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High School | General | 2/26/2019

PGAA's pace NJ's Delbarton

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Anthony Volpe (Delbarton School Baseball)

2019 Perfect Game High School Preview Index

It’s late February and Delbarton School’s Bruce Shatel once again finds himself multi-tasking during his long working hours at the Morristown, N.J. high school.

When Shatel made the time to take a phone call from Perfect Game late last week, he was just hours removed from coaching the Green Wave hockey team to a round-of-16 victory at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public state tournament, setting up a quarterfinal-round match on Monday.

Heart-felt congratulations were extended  to Shatel, but the fact is PG didn’t really want to discuss in detail his defending state champion hockey team. The call had everything to do with the Delbarton baseball team Shatel also coaches, the one that PG ranks as among the best in the country.

But first, what about the whole hockey-baseball connection? Is the transition from guiding one state championship-caliber program to another state championship-caliber program relatively seamless?

“I think there’s a lot of overlap,” Shatel, who is also a math teacher at the school, told PG during the course of a wide-ranging telephone conversation shared last week. “In both sports, you’ve got to have a work ethic, you’ve got have a ‘compete’ level and you can’t overestimate mental toughness.

“From day-one we try to put our kids in an uncomfortable environment in practice and we push them to the limit so that when the lights go on and it’s time to play a game they’re more comfortable handling the pressure.” Let the games begin …

Led by 2018 PG All-Americans in right-hander Jack Leiter and shortstop Anthony Volpe – Delbarton seniors who are both Vanderbilt signees – and seven other regulars from last year’s state runner-up team, the Green Wave should be adequately equipped to handle any high pressure situations they might encounter this spring.

The season is scheduled to officially kickoff on March 18 and Delbarton will enter that game against Union HS sitting at No. 10 in the PG High School Preseason National Top 50 Rankings; it is the highest-ranked team in the PGHS Northeast Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont).

“I definitely view it as an honor that other people look at us that way, but we have our own viewpoints on how we look at each other and how we want to be viewed at the end of the season; that’s really all that matters to us,” Volpe told PG last week.

“It’s definitely an honor being recognized this early, especially being from the Northeast,” he added. “There is a lot of really good competition out here but I guess nationally people don’t look at it like that. It is nice to see but, again, we just want that postseason ranking.”

When Shatel first learned of the high national ranking the team been given, his initial thought was that he was flattered to have received that kind of recognition. But, he reminded his players, while any kind of preseason accolade is a nice feather in the program’s cap it’s really all based on what teams of the past have accomplished. Now, he told them, it’s their responsibility to embrace it and run with it.

“We don’t put a heck of a lot of emphasis on it,” he said. “Our focus every day is to make sure that we’re taking strides in the right direction to compete for a championship at the end of the year if we’re fortunate enough to do so.  It’s a nice accolade that fell on our lap, and it’s because of what we’ve done over the past couple of years.”

The NJSIAA divides its members schools into Non-Public and Public classifications and Delbarton competes in the Non-Public A division. During the baseball season, schools compete for North and South championships and those two titlists then meet to determine an overall state champion.

Delbarton won overall state championships in 1998, 2002 and 2017; it won North titles in 2009, 2017 and 2018. The Green Wave beat Buena Vista Township St. Augustine Prep, 2-1, to capture the championship in ’17 and then fell to the Hermits, 1-0, in last year’s state final.

Despite the loss, Shatel feels like just advancing as far as the championship game can provide a team with momentum coming into a new season.

“I think it does if you have a lot of key contributors returning who have that experience in that game,” he said. “… We have a lot of guys returning that have that experience under their belt which I think can only pay dividends going into this season because they understand how difficult it is to make that game.”

PG had the opportunity to speak with Leiter when he was at the PG All-American Classic in San Diego last August, and he was already looking forward to Delbarton’s 2019 season.

