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Solid Season Earns Baseball Team GSAC Title

West Windsor, N.J. - From the perspective of Head Coach Matt Wolski, who just completed his fifth season, it's preferable to lose a close game against a good team than to win by a landslide. "It's a better game. It teaches players more and that's what it's all about. The things they experience come up in championship games. Then they've already been there and it's not new," he explains.

The baseball team learned plenty of lessons this season, as it took on tough competition in the region. The Vikings faced powerhouses Gloucester CC, the eventual national winner in Div. III, and a very strong Brookdale squad. Still, Mercer had its share of successes, earning a 17-13 record and the Garden State Athletic Conference title.

The Vikings kicked their season into gear at the Myrtle Beach Invitational March 15-19, returning to New Jersey with a 6-2 record after five days of competition. Strong pitching and hitting were key to the team's success at the tournament, which set the tone for a season of hard work and solid progress.

"They played beyond my expectations," Wolski said. "They played as a team. That makes you better; you are counting on each other."

Heading towards the post-season, the Vikings had momentum as they posted wins in a doubleheader against Salem CC on May 1 and a 16-9 victory over Gloucester on May 4. Facing Burlington CC in the double elimination Region 19 play-in round May 8-9, the Vikings lost the first game 21-7 and then came back to win the second game 16-10. The third game the following day was close, but the Vikings were the 10-8 losers.

"The last game was close," Wolski said. "We were ahead. But as well as we were playing, in the end, Burlington was just a little better."

Wolski is proud of his players' growth during the season. Pitcher Shawn Reindel, who missed the 2009 season due to injury, delivered on the mound. The right-hander helped the Vikings cross the .500 mark in a strong outing against Sussex on April 3; they remained above .500 for the rest of the season. Reindel was the team's strike-out leader with 72. Veteran leader James Page also performed well on the mound.

Making significant contributions on offense were Matt Hill, Russ Stupienski and Luis Alvarez, especially in the run-up to the Region 19 tournament. Third baseman Hill, a second team All-GSAC pick last year, batted .408 on the season and led the Vikings with 35 RBI's. Alvarez had 31 hits and batted .383, and utility player Stupienski batted .304 with 24 hits. Freshman centerfielder Kevin Koscak was the team's lead-off hitter, with a batting average of .360.

According to Wolski, Mercer has been a great beginning for a number of his players. "Right now we have 7 or 8 guys playing Division I and several others in Division III," he said. From this year's squad, Hill will be transferring to Rowan University, and Page and Stupienski, who both signed pre-season letters of intent, will play at St. Peter's College.

Wolski stresses that academics matter. "What coaches [from four-year schools] tell us is that our players are ready to be there - athletically and academically. It's important that they are able to establish themselves in the classroom. When I recruit kids, I emphasize that from the start."

Athletes have huge demands on their time, Wolski acknowledges. "You are practicing three hours, and playing doubleheaders that can last six hours. That's why we have study halls, so that players learn to organize their time and study with no distractions."

Looking to next season, Wolski is upbeat. "We have a number of good recruits coming in," he says, including players from Steinert, Lawrence, Nottingham and Ewing, and several from other counties including Burlington and Hunterdon.

Wolski was assisted by Fred Carella and Kevin Kerins.

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