After four highly successful seasons, questions remained on whether Cumberland was going to be a perennial contender even after winning the Region XIX Championship in 2014 and 2017. One could say that the questions were valid after graduating a group of sophomores that bulldozed the competition for two years while earning 91 wins. Prior to the season, if you took a brief look at the 2018 roster, quite possibly you may agree with those claims. The problem with those claims? They did not take the Cumberland Culture into account. That culture would fire off a furious charge to start the season and answer those questions.
The Cumberland County College Dukes baseball team would start the season winning the 12 of their first 15 games, losing two games by two or less runs. The Dukes were led by the Freshmen class as Dylan Scaranda and Nick Milhan both garnered 1st-Team All Region honors. Milhan led the team in hits and doubles, while coming in 2nd on the team in Runs and RBIs. Scaranda, the everyday third baseman for the Dukes, led the team in Home Runs, Runs, RBIs., and Stolen Bases. Both athletes came through time and time again in clutch situations for the Dukes, including the elimination game of the Region XIX Final Four in which Milhan would hit a game-tying 2-run single in the 9th. That would be followed by the go-ahead single by Scaranda. Unfortunately, the Dukes would fall short in extra innings.
Following their lead would be a host of Dukes. Donnie Stone became the team's leadoff hitter late in the season and performed admirably in his role. Stone was a reliable utility player as he made appearances at first base, second base, and shortstop. Ryan McIssac, who reeled in 2nd-Team All Region honors, was the team's leading hitter before an injury took him off the field for the final 11 games. Despite the injury, McIssac still finished second on the team in hits, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, but held the team lead in batting average. The catching trio of Brian Gallante, Ivan Solis, and Shawn Vazquez epitomized the Cumberland Culture as the trio contributed in a variety of ways throughout the season. Gallante and Solis, both 3rd-Team All Region performers, provided stability behind the dish for the Dukes and also came through in clutch situations throughout the year. Vazquez settled into the DH role late in the season and stablized that position for the Dukes. In limited at bats, Vazquez launched 6 Home Runs, many of them in tight situations and became a feared hitter heading into the postseason.
Role players, Eric Stewart, Misael Castillo, and Darrius Land steadied the ship for Cumberland as Land and Castillo converted the Dukes outfield into a graveyard as they produced just 3 errors between them. Two of the season highlights came from unlikely sources as outfielder, Francisco Laureano hitting a booming liner for a walk-off win against Carl Sandburg College, and infielder Luke Turner sent a 3-run walk off home run well beyond the centerfield fence for a win against Ocean County.
A staple for the Cumberland program is the pitching and they were not short on that end. Anthony Capasso led the Dukes in strikeouts and games started as he emerged as the team's #1 starter, a position that those who have earned in the past foreshadow future success. Just a freshman, Capasso provides great promise and many expect similar success that previous Cumberland Aces have experienced. Capasso also received 2nd-Team All Region honors. He was followed by Steve Bowley, a Shepherd University commit. Bowley arose as the reliable stopper for the Dukes as he would stack up quality outings midway through the season and into the playoffs. Bowley led the team in innings and carried an 8-3 record.
Those two were followed by a stable of arms that have the Cumberland Baseball fans exciting for 2019. Freshmen Brian Bromley, Nick Hillesheim, Joe Nestel, and Jose Rodriguez all pitched meaningful innings for the Dukes this season. Bromley and Nestel spent time as relievers early in the season and became starters late, a daunting task for any freshmen to handle and they performed well in each of those roles. Bromley started 5 games for the Dukes and carried a 4-1 record. Nestel started 4 games and held a 1-0 record. Rodriguez and Hillesheim stablized the back end of the bullpen for the Dukes as came in first and second in appearances. Rodriguez, who led the team in appearances with 17, was the Dukes flamethrower out of the bullpen and became a household name very quickly. He finished the season with 3 saves and 30 strikeouts in 26 innings. Nick Hillesheim was second in appearances with 16 and also became a household name throughout the region. Hillesheim had a successful season with 3 saves and had 39 strikeouts in 32 innings.
Heading into the season, the young roster inherited a target on their back as soon as they stepped onto the Cumberland campus. A position many thought they would falter in, but the Dukes performed well-above expectations to be the No. 4 story of the 2017-2018 Dukes Athletics Season. With the majority of the roster coming back in 2019 and the Culture guiding each group year after year, expect the Dukes to make a strong run once again for the Region XIX Championship.