“We’ve definitely come a long way in the last couple of years,” he said. “We’re hoping to come back (in 2019) and come out on top, and I’m pretty confident we’ll have the team and the talent to do that.”

 

… … …


WHILE SPEAKING WITH PG FOR THIS REPORT, VOLPE MADE AN IMPORTANT OBSERVATION
that supported the thoughts Coach Shatel and Leiter had shared.

“We’re returning every single person except for one guy in our starting lineup,” he said. “It’s just everyone knowing what it felt like to work so hard and then come up just a little bit short (last year) and everyone is looking to get over that final hump. We’re just all so excited for this season and we’re ready to get out on the field.”

While Leiter (ranked No. 11 nationally/No. 1 New Jersey class of 2019) and Volpe (Nos. 33/2) are the headline grabbers, it would be foolish to overlook senior left-hander Shawn Rapp, a North Carolina signee ranked Nos. 495/18.

After those three seniors, the amount of success that comes the Green Wave’s way will rest firmly on the backs of a very talented junior class that Shatel identifies as perhaps the best class as a whole he’s ever had at Delbarton.

Corner-infielder Kyle Vinci (Nos. 260/7 class of 2020), outfielder first baseman Aidan Kane (t-1000/43), outfielder/first baseman Mark Darakjy (Northeastern commit, t-1000/63) and catcher Willie Schwarick (t-1000/70) are the top juniors and were key contributors as sophomores in 2018. Sophomore right-hander/middle-infielder Eric Schroeder is the No. 30-ranked New Jersey prospect in the class of 2021.

Jack Leiter and Anthony Volpe are obviously two of the most highly regarded prep prospects in their national class. It doesn’t happen often that two PG All-Americans are classmates and teammates at the same high school, and when it does it’s generally at a school in California, Florida, Georgia or Texas.

That said, this situation isn’t unprecedented. Seton Hall Prep (N.J.) class of 2007 top prospects Steven Brooks, Evan Danieli and a fellow named Rick Porcello all played in the 2006 PG All-American Classic.

“It’s just remarkable,” Shatel said. “As a coach, you wait your entire career to coach one of those type of kids, and I’m fortunate enough to have two on the same team. It’s kind of crazy how that’s unfolded.”

When asked to talk about his two PGAA’s, Shatel didn’t hold back. Why should he?

“Anthony, in my opinion, is the best baseball player in this part of the country if not the entire country,” he said. “I’m talking complete player: defender, knowledge of the game, offensive player; he just does everything extremely well. He’s off the charts academically, and he’s just a great kid to have on our team for four years.”

And, he quickly added, Leiter is the same way:

 “Jack is an unbelievable talent; he’s a kid that can shut down any team on any given day. He’s another guy who’s off the charts academically, and he’s such a polite kid. As good as both (Volpe and Leiter) are as baseball players they’re the most humble human beings out there, and that’s important to me. …

“The way that they interact with their teammates brings out the best in our team and we’re looking for them to provide leadership from day-one.”

The two are top draft prospects – both are projected to be selected on the first day – which means all of Delbarton’s games will be heavily scouted. That happenstance benefits every player wearing not only a Green Wave uniform but the uniform of the opposing team, as well.

“Success breeds success and having these two guys in our locker room, our younger guys can see how they carry themselves and they can understand their work ethic,” Shatel said. “It didn’t just happen for Anthony and Jack. They had to work to get to where they are today.”

The left-hander Rapp is another legitimate draft prospect, in Shatel’s opinion, and the type of player who could benefit greatly from the parade of scouts who will be coming through Morristown this spring. But the real beneficiaries may ultimately be the members of the Green Wave’s prospect-laden junior class.

“Having those three horses – Rapp, Leiter and Volpe – lead the way, it’s great for these underclassmen to be around them,” Shatel said. “You can’t put a price on that.”


