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Friday, April 12, 2024


Games People Play: Crest Memorial School Captures Baseball Crown

Wildwood Crest Memorial Baseball Team

By Joe Rossi

Third-year head coach Mark Robbins watched sixth graders from his first season at the helm mature into team leaders as eighth graders in 2015 while propelling Wildwood Crest Memorial School to the Cape-Atlantic Junior High School Division II baseball championship.
“We had four boys make the squad as sixth graders three years ago,” said Robbins. “They played all three seasons and graduated this year. Watching them grow and improve each year was very meaningful for me. We went through three growing and achieving years together.”
Like virtually every spring sport in the area, the Cougars had to overcome brutal early spring weather while practicing indoors and often being unable to get enough sunshine for grass and dirt fielding and hitting drills. They started their 10-0 perfect season in late April and finished up at the end of June.
“The maturity level of the boys was the key to our success,” said Robbins. “They accepted the discipline and structure of the practices and the games. We work with an eye toward the next level which is high school baseball. The drills and how the game should be played are geared toward that.”
Robbins said he realized he had something special brewing at the end of last year when the squad finished 10-2 while finishing in second place.
“We won the Wildwood Optimist Tournament last year,” he said. “I knew we were returning eight seventh and eighth graders from that team for this year.”
One of those veterans who worked hard under Robbins and assistant coach Scott Mason was catcher and team captain Chris Johnson.
“When I was in sixth grade our overall squad was younger and we had to learn to work with Mr. Robbins because he was starting his first year of coaching the team,” said the 14-year-old. “By my eighth grade year we had learned what coach expected of us and we had a strong core group of eighth graders who had been playing baseball together in Little League and travel baseball for several years.”
The son of Robert and Theresa Johnson, Chris also competed in cross country and basketball for Crest Memorial. He hopes to run, swim and possibly play baseball for the Crusaders of Wildwood Catholic next year.
“The best thing about baseball is that it’s fun to play with my teammates,” said Johnson, who also dabbles in surfing and snow skiing when he’s not hanging around with friends. “We were so successful this year because of our level of experience, our team chemistry, and our strong friendships on and off the field. We had good coaching from Mr. Robbins and Mr. Mason.”
Johnson’s Cougar teammates included Tyler Tomlin, Cooper Gehring, Tommy Belansen, Corlen Vallese, Ethan Burke, Cornell Bryant, Will Long, Logan Burke, Erick Feria, Alex Hunt, Mike Marcella, Jacob Hopping, Mike Sgrignioli; and Andrew Zielinski.
The team strength was pitching with three veteran starters and three others who could fill in when called upon. Robbins said the squad was most improved in the hitting department.
“We hit consistently and got major contributions from our new players as well as the players off of the bench,” said the coach.
To win Division II, Crest Memorial had to conquer challenges from Margaret Mace, Cape Trinity, Wildwood, Bishop McHugh and Atlantic Christian, respectively.
Robbins was grateful for the cooperation and growth of his squad.
“This was the best season because we watched the boys grow together as a team over the past three years,” he said. “They understood that we needed discipline and structure and they understood what was expected of them. They knew we, as coaches, would be consistent when holding them to those expectations and rules. We focused on particular skills and drills and showed them how we expected it to be done and why. This is a small school where the players all know each other and enjoy seeing each other succeed.”
Johnson summed it up on behalf of his peers. “We worked hard as a team along with our coaches,” he said, “and that allowed us to achieve an undefeated season.”
(ED. NOTE: Robbins writes The Fishing Line in the Herald.)

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