The Marist High School baseball team began the 2014 season with extreme high hopes. After all, the Royal Knights returned two pitchers who have already signed NCAA Division I scholarship papers and a host of talented youngsters poised at the threshold of stardom.
The Royal Knights got off on a sensational start, defeating rival St. Peter’s Prep in the season opener, 3-1.
But since that win, Marist has sputtered somewhat, losing four of their last nine games.
Head coach Ron Hayward seems to believe that the Royal Knights’ woes are the result of tired arms and legs.
“It’s more fatigue than anything,” said Hayward, as his team boarded a bus for an Easter trip to Rock Hill, South Carolina. “We played seven games in eight days and I think it took a lot out of us. I don’t think we’ve lost a game because of talent. It was more fatigue. I’m okay with it, because at the end of the day, no one really beat us.”
However, Hayward never imagined his talented team would have four losses in the first three weeks of the season.
“Losing four games is a disappointment,” Hayward said. “I think we’ll see the difference in the coming weeks. We’re still young. We have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. We just haven’t been hitting. If we did, then our pitchers would have more support.”
With that, Hayward made a strong prediction about his team.
“I think we’re going to be a championship team,” Hayward said. “I think what happened to us is only going to benefit us. It’s going to make us better.”
Leading the returning pitchers is senior right-hander Matt Littrell, who recently became the all-time leader in pitching victories at Marist. Littrell has earned three of the Royal Knights’ six wins so far this season.
“He’s done his job,” Hayward said of Littrell, who has already signed with Monmouth University to pitch there in the fall. “When he’s on the mound, we know we have a good chance to win the game. Everyone knows that they have to bring their best to get to Matt.”
Senior Josh Witherspoon is another Royal Knights ace. The talented left-hander, signed with the University of South Florida, owns a 1-1 record thus far.
“The best for him hasn’t come yet,” Hayward said. “He’s going to be one of our biggest leaders.”
Witherspoon’s lone loss came to state-ranked St. Joseph of Montvale, 2-1.
Sophomore A.J. Candelario is the Knights’ third pitcher. Candelario has shown a ton of potential in his appearances, posting a 1-1 record as well.
“He has a lot of potential,” Hayward said. “Virginia Tech has already invited him to come to their camp this summer. He’s going to be really good.”
Mike Christopolous is the team’s fourth pitcher and starting shortstop. The sophomore righty just recently pitched seven scoreless innings in an extra-inning loss to crosstown rival Bayonne.
Senior righty Joe Figueroa and freshman righty Thomas Petrosino are the last two pitchers to round out the pitching rotation.
A pair of sophomores, Brendan Hanson and Kevin Reynoso, are sharing the catching duties.
“They both have their strength and weaknesses,” Hayward said. “Both are doing the same things for us, but they are helping each other out.”
Sophomore Jesse Matos, who started last year as a freshman, returns at first base. Matos is a big-time slugger who collected his fair share of hits last season.
“He’s going to be a beast,” Hayward said. “He was a good hitter the whole season, but at the end of the season, it came out more. He’s going to be a good one.”
Thomas Petrosino is the team’s second baseman.
“I think he’s a really good one,” Hayward said.
Christopolous is the team’s shortstop. He has also been invited to Virginia Tech’s camp with Candelario.
“Once he matures, he’s going to be a great one,” Hayward said. “He’s going to be very similar to [St. Peter’s Prep standout] T.J. Ward.”
Junior Jordan Diaz and sophomore Jacob Hernandez are sharing third base duties.
Junior Tyler Cruz is the starting left fielder, with senior Angel Perez returning to centerfield.
“Perez is a four-year starter who has a chance to play in every game for his four-year career at Marist,” said Hayward, a Marist alum who didn’t pull the same feat. “He’s our No. 2 hitter and does everything for us. If the ball is in the air, he’s going to get it. He’s also become more of a leader. He’s more vocal and I like it.”
Senior Elijah Hernandez, the older brother of Jacob, is the right fielder.
“He’s a good kid who does his job,” Hayward said.
Senior Will Garcia is the team’s designated hitter.
Hayward said that his team is much better than the 6-4 record. Other than Bayonne and St. Joseph, the Royal Knights have dropped games to Kearny and Ramapo.
“I know we are better than our record,” Hayward said. “I know that there are things that I can do to make it better. We have young guys who have to adapt to the right frame of mind. Maybe the trip to South Carolina will help. These kids just don’t know how to dominate yet. They need to learn to dominate. That’s going to come. We had a tough early part of the season. As our young kids get some experience and grow older and the older kids carry us, we’re going to get it. We will dominate.”
Bold words coming from the young head coach and athletic director at Marist, but if Hayward feels his team can dominate, then maybe we have to believe him.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.