Swinging for a bounce back year

Mike Wis, Buckey's Backyard Editor

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With a senior loaded roster, West Milford seeks redemption off of what was nothing less than a major disappointment in 2018.
The Highlanders sought to be a true contender in a division up for grabs, with a lot of varsity starters coming into their junior year. However, the team finished with a underwhelming 7-16 record.
However, one part of the record that goes without notice is the losses by two or less runs. The team suffered nine total losses by two or less runs, and six of those losses were by just one run. Flipping these six one-run losses to wins, the team’s “could have been” record comes out to 13-10.
Pitching will definitely be the defining factor of the team’s success this year. The Highlanders return the four biggest inning eaters from last year. Seniors Joey Hubinger, Mike Wis, Brandon Licursi, and Jack Vreeland combined for 132 ⅔ of the total 154 innings pitched last year. Having these four back give the rotation stability and experience which most of the league fails to match. Along with these four, the team also has junior, Billy Egan, and seniors, Jimmy Patton and Chris Gomez, who will sure up the back end of a strong pitching rotation.
As pitching seems a definite, the team’s defense leaves questions to be answered. Defensively, West Milford made 44 errors in the field, which led to 37 unearned runs. Over 30% of the teams runs allowed came unearned, a direct result of a poor defense. The improvement on defense for the team in 2019 is vital, especially in one run games, which is where the team struggled.
Defense starts with leadership up the middle, and the Highlanders possess four veteran seniors to lead. Three-year varsity catcher Aidan McDaniel is strong commanding both the pitching staff and the running game. Committed to playing to Hood College next year, McDaniel leads behind the plate. Turning double plays up the middle will be seniors Hubinger, who has committed to play at McDaniel College, and Gomez, who both possess quick hands and feet. In charge of the outfield, Vreeland will start in center. His ability to cover massive ground allows both corner outfielders the ability to play closer to the foul lines.
The defense will also depend on the corners of the infield. Wis holds down the hot corner at third base, while Licursi is picking the ball across the diamond at first base.
The offense is coming off of a less than stellar year of run producing, averaging 4.6 runs per game. And excluding four games in which the offense scored 44 runs, the offense posted a measly 3.3 runs in the remaining 19 games.
2018’s clear offensive MVP was Hubinger who hit .367 with 26 walks. His on-base plus slugging (OPS) was an astounding .995.
The lineup also possessed three other pieces that fill the top of the lineup. On the right side of the infield, cleanup hitter Licursi led the team with 16 runs batted in, as well as the only home run for the team last season. Licursi was also tied at 23 with

Above: Joey Hubinger swinging for the fences. Photo Courtesy: Kristin Milko via Twitter

leadoff hitter Chris Gomez for most hits. Gomez was able to hit over .300. McDaniel was able to tally 18 walks, which brought his on-base percentage (OBP) to .466 which is an incredible rate to reach base for the middle of the lineup to drive in. These three surrounding Hubinger can be key.
However, the biggest question for the lineup is whether or not Zack Milko will be on the field and in the middle of the lineup. In only 10 games last season, he had 13 hits, including 2 doubles, as well as 8 runs batted in. This all came to a halt with a nagging back injury that sidelined him for most of the season. Heading into the 2019 season, a stress fracture in Milko’s left foot has caused him to miss the tail end of the basketball season, and could lead into the start of baseball season. Otherwise, this senior-loaded roster must find ways to step up and produce runs on a consistent pace to improve from last year.
West Milford is heading down to Disney on March 21st to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Their first game is scheduled home against Wayne Valley on April 1st.