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Veteran senior center fielder Mike Cavallo is one of the key hitters for the Caldwell Chiefs who hope to keep advancing in North 2, Group 2 state tourney as Whippany Park comes to Bonnel diamond Tuesday in semis. (Photos by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

Caldwell's head coach Scott Illiano has mound conference with pitcher Bryce Bayard (10) and catcher Jon DeMattheis during early-season contest at the Bonnel diamond.

Bryce Bayard has been one of the top starting pitchers for Caldwell this 2017 season

First-year head coach Scott Illiano has helped point the way for improved Caldwell

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“We've got great respect for Whippany Park and their ball club,” said Illiano. “It was not long ago that Barry Russomano took a couple teams all the way down to Toms River so we're very well aware that they're a very good team that has built a nice winning tradition that's continued with their current coaching staff.

“What stands out most to me in our scouting report, is that they're not likely to give us anything for free. The two pitchers we are likely to see really pound the strike zone and we know they're going to keep their walks to a minimum if any. We are going to have to earn everything we get.”

Whippany Park blew past top-seeded Science Park, 14-0, in Friday’s N2G2 quarterfinals

“I think the real key for us is to keep our composure and not try too hard. You see it all the time. The people in the stands are cheering for a strike out and the pitch goes halfway up the backstop or everyone wants to see a hitter drive the run in and he swings at a curveball in the dirt. It all goes back to wanting to get a hit and then you try and when you try too hard you'll probably fail. Keeping our discipline. Allowing things to happen for us by staying with their plan, staying with their hitting routine. That's not easy to do but that needs to be our focus.”

Caldwell has been a fairly consistent team this season while earning a co-championship of the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division title along with Newark East Side, which defeated the Chiefs for a second time this season, 11-3, this past Wednesday.

And, the Chiefs have impressed in their first two games of the N2G2 state tourney, rolling past Harrison, 8-1, this past Tuesday, and then defeating Dover, 6-2, Friday, at Kiwanis Oval in the sectional quarters.

Caldwell has had a number of contributors, both on the mound and at the plate.

“Evan Dyer and Bryce Bayard are coming off outstanding outings in the state tournament,” said Illiano, who spent last year as an assistant on Bruce Shatels staff at Delbarton. “Shortstop Brian Rolser came on under pressure in relief and struck out three hitters in the seventh inning against Dover. Both CF Mike Cavallo who earned his 100th career hit earlier this week, and catcher Jon DeMattheis have put together offensive seasons that are as good as any player I've previously coached.

“But. in our game vs. Dover it was great to see some of our other guys contribute such as designated hitter Jon Housel who had two hits, Charlie Fierro who had two hits and two RBI, Frank Gencarelli who drove in a run, and Frank DeMunno who put down an important bunt. LF Jason Costa has been a mainstay in our order and sophomore 3B Mike Maida has stepped up filling in for an injured Dan Cavallo.”

Although he enjoys winning as much as any coach or player, Illiano has stressed the importance of keeping his Chiefs intent on the fundamentals and not trying too hard to impress anyone in the process while remaining focused on playing the game as well as one can on that particular day.

“We've tried to establish a fail-free environment where we are winning or we are learning,” continued Illiano. “It's hard because young athletes have been result oriented their entire lives in terms of where the rewards come from.

“From the time they are young, it's a constant emphasis on how did you do today? Did you win or lose? Did you go 3-4 or 0-4? Winning is so far beyond our control that we try to take thoughts of winning out of it but it's not easy. There was a game recently where I felt we played very poorly and won and I explained to our kids that our performance that day was not one in which we could really be proud of. We just want our team to play well realizing like any team, that we could still play well and lose.”

All told, it’s been an enjoyable first year with the Caldwell Chiefs as one of New Jersey’s most respected coaches has begun to ingrain his well-grounded approach to the game he loves to teach.

“Personally, I've had a lot of fun working with this group,” said Illiano. “From the very first day, they have been eager to learn and willing to work and I don't think any coach can ask for any more than that.

“The challenge, I suppose, dating back to March 3rd was putting in a new system and a combination of signs and plays where we went through a deer -in- headlight type phase before becoming a little more comfortable. The dynamic amongst teammates has been great, the support has been incredible, and the parents and community have been so welcoming. It's an honor to be their coach.”

Looking Ahead to Tuesday’s (May 30) State Sectional Semifinals:

Brackets Involving Essex County Teams:

North 2, Group 1:

14-North Arlington at 7-Glen Ridge

4-Ridgefield at 1-Dayton


North 2, Group 2:

9-Whippany Park at 4-Caldwell

7-Hanover Park at 3-Rutherford


North 2, Group 4:

5-Watchung Hills at 1-Millburn

3-Bayonne at 2-Woodbridge


Sectional Quarterfinals on Tuesday:

Non-Public, North A:

9-St. Peter’s Prep at 1-St. Joe’s (Mont.)

5-Delbarton at 4-Seton Hall Prep

6-Don Bosco Prep at 3-Bergen Catholic

7-Union Catholic at 2-Pope John


Non-Public, North B:

9-Morris Catholic at 1-St. Anthony

12-Eastern Christian at 4-Newark Academy

6-MKA at 3-Hudson Catholic

10-Morristown-Beard at 2-St. Mary’s (Ruth.)

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Scott Illiano has entered scene for Caldwell baseball this spring and has helped revive the fortunes for Chiefs who are now ready to take on Whippany Park in N2G2 semis.

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