Dennis Arnold’s assessment promptly put Pompton Lakes’ baseball season in perspective as coach Paul Tanis prepared to walk off the field at Toms River South a week ago.
The Cardinals had just lost a second straight Group 1 final, 9-5 to Middlesex, but Tanis’ mentor made him remember just how special the previous two-plus months had been.
“He said to me, ‘T’, that was the greatest team that ever played in a Pompton Lakes uniform,’ ” Tanis said. “That assured me of all we had accomplished.”
If anyone knows Pompton Lakes’ baseball history, it’s Arnold. He coached the Cardinals for nearly three decades before he retired in 1997, and Tanis took over as head coach in ’98.
Neither of them ever experienced a season quite like this one.
Pompton Lakes, The Record Baseball Team of the Year, went 25-5, won a Passaic County championship, its first since 1996, its second straight North 1, Group 1 title and the NJIC’s Colonial Division crown.
The Cardinals had high expectations entering this season because they brought back eight starters from a team that went 22-4 last spring and reached a state final for the first time in school history. Tanis attributes the team meeting those expectations to a reliable, experienced core that featured six seniors — left fielder Jose Arroyo, right fielder/pitcher Peter Campbell, shortstop Dan Foote, third baseman Connor Lavin, second baseman/pitcher Sean Lindberg and catcher Jon Steele.
It didn’t hurt, of course, that the Cardinals sent standout junior left-handers Kevin Magee and Mike Coss to the mound to start 20 of their 30 games.
Magee went 9-1, had a 1.12 ERA and struck out 106 batters in 57 1/3 innings. Coss finished with a 7-3 record, a 1.25 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings.
Lindberg also went 7-0 and posted a 1.70 ERA as the Cardinals produced the most wins this season in school history.
“The leadership is unbelievable on this team,” Coss said. “For the six seniors that are captains, I can’t thank them enough. They guided us through the three championships we won this year. They deserve all the credit.”
Pompton Lakes experienced a particularly impressive stretch from May 20-June 4.
The third-seeded Cardinals came back from a 5-1 deficit in the third inning of the Passaic County final to defeat top-seeded Lakeland, 8-6, on May 30. They also outscored their first five opponents in the state tournament by a combined 44-1, before falling to Middlesex.
“We knew we had something special four years ago with this group,” Tanis said. “We knew this group would do something big before they graduated. They obviously proved that.”