It’s often said that records are made to be broken and the Newark High School baseball squad has certainly broken a lot of marks this season, along with a lot of opponent’s hearts this postseason. But you won’t hear any complaints about that from the ones whose standards were smashed.
Seems they’re still rooting for the Norsemen, too.
The NHS baseball program’s record was established at 24 wins by the 1995-96 Norsemen under the direction of longtime head coach Norm Meier, then was reset at 25 in by the club under the direction of D.J. Cocks in the 2005-06 campaign. The latter team also recorded the team’s first and only regional championship prior to this year.
But this year, coach Josh Cooper’s club is re-writing the book on Newark baseball, surpassing that 25-win campaign with Monday’s 5-3, 9-inning victory over Sterling Newman at the 1A Supersectional at Rivets Stadium in Rockford.
“I wasn’t here for the basketball championship because I was still in high school (at Yorkville), but I saw them on TV, and I was here for the volleyball team’s second run to a state championship. We’re very blessed to have these kinds of kids here at Newark. They’re extremely hard-working … and not to take anything away from those great teams, it wouldn’t bother me if people started thinking of Newark as a baseball school, too. These kids deserve it.”— Newark coach Josh Cooper
Cooper’s Norsemen will take that 26-1 record into Thursday’s 10 a.m. semifinal against Glen Carbon Father McGivney (30-6) at Illinois State University’s Duffy Bass Field. The winner will square off for the 1A state title at 7 p.m. against either Mt. Pulaski or Farina South Central, whichever wins the 1 p.m. semifinal. The losers of those games will play for third place at 4 p.m.
“I’ve coached against D.J. several times at Westmont,” said Cooper. “He’s a great coach, runs a great program and knowing him, talking to him through the years, I knew he really loves Newark … And Norm, it’s impossible to not say nice things about him. He’s been the bus driver for us and for softball since I’ve been here, but you walk through the halls and see his teams’ pictures and plaques, commemorating all they accomplished. He’s a legend and the teachers and students have nothing but respect for him.
“It’s an absolute honor for this team to be mentioned in the same breath as those Newark teams coached by Norm and D.J.”
Meier, the Newark school Hall of Fame coach of roughly 350 wins in near 30 years atop the baseball and softball programs, has enjoyed this season with baseball and the sectional-finalist softball club. He realizes eras are hard to compare, but feels this year’s squad has the advantage of depth.
“This team is deeper, especially in pitching,” said Meier. “I had some super talented teams, but we were fortunate if we had two good pitchers, but Josh has three or four he can count on … They have offense, defense and pitching. That’s why they’re so fun to watch”
Cocks, who led Westmont to third place in 2014, knows all too well what this year’s Norse can do. His team at Westmont lost an 8-3 decision to the NHS club back on May 22 in Newark. He came away very impressed.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, my gosh, these guys are loaded’,” said Cocks of his first loss to a Newark team in his stints at Plano and Westmont. “(Dalton) Reibel and (Joe) Martin are their best pitchers and they didn’t even throw against us and we still got beat. Their catcher (Lucas Pasakarnis) is a stud. They hit the ball well and when they’ve had injuries, others have stepped up to fill roles. I knew right away this was a special team (Cooper) had there.
“Once a Norseman, always a Norseman. You have to bleed that blue, man. They gave me my first shot at coaching right out of college, so I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for them … and this is awesome to see.”
Fans of Newark have had plenty to cheer about over the years, mostly on the basketball court both boys (19 regionals, 6 sectionals, 2 supers, 1 fourth place, 1 championship) and girls (12 regionals, 1 sectional, 1 super, 1 second place) and most recently, in volleyball (12 regionals, 4 sectionals, 3 supers, 1 fourth place, 2 championships). Even their bus-mates in the spring, softball (10 regionals, 1 sectional) have historically done better than baseball.
“It’s great to see Newark back on the map for baseball, that’s for sure because it’s such a great sports town,” said Cocks. “My years there were awesome and I wouldn’t trade any of that time for anything. We won the school’s first regional and, up until yesterday, we had the record for wins, too … You know, when you set a record, of course you want to see it stand forever, but I’m very excited for this team.”
Said Meier, “I told them to make sure they appreciate what’s going on this year. It doesn’t happen very often and it’s history, too.”
Cooper is very cognizant of that fact and doesn’t hesitate to remind his players of those who came before them.
“I wasn’t here for the basketball championship because I was still in high school (at Yorkville), but I saw them on TV,” said Cooper, “and I was here for the volleyball team’s second run to a state championship. We’re very blessed to have these kinds of kids here at Newark. They’re extremely hard-working … and not to take anything away from those great teams, it wouldn’t bother me if people started thinking of Newark as a baseball school, too. These kids deserve it.”