Cherry Hill West baseball is overcoming obstacles

John Stankiewicz leads his Cherry Hill West team with the bat and his arm.

Cherry Hill West's baseball team has lost more outfielders than games, but the Lions keep moving forward.

West is 6-1 this season and ranked No. 8 in South Jersey by the Inquirer.

The Lions are in South Jersey Group 3 this season, and they should be a factor. They are also in the Olympic Conference National Division, and the presence of Bishop Eustace and Seneca make this an awfully difficult division.

Still, playing without the projected top three outfielders makes navigating an already difficult schedule that much harder.

"It's not easy, but we are fortunate we have a lot of young guys who always seem to be ready to step in," coach Dan McMaster said.

The injuries began in August when senior Jake Azar tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Azar, who has a smoking bat, hasn't yet been ruled out for this season, and his return would be a major bonus.

Junior Nick DiVietro, who has committed to La Salle, suffered a shoulder injury earlier this week, and his return isn't known.

While the team was competing in South Carolina last week, senior McCay Cobb suffered a dislocated and fractured ankle.

The Lions went 2-1 in South Carolina, playing against more seasoned teams.

West went to South Carolina with a 2-0 record and faced three teams, each of which had played at least 15 games.

"It was good for team bonding, and we saw quality pitching," McMaster said.

Many of West's quality opponents will see the same, and that's because 6-foot-5 righthander John Stankiewicz heads up the Lions rotation.

A Fordham recruit, Stankiewicz is not only the Lions top pitcher but clean-up hitter. This season, Stankiewicz is 2-0 with one save. He has 19 strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings and a 1.00 ERA. The senior is also hitting .650 (13 for 20) with one home run and 15 RBIs.

He was recruited as a pitcher but hopes to hit.

Fordham coaches "want me as a pitcher, but hopefully I can get up there and swing a little bit, maybe sophomore or junior year," Stankiewicz said.

It's easy to see why they want him to pitch, especially with a lively fastball and pin-point control.

"I think his greatest attribute is his location," McMaster said. "His accuracy and his ability to throw a variety of pitches in any count" is impressive.

Others have noticed. McMaster says a few major league baseball teams have inquired about Stankiewicz for the upcoming draft.

"It's a great advantage for the team and the coaching staff to be able to run him out there," McMaster said.

Stankiewicz, an Inquirer second-team all-South Jersey pitcher last season, is the leader of a relatively young staff. McMaster has five lefthanders, including senior closer Liam Anderson, who is also a key outfielder.

"I've never coached a team with five lefthanders," he said.

In the absence of the projected starting outfield, Stankiewicz and junior third baseman Jack Owens, who McMaster said is a future Division I recruit, have led the offense.

This is a West program that has a reputation of being among the best in South Jersey. The Lions have been invited to the 16-team Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic four of the last five years, joining Eastern as the only public school that can make that statement.

West is again a candidate this season.

In fact, there is so much in front of this team. There are conference, South Jersey and a potential Diamond Classic titles for which to compete.

"You want to have a chance in the conference, in the Diamond and be a threat in the playoffs," McMaster said. "That is our goal every year."