WEST ORANGE, NJ – When Seton Hall Prep was located in South Orange, the parochial school was known for producing great teams in sports like football and basketball.
Tony Verducci’s grid squads of the late 1970s still rank among the best in state history. Players like linebacker Chet Parlavecchio and back John Merklinger were legendary. And on the hardwood, Frank “Finn” Tracey also produced outstanding teams and top players. Mel Knight, who sparkled at guard in the 1960s, is still talked about today.
But since moving to West Orange in the summer of 1985, the Pirates have been even more successful in the athletic arena. And that’s particularly true in the major sports – football, soccer, basketball, hockey and baseball.
Here’s a glance at SHP’s third of a century in West Orange, a town where legendary college football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg was born in the early 1860s:
In SHP’s first year in West Orange in the fall of 1985, the Pirates went 9-0-2 and captured the North Jersey, Parochial A state title. The championship tilt took place at West Orange High, and Verducci’s crew rolled past St. Peter’s Prep, 16-0. Matt Lasher at QB and Greg Amsler at back were two of the team leaders.
That was the last grid title for SHP, but the school has still produced such great players as receiver Jeff Miller, QBs Art Grutt and Zach Keller, and RB Andre Callender.
Under the coaching of Marty Berman, who played at Columbia High in the late 1960s, SHP has become a state power on the pitch.
Berman, who learned a lot about the game from long-time CHS coach Gene Chyzowych, has guided the Pirates to numerous conference, county and state titles. His 2007 squad, which went 22-1, rates among the best in Essex County history.
Berman’s best player was striker Mason Toye, who is now competing in the pro ranks for Minnesota United. The youngster displayed great speed, had a great feel for the game, and could score goals from just about anywhere on the field.
“Mason was just electric on the field,” said Berman, who has a great rivalry with Doug Nevins of West Orange High, a player he coached at SHP.
Bob Farrell, who had over 700 wins, ranks among the top coaches in Garden State history. Farrell led SHP to countless conference, county and state crowns, as well as the Tournament of Champions championship.
A special highlight came in the 1990-91 season when SHP advanced to the TOC finals against St. Anthony with a perfect record. Senior forward Ira Bowman and sophomore guard Brevin Knight were the leaders on the hardwood. When SHP rolled Clifford Scott, 75-55, in the ECT finals, that marked the school’s initial county title in 35 years.
The winning hoops tradition at SHP has continued under Kevin Williams.
John Warchol led SHP to 506 wins, and only Bob Auriemma of Brick and Harvey Cohen of Chatham Township/Chatham had more in Garden State history.
In 1998 and 1999, SHP earned consecutive TOC titles. Forward Brandon Doria was dominant on the ice.
One of the great games in state history took place in the 1998-99 season. Brady Crooks scored in overtime to give SHP a dramatic 1-0 win over archrival Delbarton in the Parochial Schools final. SHP then went on to beat Brick, another big rival, for the TOC crown.
Today, Doria is the head coach at Millburn, a school that battles SHP in such sports as soccer and baseball.
Mike Sheppard Jr., like Farrell, has chalked up well over 700 victories. For Sheppard, who learned the ropes from his father, Mike Sheppard Sr., a guy who had 998 wins at Seton Hall University, the highlight came during the 2007 season.
That spring, led by dominating pitchers Rick Porcello and Evan Danieli, SHP compiled a superb 32-1 record. Most baseball people considered SHP as the top high school team in the country.
The team’s only loss came by a 7-1 score to Roxbury. But right after that setback, Porcello, who won a Cy Young award for Boston a couple of years ago, turned in a perfect game effort (2-0) against Newark Academy in the GNT semifinals. Then in the finals, Porcello scattered five hits and fanned 10 as SHP beat a top East Side team, 5-1.
In the states, SHP got a scare against Don Bosco Prep, but pulled out a wild 9-8 win in the second round. After a 3-0 verdict over Immaculata, Porcello led the Pirates to a 10-1 championship win over St. Joseph of Metuchen. Porcello, 10-0 as a senior, allowed five hits and had nine strikeouts in the final game of his outstanding scholastic career.
Danieli, a tall kid, went 11-0. SHP’s average game score in 2007 was 9-2.
PIRATE PLANKS – In West Orange, SHP’s best all-around athlete has been Miller. He was superb in football, basketball and baseball…
“At times Jeff seemed unstoppable,” said Berman, who has served as an assistant coach in hoops. “It’s hard to say what his best sport was.”…
Callender in football, Toye in soccer, Knight in basketball, Doria in hockey and Porcello in baseball have all set the standard for future SHP athletes…
The school’s athletic program flourished under former Athletic Director Joe Walsh. Msgr. Michael Kelly, the SHP President, has always stressed the importance of academics to the SHP athletes… In sports like wrestling, swimming, track & field, and lacrosse, SHP has also enjoyed some special moments…
Msgr. Kelly was a fine QB for Verducci in the mid 1950s. The sparkling Kelly Complex on Prospect Avenue is named after his parents… In hoops, brothers Ashton, Sterling and T.J. Gibbs have all dazzled SHP’s West Orange fans. They are ranked 1-2-3 all-time in scoring for SHP. T.J. is ranked No. 1 at 1,987 points (2012-16), Sterling is second at 1,984 points (2007-11) and Ashton is third at 1,882 points (2004-08).
According to Berman, SHP against Delbarton in any sport “is always special.”…
Porcello fanned 12 in his perfect game… Miller scored 20 TDs as a senior, and had 69 catches for 1,260 yards. In baseball, he had some monster blasts…
Berman has racked up more than 400 wins in his career at SHP.
Photos courtesy of Rich Morris/Seton Hall Prep