Seton Hall Prep baseball team captures state Non-Public A championship to cap magnificent season

This slideshow requires JavaScript.





Correction: Seton Hall Prep won its eighth Non-Public A championship.


WEST ORANGE (updated Tuesday June 14, 12:32 p.m.) – The Seton Hall Prep varsity baseball team completed an outstanding season with a 4-2 victory over St. Augustine Prep at Ryan Field at Toms River North High School as the Pirates captured their eighth state Non-Public A championship. They finished with a 28-3 record.

On Tuesday, June 7, the second-seeded Pirates traveled to Mahwah and Ramapo College and defeated St. Joseph of Montvale, 6-2, to capture their 20th state North Jersey Non-Public A tournament title. In the first inning, the Pirates scored two runs on a bases-loaded walk to senior John Savino and an RBI single by senior Ryan Toohers to center field. They increased their lead to 3-0 on an RBI single to left field by sophomore Jack Zyska. St. Joseph scored two runs in the top of the third to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Pirates came right back in their half of the third inning with two runs to increase their lead to 5-2. Senior Justin Miller laced a two-run single to right field. Just before the bottom of the fourth, there was a brief rain delay. On the first pitch after the delay to senior Patrick O’Hare, he belted a long solo home run to left field  to make it 6-2.

Toohers (5-1) pitched another outstanding game. Over seven innings, he allowed two runs, both earned, on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

After the game, Zyska said, “Personally, I try to stick to a particular approach and I thought we all had good discipline at the plate, especially in the first inning with five of our guys running the count to three-and-two.”

Toohers said, “I knew I would have to go to my curveball a lot because they are an excellent fastball-hitting team. I felt I had great command of my pitches and a great defense behind me. Once we had the lead, it made it so much easier to pitch.”

SHP head coach Mike Sheppard Jr. commented about preparing for this game. “Our practices are broken down into interval time frames where we go over everything. With the repetitions, the players sometimes get tired of it, but baseball is a game of repetition. I like to think that has a lot to do with the success of our program here at Seton Hall Prep.”

On Saturday, June 11, the Pirates headed south on the Garden State Parkway to Toms River North High School and defeated St. Augustine Prep, 4-2, to win the state Non-Public A title. Freshman right-hander Nick Maldonado got the call to start the game by Coach Sheppard and he pitched great, allowing two runs, both earned, on five hits with three strikeouts and one walk in 4 ⅔  innings pitched. After a scoreless 3 ½  innings, SHP scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth when senior Nick DeNicola  roped an RBI single to center field and Zyska hit a long two-run double to center field.

St. Augustine came back with two runs in the top of the fifth to make it 3-2 when Coach Sheppard called on senior right-hander Brendan Shamieh to get the final out on a strikeout with the tying run on second base.

In the sixth inning, SHP extended its lead to 4-2 when DeNicola  had a ground-rule double to left-center field to drive in Toohers, who lead off the inning with a single and stole second base.

Shamieh retired St. Augustine Prep in order in the sixth inning before an exciting seventh. The lead-off batter singled to left before being picked off by catcher DeNicola. The second batter of the inning singled to right field before being caught trying to advance to second on a short wild pitch. The final out was a pop-up to junior shortstop Francis Prior as SHP won their eighth state Non-Public A championship and first since 2007 when they won the last of three straight state Non-Public A titles.

After the game, DeNicola said, “We have been waiting for this moment since we were freshmen. We got to the Final 8 in the State American Legion Tournament for Vailsburg Post 395. When we were eliminated from the tournament, we said we were not done. We got three more years and we’re going to make it before we’re done. When we won today, it was just an unbelievable moment.”

Maldonado said, “I wasn’t expecting it, but I stepped up and was able to throw strikes. That’s all that matters. I was definitely nervous, but after that first pitch, I knew I could do it. It’s another game, just a bigger stage.”

Shamieh said, “We had fantastic team chemistry this year. We came together as a team. We really don’t have that one star guy, but everybody is there to pick each other up, day in and day out. That’s what make us special.” Shamieh was also part of that freshmen group to play for Vailsburg American Legion Post 395. Their outstanding play in the state tournament, despite facing players who were three and four years older than them, made them ready for this season’s state tournament run.

The Pirates this season won the Greater Newark Tournament championship for the fourth consecutive year, beating Nutley, 11-1, in the final on May 21 at Verona High School’s Doc Goeltz Field. The GNT is regarded as the Essex County tournament. It was the Pirates’ 16 GNT title and 22nd GNT final appearance, extending their tournament records.

Coach Sheppard also earned his 700th career victory when the Pirates defeated West Essex, 2-0, May 20 and now has 718 wins. He completed his 30th year at the SHP helm and 31st season overall.