POMPTON LAKES — Jon Steele and Mike Coss called the loss “devastating.”
That’s how much losing to DePaul in the Passaic County tournament quarterfinals affected Pompton Lakes’ baseball players last season. The consensus among them is that their loss to DePaul, which went on to win its second straight Passaic County crown, bothered them more than losing in the Group 1 final to Audubon.
After their 6-1 defeat against Audubon, at least the Cardinals could take solace in having won the school’s first sectional baseball title since 1969. It was Pompton’s first appearance in a state final.
Losing at home to DePaul meant another season without a county title for Pompton Lakes, which hasn’t won it since 1996.
“It was definitely disappointing,” said Coss, a junior left-hander. “We had such high hopes going into the county tournament and last year we had a pretty devastating loss to DePaul. We just really look forward to the county tournament this year, really getting that county title, because last year we ended on a bad note. We kind of have a chip on our shoulder. We really want to go out and get this one.”
The third-seeded Cardinals (13-3) are scheduled to begin their championship quest 3 p.m. Saturday, when they’ll host 14th-seeded Kennedy in a first-round game at Hershfield Park. Though they’re also focused on winning a Group 1 championship this year, they admit that winning a county title would mean more to them.
“Going into every year, your goal always is to win the county tournament because we’re facing the better teams in that tournament,” Steele said. “We’re a Group 1 school and we’re playing against [bigger] schools from our county. Generally, it’s the tougher tournament to win. So it’s more prestigious to win that than to win a state sectional.”
Pompton Lakes is among the favorites in a top-heavy, 14-team field because the Cardinals brought back eight starters from the sectional championship team that went 22-4.
Coss and fellow junior lefty Kevin Magee provide Pompton Lakes with the type of formidable starting pitching typically required to win a county title within the Saturday/Monday format for the semifinals and final.
Magee is 5-0 with a 0.48 ERA, 54 strikeouts, and has allowed 14 hits and four walks in 29 innings. Coss is 3-3 with a 1.29 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 38 innings.
“We have a great shot to win it,” Magee said. “This team is really different from what we were last year. I think everyone stepped up. We have great leadership from our captains this year. Everyone is hitting the ball like crazy and I think our bullpen has really stepped up, as well as our defense.”
Steele, a senior catcher, and Sean Lindberg, a senior second baseman/pitcher, have led Pompton Lakes at the plate.
Steele is batting .479 and leads the team in doubles (six), triples (three), homers (four) and RBI (22). Lindberg has a .603 on-base percentage, a .478 batting average, and has scored 17 runs.
“We haven’t won it since ’96 and it’d be really big for us,” Lindberg said. “The pitching’s there; we have great defense. We’ve just got to hit in big spots and we can definitely get it done.”