West Orange HS baseball team returns solid nucleus


Aaron Puryear, left, will move shorstop after playing second base last season. Photo by Jerry Simon.

Correction: WOHS will visit Newark East Side in the season opener on April 1.

WEST ORANGE, NJ (corrected Tuesday March 21, 1:17 p.m.) – Head coach Stephan Zichella acknowledges that his West Orange High School varsity baseball team will have some big shoes to fill after graduating quality seniors from last year’s strong 18-7 squad. Among those key graduates were outfielder Rob Parisi, pitchers/first basemen Paul Casolaro, Liam White, and Andrew Scholz and shortstop Doug Hughes.

But the Mountaineers head coach has reason to feel hopeful with a good returning group this season.

The Mountaineers traveled to Florida for their annual spring training last week in West Palm Beach. They left on Monday, March 13, beating the snowstorm, and returned on Saturday, March 18.

The Mountaineers begin the season April 1 on the road against Newark East Side at 11 a.m.

Leading the way for the Mountaineers will be Kevin Rodriguez. The senior three-year starting catcher has shown impressive leadership skills. “He is a big leader for us,” Zichella said. “He could be one of the better kids in the county. We expect big things from him.”

Junior left-handed pitcher Christopher Walker had a sensational season for the Mountaineers last year, allowing just one earned run in 20-plus innnigs. “We think he’s going to have a monster season for us this year,” Zichella said.

Zichella also has been impressed by the development of junior third baseman Tyree Bradley. “He has matured in a year,” Zichella said. “His swing is right where it needs to be.”

The Mountaineers have other reliable seniors: pitcher/utility player Chase Garguilo, pitcher/outfielder Nile Williamson, first baseman Zach Machuca and pitcher/outfielder Jordan Stennett.

Machuca had a great second half of the season last year, while Stennett is a high character player who is very good in all aspects and has worked hard in the offseason, noted Zichella.

Junior Aaron Puryear, who played second last year, will move to shortstop. Puryear is very athletic with strong skills, Zichella noted. Vincent DeSantis is another dependable pitcher.

Zichella is hoping to get some quality work from Stennett and DeSantis on the mound.

“The one thing we did really well last year was we played good defense and pitched (well). We’re looking for Vincent and Stennett to really take on a lot of that role on the mound,” Zichella said.