Newark baseball coach J.R. Veliz and his players have been paying their dues.
Now they’re ready to take the next step and bring home a little hardware.
Veliz, who has a 77-98 record in his nine seasons as leader of the NHS program, has now led them to a 60-43 mark from the four seasons from 2014 to 2017, including 15-7 two years ago.
Last year, they slipped to an injury- and weather-riddled 3-13 record, 3-11 in the Little Ten Conference, but a passel of talented Norsemen who played on both of those clubs are returning this spring, bringing with them a desire to win.
“I’m pretty excited about this group,” said Veliz. “Obviously, we have big returners coming back who’ve been with me the last three years basically learning since they were freshman, and they’re ready to win. We’ve had some good seasons, though last season was a down one because of some injuries and weather canceling a lot of games, but this year, along with those seniors who battled and kept plugging, our sophomore group is outstanding, kids that have played a lot of travel ball and organized ball. It’s nice to have that.
"Those guys are going to be a big, big part of this team.”
The top letterwinners includes a quartet of quality senior leaders — Times All-Area Third Team selection Brett Myre, the first baseman who batted .364 with 17 runs scored and eight RBIs while also striking out 16 batters in 12 2/3 innings pitched.
Also back are three Times Honorable Mention players, all seniors: center fielder/pitcher Connor Swanson, who hit .341 with 10 runs and 12 RBIs; third baseman/pitcher Corey Jacobson, a .319 batter with seven runs and 13 RBIs; and shortstop/pitcher Jacob Slivka, who posted a .348 BA with 15 runs and four ribbies. Also back is former catcher/now left fielder Dylan Tuttle.
Those sophs will have to adjust to the speed of the varsity game, but there is talent and versatility. Jared Slivka returns at second base, Ethan Jeffers should play right, and Dalton Reibel will back third when Jacobson pitches. Freshman Tegan Kruzer will take shortstop when Jacob Slivka takes the bump.
The emergence of freshman Lucas Pasakarnis, who has has looked “mighty, mighty good” in workouts so far, said the coach, has allowed Tuttle’s move to the outfield.
Jacobson, Swanson, Myre and the Slivkas lead a roster from which nearly everyone will see action on the mound.
“Everyone’s working hard,” Veliz said. “They wanna stay late, they wanna come early, they want more conditioning. They’re a special group with a desire to win.
"They want it, and they’ll do what they have to to get it. It’s all very cool.”