Zach Sylvester had established himself as one of Montville baseball team’s leaders last year as its starting shortstop and a reliable bat in first-year coach Ian Schwindel’s lineup.
Then Sylvester showed just how dangerous and clutch he can be when he ripped a two-run home to left-center field to knot up at 2-2 Monvtille’s NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 championship game against Roxbury.
That fifth inning home run would prove to be Montville’s only runs as Roxbury, its North Jersey Athletic Conference rival, went on to win, 3-2. The home run was only Sylvester’s second of the season but stamped a thoroughly productive and efficient season for the junior.
“That home run was my greatest experience in baseball,” said Sylvester. “But their catcher hit two home runs and they came back to beat us.” Winning a sectional championship would have topped the home run but for Montville, the 2019 season had exceeded all expectations.
“I was down 1-2 in the count and thought I just hit a fly ball,” said Sylvester. “It just kept carrying. I guess I squared it up better than I thought. It was a tough end to the season but it was a phenomenal season overall. No one expected us to make it that far.”
Sylvester batted .390, scored 29 runs, drew 20 walks and just seemed to always be on base. The talented infielder carried that big junior season at the Morris County school into an excellent summer that was capped off by his commitment to play college baseball for Seton Hall University.
Seton Hall University will be getting a ball player with a very high baseball IQ and a mature, grounded approach to the game.
“Zach’s a great kid, very mature,” said Steve DiTrolio, Diamond Nation’s recruitment coordinator. “He has a great feel and excellent timing for the game.” Sylvester joined the Diamond Jacks program in the winter of his sophomore year of high school. He plays this fall for the Diamond Jack’s Super 17 squad. “Zach’s very advanced for a high school player in regard to being able to see the field the way he does.”
Seton Hall assistant coach Mark Pappas initiated the recruitment of Sylvester before head coach Rob Sheppard joined the process. Sylvester visited the South Orange campus on Monday, July 29 and, by Friday, August 2, told Sheppard he wanted to be part of the long-running Division 1 baseball success story.
“I wanted a smaller campus where there weren’t a lot of distractions so I could focus on baseball and school,” said Sylvester, who is deciding between a course of study in psychology or biology. He also was looking at such schools as Lafayette and William & Mary. “The campus and facilities are extremely nice. There’s a lot to like. The basketball team is one of the top teams in the nation and the baseball program is outstanding. I was excited when they offered me.”
Sylvester and his fellow Seton Hall 2020-21 freshman classmates will arrive on campus to see a new baseball field and stadium, the construction of which is to be completed and ready for the 2020 season. Sheppard had been giving Diamond Nation updates on the field’s progress all summer.
Sylvester has played the stiffest of competition as a member of the Diamond Jacks Super 17 team and his Montville squad boasted one of the more difficult public school schedules in the state last spring, dealing with the likes of Non-Public A powers Delbarton and Pope John, and traditional baseball strongholds Morristown, Randolph, Nutley, Old Tappan, Watchung Hills and Lakeland before running into Paramus and Northern Highlands in the NJSIAA tournament.
“We always fought hard against those tough teams,” said Sylvester. “Even when you lose to good competition you do gain something from it.”
Monvtille was certainly battled tested through an impressive 16-12 season under Schwindel’s direction. Schwindel was an assistant in 2018 under former Montville coach Joe Cardinale, who took the head baseball job at Cedar Grove beginning in 2019. Schwindel, a Livingston grad, is a first cousin to Frank Schwindel, a Livingston grad and a Triple-A player in the Detroit organization.
“Zach was a huge part of our success,” said Schwindel. “He really came on as a leader. We were a senior heavy team but, as a junior, he stepped up. He proved it over the summer then stepped in and did a great job at shortstop. He made some huge plays in the Randolph game to help us win that one. At the plate, Zach set the table many times. He has a great eye. He’s just a baseball junky with instincts that are the best I’ve seen.
Schwindel, who has taught physical education at the elementary school level in Montville for six years, says Sylvester “keeps everyone on the team up. When we struggle with energy he’s right there to pick everybody up. He’s in the game every single second. He knows the game so well. He’s the captain for a reason.”