Seton Hall Prep baseball team advances to North Non-Public ‘A’ state final

Photo by Rich Morris/courtesy of SHP
Seton Hall Prep’s Nick Maldonado delivers during a game this season.

WEST ORANGE, NJ (updated Monday June 4, 4:08 p.m.) – The Seton Hall Prep baseball varsity team won two NJSIAA North Jersey Non-Public “A”  state tournament games to advance to the championship game and raise

its record to 24-4 this season.

The fourth-seeded Pirates were scheduled to visit No. 2 seed Delbarton in the final on Tuesday, June 5. The winner will advance to the NJSIAA Non-Public “A” state championship game either Saturday, June 9, or Sunday, June 10.

On Tuesday, May 29, the Pirates hosted No. 5 seed St. Joseph of Montvale at Porcello Field and won, 2-0. Senior right-hander Nick Maldonado (5-2) hurled a no-hitter with 11 strikeouts. He was a hit batsman away from a perfect game and finished as strong as he started by striking out the final eight batters he faced.

Junior catcher Tyler Kaufman had an outstanding game behind the plate as he blocked everything that Maldonado threw.

SHP scored both of its runs in the third inning with a two-out rally. Ryan Sheppard got things started with a single to center field and Maldonado drove him in with a double to left field. Jack Eichler ran for Maldonado and scored when Brian Kelly singled down the right-field line.

After the game, Maldonado said, “It feels great to do this against such a good team. They are so good up and down the lineup that I had a lot of confidence in my defense making all the plays, which they did, as we had no errors. All my pitches were working today.”

On Friday, June 1, the Pirates traveled to Breslin Field in Lyndhurst to take on No. 1 seed Bergen Catholic and won, 7-2.

Bergen Catholic took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth before SHP took the lead by scoring four runs. With one out, SHP head coach Mike Sheppard Jr. called for three consecutive bunts by Ryan Hebert, Robert Sheppard, and Giordan Cerbo, which loaded the bases. Jack Zyska unloaded a double to left field, driving in two runs. One out later, Maldonado lined a single to left field, driving in two more runs for a 4-1 lead.

After Bergen Catholic cut the lead to 4-2 with a run in the fifth, SHP closed out the scoring by adding three insurance runs in the seventh. Hebert walked and Robert Sheppard added his second bunt single of the game before pinch-hitter Frank Spano doubled into the left-field corner, driving in two runs to make the score 6-2. Ryan Sheppard drove in the final run with a fielder’s choice.

John Ariza (4-1) pitched five innings, allowing two runs on six hits with one strikeout and one walk. David Festa picked up his second save of the season, pitching two innings and allowing one hit with three strikeouts and one walk.

After the game, Ariza said, “I did not have my best stuff today, but I’m a competitor and I have a very good defense behind me. I have complete trust in the guys behind me that they will make all the plays and they did.”

Zyska added, “Those three bunts set up the inning for us. We’re playing well right now, hitting better, and the great bunting simply ignites our offense.”

Sheppard Jr. commented on the team’s bunting. “We had four stations with machines set up this week for base-hit bunting and sacrifice bunting with the hope of putting good innings together like we did today. We talk about creating opportunities with bunting and then capitalizing on those opportunities with big hits, which we did twice today, which was great to see.”

NOTES: SHP and Delbarton  will be meeting for the 10th time in the state tournament since 1971. However, this is only their second meeting in the North Jersey Non-Public “A” final.

1989: SHP won, 5-1, quarterfinals

1999: SHP won, 6-4, quarterfinals

2001: SHP won, 8-2, semifinals

2002: Delbarton won, 2-0, final

2008: SHP won, 10-8, semifinals

2009: Delbarton, 7-3, semifinals

2012: Delbarton won, 7-6, semifinals

2013: SHP won, 9-3, semifinals

2017: Delbarton won, 1-0, quarterfinals

Prior to 1959, North and South titles were awarded by the NJSIAA. From 1959-1970, the baseball tournament was competed as far as the North and South final.

From 1959-2017, SHP has won 20 North titles and eight overall titles (1971, 1995, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2016). Delbarton has won four North titles (1996, 2002, 2009, 2017) and three overall titles (1996, 2002, 2017)

Under Sheppard Jr., they have won 10 North titles and seven overall titles. He has been the heach coach of SHP baseball since 1987.