• Dan Russoman

Spring teams begin play this week


Senior Brock Mercado leads a young St. Joseph Academy baseball team this season. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—The final season of the high school sports year begins in full this week, as baseball, softball, track and field, boys tennis and boys volleyball teams will begin their campaigns.


At Hammonton High School, the boys volleyball team, under the direction of head coach Brian Reed, will make its varsity debut.


Spring sports teams saw their 2020 seasons canceled due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Many have lost key players to graduation and some are looking at rebuilding years.


The 2021 season also marks Hammonton’s return to the Cape Atlantic League (CAL) following six seasons as a member of the Tri-County Conference.


“It’s good just to be back on the field. We’re not really sure what to expect. We have a lot of new faces and a tough schedule,” Hammonton baseball coach Gregg Silvesti said.


Hammonton will compete in a strong Cape Atlantic League American Division this season, one that includes Ocean City, one of the area’s top squads.


The Blue Devils could play a spoiler role this season, especially if its pitching staff develops into a strong unit.


“I think we’ll hit all through the lineup. We just need our pitchers to step up,” Silvesti said.


Hammonton’s roster is a mix of veterans and underclassmen. Senior third baseman Jared Beebe, who will play at Barton College next year, batted .419 in 2019. Lucas DeStefano, a senior, should handle the shortstop duties, while another senior, David Humphries, anchors the rotation and will also see action in the outfield.


Anthony Leo played with the varsity as a sophomore in 2019 and takes over the catching duties this season.


Silvesti feels the Blue Devils have the depth and talent to contend.


“We’re strong up the middle and I think we’ll be very good,” he said.


At St. Joseph, the Wildcats will have a new head coach, former Williamstown assistant Nick Core. Core takes over for Anthony Apreda, who never had a chance to lead the Wildcats on the field last year. Core becomes St. Joe’s third head coach in three seasons.


The Wildcats feature a young roster that has just two seniors, and few players with varsity experience. St. Joe will face challenges from United Division rival St. Augustine Prep, but the Wildcats could surprise against many divisional foes this season.


Senior catcher Brock Mercado, a University of North Carolina-Asheville commit, hit .469 in 2019 and stole 19 bases. He leads the offense along with his brother, Cohl, a Boston College recruit. Cohl Mercado, a junior outfielder, batted .400 and stole 21 bases in 2019.


Another senior, Gage Armbruster, returns at shortstop and will also be one of St. Joe’s top pitchers this season. The roster features six sophomores and six freshmen, so it may take the Wildcats some time to adjust to playing at the varsity level.


On the softball field, St. Joseph sports one of the more talented teams in the CAL. When they last took the field in 2019, the Wildcats won the South Jersey Non-Public B title and they return a few players from that roster this season.


St. Joe should be the favorite in the CAL American Division this season. The Wildcats are led by senior pitcher Makayla Veneziale, who is headed to Delaware State next spring. She won 22 games and struck out 194 hitters in 2019.


Brianna Bailey, a transfer from Wildwood Catholic, takes over at shortstop this season and will lead a talented lineup that also includes junior Katie Dainton, a CAL All-Star as a freshman in 2019, who will move from catcher to second base this season.


Senior Davi Jimenez and Atira Myrie are returning letter-winners in the outfield, while sophomore Macie Jacquet takes over at catcher for coach Les Olson’s Wildcats.


At Hammonton, the Blue Devils’ softball team is ready to compete for a United Division title this season. Hammonton returns just two seniors, but coach Eric Shulman feels he has enough young talent on the roster to compete this year.


Senior pitcher Makenzie Edwards is back, following a 2019 season where she sported a 19-5 record and batted .373. Catcher Lilly Miller, another of Hammonton’s top hitters, also returns for her senior season.


Joining those two will be a young roster that features juniors Krista Tzaferos and Sammy Immendorf along with sophomores Ava Divello and Sophia Vento, as well as some talented freshmen.


Shulman feels Hammonton’s strength this year is its depth, as the Blue Devils feature several players who can handle many different positions.


On the track, Hammonton’s boys and girls teams will try to build on the success each had during the winter season.


The girls team features some solid distance runners and sprinters, while the boys will be led by their athletes on the track. Kaylie Ranere, Kirstin Reese and Emily Dustman all had strong winter seasons for Hammonton’s girls, while on the boys side, Connor Wright leads a talented roster.


“We had some good times in the winter, so I think we’ll be able to build on that. Connor [Wright] is poised for a huge season. This is an important year for him as a junior and he’s embraced that challenge,” HHS boys coach Jeff Dey said.


Hammonton’s boys tennis team has a new head coach, former Blue Devils standout Stevie Salvatore. He takes over a young team that finished 12-7 in 2019, but lost most of its varsity roster to graduation the last two years.


New this season at Hammonton is boys volleyball, which was supposed to make its debut last spring. Coach Reed said there was a lot of interest, and Hammonton has a solid roster.


Perhaps the toughest challenge will be learning the game as they compete against a tough schedule.