RBIs.
Sophomore Joe Zito is doing damage in the middle of the lineup, racking up 17 RBIs with 20 runs scored and 22 hits.
Seniors Devon Smith and Nicholas Gomes have also contributed at the plate for the A North champions.
On the pitching side, Howell has solid group with Daniel Furlong serving as the ace of the staff with support from fellow seniors Nick Barracato, Ryan Bilello, Jason Pace, Stephen Jardim and Gomes all pitching well as starters and/or in relief.
Johnson believes having Furlong and Gomes at the top of the rotation will be an advantage for Howell heading into tournament play.
Howell is the No. 2 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament and figures to be among the top seeds in the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament when the tournament brackets are announced on May 25.
On May 12, the Rebels defeated Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, 3-2. The Bulldogs will carry the No. 1 seed into the conference tournament.
RBIs by Halvorsen, Smith and Walsh staked the Rebels with a 3-0 lead after three innings. Gomes pitched 6.2 innings and struck out eight hitters.
“That was a fun game,” Johnson said about the victory over Rumson-Fair Haven. “The guys competed and treated the game as if it was a tournament game. You felt that same intensity from both teams.”
Johnson said beating Rumson-Fair Haven was an important victory for the Rebels, who will now turn their attention to the Shore Conference Tournament. Howell will host No. 15 seed Central Regional in the Round of 16 on May 17.
Johnson believes the Rebels have what it takes to reach the semifinals of the conference tournament and the state sectional tournament. The last time a Howell squad reached a state sectional tournament semifinal was 1994.
The 2022 Rebels have already made history with their A North crown. The players will now try to add to their legacy.
“It’s good to see these kids set a bar for others to strive for. They showed we can reach these heights and achieve this type of success,” Johnson said.