By MERT OKUR
Egg Harbor Township High School has always had a rich and successful history when it comes to baseball. Since the school’s opening, several prominent teams have come and gone, and the same can be said about this year’s team. With talent all across the board, it’s easy to envision the Eagles being in contention for a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title and earning a berth in the state playoffs.
This year, the team has something different: variety. In previous years the team’s starting lineup mainly consisted of upperclassmen, but this year there are players from all grades on the field. The team is still senior heavy, however, and will rely greatly on the class of 2017 to make an impact on the outcome of the season.
One such senior is Dante DiPalma, whose role is critical to the Eagles’ success. DiPalma was introduced to baseball at an early age. Growing up, his father made sure baseball was a big part of his life.
“My dad loved baseball growing up. It was his favorite sport, so he brought it into my family and I fell in love with the game,” DiPalma said.
DiPalma is the Eagles’ starting catcher and one of the top hitters in the lineup. For DiPalma, hitting is just as important as catching and requires numerous hours of practice. During the offseason, he worked tirelessly to improve his swing to prepare for this season.
“All offseason, I go to my batting instructor a couple times a week so I don’t lose my swing and can stay hot. Also this offseason, I wanted to strengthen my arm and velocity when I throw,” stated Dipalma.
When any hitter steps into the box they set goals for themselves. For DiPalma, this is exceptionally true. With all the batting practice and hours spent improving his overall game, he said he is prepared to accomplish any feat he sets his mind to. He’s coming off a season in which he had 20 hits, but said there is plenty of room for improvement.
“This season my goal is to hit higher than .350 and add a few home runs,” he said.
Every successful team needs a guy like DiPalma on its roster. Besides his ability to catch and hit for a high average, he can play multiple positions. Before he became cemented as a catcher, DiPalma was known as a utility player. Whenever the team was missing a piece of the puzzle, he could be plugged in to fill that role perfectly.
Because of his versatility, the Eagles will never have to worry about losing anything defensively if a starter goes down. DiPalma is the epitome of a team player as well — he is well known for always putting his teammates before anyone else. An example was two years ago when the team was in desperate need of a catcher following the graduation of Mike Lahoud. The position isn’t a glorified one — there’s a reason they call the equipment “the tools of ignorance” — but without any hesitation, DiPalma rose to the occasion and volunteered to become the team’s new catcher.
“Dante is a hard-working teammate. He likes to help push his teammates to be better,” said fellow senior Connor Agostino.
“He’s a good player and teammate,” added senior outfielder Nick Milhan.
All good things come to an end sooner or later, and the end is near for DiPalma and his senior teammates. This season is the final chance for them to achieve their ultimate goal together — a state championship. This has been the main focus for the team since the season began and everyone has bought into that goal.
“Our team is full of some great players all around. We’ve all been playing with each other quite a bit now and striving to make the South Jersey Group 4 championship and state championship,” DiPalma said.
The journey to a championship will be a grueling one as the Eagles play a pretty tough schedule. There are several games DiPalma and his teammates have circled on their calendar.
“It’s always a good game when we play the Prep and Millville, even Mainland. Before each game I listen to music that will hype me up for the game and I do a lot of visualizing so I can picture what the game will be like,” DiPalma said.
With the season still young, the team has to worry about the present and focusing simply on the next game. Even if DiPalma and his teammates don’t achieve their ultimate goal, they can look back on and reminisce about some of the best memories of their lives. One of those memories that will stand out, DiPalma said, was last year during the playoffs against Cherokee. DiPalma was up to bat in a key situation. Milhan describes the scenario best.
“He hit a nuke over the fence to help us secure a win,” Milhan said.
That was a moment that helped solidify DiPalma’s career at Egg Harbor Township and is one that is still spoken about to this day, and he said he’s determined to make a few more before his career comes to a close.
By MERT OKUR