By: Jude Bazerman
WEST CALDWELL– Coming off an 18-8 season, the James Caldwell High School Chiefs look to carry their success into the 2022 season. With many key seniors graduating, second year head coach Ryan Smith will have his work cut out for him in replicating the production of those players. The holes left by outgoing seniors will be challenging to fill, but the program’s strong JV and Freshman teams, along with a plentiful amount of underclassmen on the varsity team, give fans confidence that success is here to stay. Scheduling changes are another challenge thrown the team’s way, as the Chiefs will face tougher opponents compared to last season. While these challenges seem daunting, everyone from the coaches to the players are counting down the days until the first game.
Returning players for the Chiefs are highlighted by Seniors Nick Bergamotto (shortstop) and Gil Prial (outfield), both of whom have been mainstays in the Chiefs lineup since their freshman seasons. Senior pitcher Michael Scaglione looks to build upon his success with the help of Senior Nick McNish, who is in line to be the starting catcher in 2022. A strong roster of returning underclassmen accompany the aforementioned players, including Junior third-basemen Ty Fredo, Junior pitcher Nick Murante, Sophomore infielder Julian Casale, and Junior pitcher Ray Zamloot. On top of the talented experienced varsity players are a handful of guys who will get their first opportunity at the varsity level. Senior outfielders Ryan Pini and Matthew Paris, along with Junior infielder Matt Crisafi and Junior pitcher Jayson Pannullo, are all expected to compete for starting roles. “After seeing how successful the team was last year, I’m very excited for my senior year to see what we can accomplish,” says Pini. “Being on JV last year, it’s exciting to finally get an opportunity to compete at the varsity level.”
The expectations of the coaching staff and players are the same: Win. When asked about how he anticipates the season going, Nick McNish explained, “I believe we will have a successful season this year. Considering the senior class will be able to play together for the first time in a while, I feel that the team will have a great connection together. We will have a strong lineup with many varsity players returning from last year and adding some new ones. As long as we play together and don’t get down on each other, we will have a great year.”
Coach Ryan Smith’s answer nearly mirrored that of his catcher’s, stating, “We are confident in the group of guys that we have. We are looking to win our division again along with racing the twenty win mark. Our tougher opponents will prepare us for a run at states later in the season, where we expect to make noise.” Whether it’s looking at a division crown, county championship, or going all the way and winning states, it is safe to say that this year’s Caldwell Chiefs are locked in on making winning a habit.
There is no doubt amongst the Caldwell community that those lofty expectations can be fulfilled, but the road to glory will be slightly different in 2022. Millburn, Seton Hall Prep, Livingston, Chatham, and Montclair are all slated opponents for the Chiefs, each of which are never an easy fight. The most highly anticipated game of the season remains to be the Friday night showdown versus rival West Essex. Taking place at Yogi Berra Stadium for the second straight year, the matchup always goes down to the wire, and passionate student sections make the environment one of the best in the state. Other games of note include the renewed rivalries versus Verona, Cedar Grove, and Columbia, as well as the “Thank You Classic” game against Newton.
The Chiefs have all the signs of a program on the come up, and with the new energy Ryan Smith has brought into the program, they look to be a staple of success on the diamond for years to come. Through strong leadership, by both the coaching staff and veteran players, the winning tradition of being a Caldwell Chief will be passed down to underclassmen throughout the 2022 season and beyond.