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Seton Hall Prep's sophomore star Nick Maldonado, one of the more talented players in the state, recently announced his decision to attend Vanderbilt University as one of five Pirates from the 2016 GNT and Non-Public A state champions to make college commitments. (Photos by Richard Morris/SHP)
Seton Hall Prep junior lead-off man Jack Zyska will be headed to Notre Dame
Jamil Vanheyningen is headed to Campbell University in South Carolina
...where he will be joined by his brother Jermaine, another talented hurler
SHP's veteran head coach Mike Sheppard, Jr. has plenty to smile about when it comes to the quality players he continues to produce in his historic program.
Magical 2016 Continues For SHP
Nick Maldonado was still in middle school when older brother Frank, currently an outfielder at the University of Pittsburgh, predicted a crazy recruitment, which would end with the younger brother committing to Vanderbilt.
“(Recruiting) was crazy. It started the summer of my eighth grade year, going into my freshman year. My older brother actually said it was going to start this early and I said ‘no way.’ The same with my dad, he said there was no way,” Nick Maldonado said. “(My brother) actually said a few years ago that I was going to go to Vanderbilt.”
Fast forward a couple of years and sure enough, Nick Maldonado committed to Vanderbilt. Maldonado, just a sophomore, verbally pledged to the SEC power in September bringing a surprisingly early end to a recruitment, which in many ways was unprecedented for the storied Seton Hall Prep baseball program.
“We really haven’t (had one like this),” said Seton Hall Prep coach Mike Sheppard Jr., who has sent dozens of players to college. “It’s almost crazy to think that a guy after one year of varsity ball and in only his second year of high school to have an opportunity at that early of a stage to go to such a school. We’ve never had that before. We’ve had kids go to quality baseball schools and quality schools, but never this early.”
What isn’t crazy is that once again, the Pirates have experienced an offseason full of college commitments. In addition, junior center fielder and leadoff hitter Jack Zyska committed to Notre Dame and senior pitchers Jack Mahala (Harvard), Jermaine Vanheyningen (Campbell) and Jamil Vanheyningen (Campbell), also making their commitments.
The recent spate of verbal commitments and the upcoming signings of the National Letters of Intent for Mahala and the Vanheyningen twins are just the latest achievement in a memorable 2016 for the Prep baseball program which captured the Greater Newark Tournament, Non-Public A state tournament and was the unanimous selection as New Jersey’s No. 1 team.
“It has been very crazy, like a whirlwind,” said Zyska, who went went from unknown to a First Team All-State selection and MaxPreps sophomore All-American this spring as a sophomore. “I can look back on it now and I find it hard to believe how quickly everything turned. It was a good chain of events.”
Zyska, who hit .500 with 37 runs, 19 RBI, eight stolen bases and three homers, had interest from other high academic programs, but said he knew where he’d be going after visiting the Notre Dame campus.
“Once I got to South Bend and took a tour of the campus I kind of knew. It’s a special place,” Zyska said. “With the coaches, the people that were there. I couldn’t say no.”
While Zyska was eased into varsity baseball, Maldonado was thrown immediately into the pressure cooker. Maldonado, the first freshman to play varsity at the Prep in more than a decade, played shortstop and also pitched, going 6-0 with a 1.11 and 33 strikeouts in 31 ⅔ innings. He was the winning pitcher in the Non-Public A final against St. Augustine, allowing just two runs in 4 ⅔ innings with three strikeouts.
Maldonado basically could choose any program he wanted, but in the end selected Vanderbilt over fellow national power Virginia.
“Not that it was intimidating, but moreso I was really lucky and blessed to say that I could pick where I wanted to go,” Maldonado said. “To be able to pick among the best schools in the country and two of the best academic programs in the world is really just a blessing to say that I could go to either one of these schools.”
In addition to playing at shortstop, Maldonado will be expected to help lead the rotation alongside the Vanheyningens and Mahala, three talented seniors who may have limited varsity experience, but plenty of potential.
Mahala missed the entire 2016 high school season with an elbow injury, but used a strong summer to commit to the Harvard. Jamil Vanheyningen has amassed a 5-0 record with a 1.35 ERA over the past two seasons as a spot starter and bullpen arm, striking out 46 in 41 ⅓ innings while allowing 26 hits and 23 walks. Jermaine Vanheyningen has gone 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 16 ⅓ innings, pitching primarily out of the bullpen the past two seasons.
All the aforementioned Pirates, other than Maldonado, played the summer of their freshman year for the Vailsburg Post 395 American Legion baseball team.
Soon enough they'll be preparing for the 2017 high school spring campaign.
“My hope is that they want to go into the season saying ‘hey, I want to contribute more to the program than I have in the past and I can do it,’” Sheppard said. “If they show us they can do that, they’ll certainly get the chance to lead the pitching staff.”
SHEP SPEAKS ON THE COMMITS
On RHP Jack Mahala (Harvard): “Jack is the third Mahala boy to come through our program and also twin brothers (twin brothers Michael and Patrick), who are currently sophomores. As a lower level player as a freshman and sophomore he really contributed at those levels. He had a good summer. He’s a kid that throws strikes, has good ball movement with his pitches and as a result can be difficult to hit. He’s a little deceiving in that he’s a lanky kind of kid, but he can throw a fastball by a hitter. He’s sneaky quick. We’re excited to see what he can do and how he can contribute this upcoming season.”
On RHP/SS Nick Maldonado (Vanderbilt): “We’ve been fortunate in our entire program for years that some of our better players have been of high character and humble guys. Nick falls in line in that regard. He’s a tremendously talented baseball player from a physical standpoint. He’s one of those guys that you root for because he’s humble, he’s hardworking, he’s a team-oriented person, he respects the game of baseball and he knows hard work has to be put in in order to succeed. He’s as impressive of a person as he is a baseball player.”
On RHP Jamil and Jermaine Vanheyningen (Campbell): They’re two guys that have tremendous potential, great baseball bodies, great pitchers’ bodies. We’re hopeful that they can contribute much more than they have. Both of those guys got good, strong arms. They can throw. Sometimes mechanically, for larger guys it’s difficult to get them in sync consistently. Our hope is that they’ll be able to do that and throw a higher percentage of strikes and be more efficient. They certainly have the tools to be able to dominate when they’re out there.
On OF Jack Zyska (Notre Dame): “Jack is a good offensive player for us. I knew he was a good player, but to come up and have the impact that he had and to be the offensive leader (is special). He’s a gamer and when he gets on base he makes things happen. It’s his combination of aggression and speed. He’s not happy with the base he has, he wants to get to the next base and if the opportunity presents itself, he’s going to try and get it.”
Follow Jason Bernstein on Twitter @JBernstein HS
The versatile Nick Maldonado, here completing doubleplay against Nutley in the 2016 GNT final, is also an outsanding shortstop for SHP.
Seton Hall Prep players mob each other after final out is recorded as Pirates win 2016 Non-Public A state title with win vs. St. Augustine.
SHP was able to hoist the NJSIAA state championship trophy after completing its memorable 2016 season with ultimate prize in a season.
The Notre Dame-bound Zyska is the ultimate, consistent contact hitter
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