Ioviero has high expectations for Kean baseball
By Carl Stoffers
With a resume that includes an NCAA Division III National Championship and a plethora of conference, regional and regular season titles, Kean baseball head coach Neil Ioviero’s philosophy on winning is somewhat surprising.
“One of the keys to our winning is that we focus on everything besides winning,” Ioviero said. “We focus on showing up on time, acting the right way, going to school, being good teammates, showing up for workouts, everything that leads up to having good kids who know what to do when the game starts. We don’t focus on the winning part of it too much; it’s more of the process that you have to do to get there.”
That process has paid off for the Cougar baseball program. The team is coming off its sixth regional title in seven years and its third straight NCAA National Championship Tournament appearance. Ioviero, the most successful coach in Kean sports history, is excited to continue the winning tradition in 2014. His club enters the season ranked third in the nation and, as usual, the bar is set high for success.
“We talk about getting 30 wins, winning the conference tournament, getting to the World Series and winning a national championship,” Ioviero said. “It’s a lot of pressure, because we’re literally trying to win the College World Series every year.”
Despite graduating NJAC Player of the Year and third team All-American shortstop Nick Ramagli, the 2014 Cougars squad is full of players who Ioviero is confident will provide veteran leadership and poise. After starting five freshmen last year, the coach has the luxury of fielding a team that is both young and experienced this season.
“Joe O’Connor is one of the top players in the league,” Ioviero said. “You have Matt Meleo and Shane Alvarez in the center field and designated hitter spots, those guys are really good. Ryan Kelley is an excellent player for us in right field; Tyler Smarslok is a National Gold Glove winner, so he’s defensively the best second baseman out there, and Andy Lopez is one of our top players.”
On the mound, Ioviero will count on right-hander Charles Thielmann to anchor a staff that lost its ace, Kevin Herget, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals last spring.
“Charles Thielmann’s a force, he does a lot of good things for us on the mound,” the coach said. “Nick Zucchero is a veteran guy who’s really good, then we have Michael Daley and Casey Carothers, transfers from community college, who we think are going to be good on the mound.”
Despite the continuity of most of the roster, the Cougars enter 2014 with two starting positions up for grabs, and Ioviero is waiting to see who steps up to complete the lineup at catcher and shortstop.
“We have to find out who’s gonna play shortstop, then there’s our catchers,” Ioviero explained. “All three are really good in their own way and getting that solidified would be a big help.”
As for his outlook on the team’s strengths in 2014, the coach was adamant that there isn’t one area that he’s looking toward to carry the squad.
“The strength of this team is that there’s no one strength of the team,” he said. “We can put a lot of guys out there and still find ways to win games. The sum of the parts is the strength, we’re not relying on one or two people here.”