Newark Academy softball coach Sergio Rodriguez will say, without hesitation that no one has it better than him.
“I’ve got the best coaching job in the state of New Jersey,” said Rodriguez. “Having done this for a while, there’s no place else I’d rather be. The parents, the school, everyone is so supportive. And the kids? Wow, I can’t even begin to say how special they are to me.”
The Minutemen were 19-9 this season, and won a Super Essex Conference (SEC) championship. The team also advanced to the North Non-Public B final, where it was defeated by the eventual four-time state champion, Lodi Immaculate.
Newark Academy’s success will most likely earn it a promotion in 2017, where it could play in the SEC’s American Division, one of the most elite conferences in North Jersey.
“I try to schedule good teams, whether we’re in the Liberty, or American,” said Rodriguez. “Our out-of-conference schedule is tough, for a reason. Our kids enjoy playing the best teams, so moving up and facing teams like Nutley, Livingston, Mount St. Dominic and West Essex, twice, is a part of it.”
Newark Academy was 11-1 in the Liberty Division this year, with its only defeat in the regular season finale, to Caldwell. Among its setbacks this year were losses to the state’s top team, Immaculate Heart Academy, Lodi Immaculate, two close games to state sectional champion Livingston and a 2-1 loss to Jefferson early in the season.
In addition to playing competitive softball, a Newark Academy player has to work hard in the classroom, where academics are always the first priority.
The senior class was paced by some tremendous players. Rebecca Mandelbaum, a second baseman, who will play at Brown University this fall, collected her 100th career hit and batted .333 on the season.
First baseman Sophie Rosenberg (Arts and Letters) batted .359 with a homer and 23 runs scored. She’ll attend Tulane University this fall.
Hannah Rosenbaum, a senior left fielder who will attend the University of Michigan, had 18 hits and drove in 20 runs and Paige Cooper, a right fielder, scored 12 runs. Cooper will start college this fall at Northeastern University.
The nucleus of the team is strong.
The Minutemen got excellent pitching from Mallory Shaw, a sophomore, who, in over 174 innings of work, struck out 161 and pitched to a marvelous ERA of 1.61. She pitched in all 28 of her team’s games. Shaw was also a force at the plate. Batting third in the lineup, she led the team with 31 RBI, 13 doubles and a .679 slugging percentage.
Freshman third baseman Sam Burggraf was marvelous at the plate, hitting .494 with a homer, 23 RBI and a team-leading 41 hits, while batting fifth in the lineup.
Sam Keller, a freshman centerfielder, batted .378 with two homers, 19 RBI and led the team with 31 runs scored and seven triples.
Maddy Mudrick, a sophomore shortstop, hit .350 while freshman catcher Caitlin Clancy hit .288 and led the team in home runs, with three.
Sophomore Libby Stein shared the right fielder’s job with Cooper, drove in a pair of runs and scored seven times.
Rodriguez’s work as a coach also transcends into the summer, where he is the leader of ‘The Heist’, a very popular team, which has enjoyed great success, with a number of Essex County-based players.
He was also a close friend of the late IHA coach, Anthony LaRezza and took a few minutes, early in the season, to address the IHA team, telling the players that their maximum potential was good enough to be state champions.
And he was right, as the Eagles finished 31-1 on the season and ended up as the state’s best team.
As for his team, the future is now.
“We expect to be good next year,” said Rodriguez. “But we know it won’t be easy.”