… … …


THE DELBARTON BASEBALL TEAMS HAS BEEN TAKING AN ANNUAL SPRING BREAK
trip to Florida for the last 20-plus years, and this year’s team will be leaving on March 7. It’ll spend nine days at Florida Atlantic University, doing two-a-day workouts in the mornings and afternoons; there will be some controlled scrimmages against a couple of Florida schools, as well.

Upon returning home, Delbarton will begin play in the North Jersey-National Conference with seven other traditionally strong schools, including Morristown, Roxbury and West Morris Central.

Shatel has also put together a killer non-league schedule that includes the likes of Governor Livingston, Malvern Prep and Don Bosco Prep, and to top it off, the Green Wave will be part of the 16-team field at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational (NHSI) in Cary, N.C., in early April.

“I’m excited about that,” Volpe said of the NHSI. “It’ll be fun and it’ll be cool for everyone else to see kind of how it is. I think it just comes back to everyone as a team having confidence in themselves and not trying to do anything special just because more people are watching.”

Simply put, there are no creampuffs on the Green Wave’s schedule. Shatel said the hope is to play 30 games by the time the season is in the books and knows that if his guys don’t show up ready to play each and every day, a 15-15 record at season’s end wouldn’t be a total shock.

“Our guys understand that and from day-one we’re really preaching fundamentals, accountability and the little things that make us successful,” he said. “We’re not really known for knocking the ball over the fence year after year. We rely on starting runners, getting our bunts down and doing the little things to make us successful offensively, and on top of that we have to pitch it and we have to pick it up.”

As far as the trip to Cary is concerned, Shatel said he’s going to try to get it across to his players that it could be a humbling experience. Leiter, Rapp and Volte have been on high school baseball’s biggest stages like the PG National Showcase but many of the others haven’t had the opportunity to go head-to-head with many of the country’s top players like they’ll see in Cary.

There is another inherent disadvantage they’ll face. The teams from the warm-weather states that will be in attendance at the NHSI will already be halfway into their seasons while the Green Wave will just be starting theirs.

“We’re going into this tournament with the mindset that we have to compete every day,” Shatel said. “With the pieces that we have in place we’re going to be able to do that … but we are behind the eight-ball to a certain degree. But it’s a great opportunity, it’s a great challenge; our kids are over-the-moon about it. And after doing this for 20-something years, I’m thrilled that they’re taking me along for this ride.”

This will be a bittersweet season for the seniors in a lot of ways, mostly stemming from the realization that they will be slipping on their Delbarton uniforms for the last time. The future is tremendously bright for every kid on the roster but these high school years will always be near and dear.

“It’s special in its own way, just to go out and play and have fun with your best friends, really,” Volpe said. “They’re the guys that you go to school with, work with in the classroom together, and you talk every single day and bounce stuff off of each other. And then being able to play the game we all love together and have fun doing it … I think that’s what’s special about the high school baseball experience.

“We’ve been through a lot in our four years, winning (the state championship) our sophomore year and then losing in the championship game our junior year,” he continued. “We definitely took it upon ourselves to do everything we could during this offseason and try to lead (the younger) guys as best we can.”

The NJSIAA Non-Public hockey state tournament will soon be complete and coming into this week the Delbarton Green Wave skaters had put themselves in position to take home another state championship.

After the pucks and sticks have been packed away and replaced by balls and bats, coach Bruce Shatel will once again be able to direct his full attention to the diamond, although he’s proven time and again he’s a master at multi-tasking. Last year, in his 17th season as a hockey coach, he picked up his 400th career victory; also in 2018, in his 11th season as a baseball coach, he picked up victory No. 300.

The only goal for the Green Wave baseball team this season is returning to the state championship game for a third straight year and claiming a state title for the second time in three years.

The No. 10 preseason national ranking won’t be talked about at all once the games start being played, of course, and that’s of no consequence to the players anyway. They know exactly what that ranking means.

“It’s a tribute to the guys that have come before us that kind of paved the way and taught us what it takes from a leadership perspective to be successful on our stage and against our competition,” Volpe concluded. Let the games begin …


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