The Cumberland County College baseball team has struggled through the better part of the last decade.
Things are different now.
Players such as Cody Stashak and Anthony Lopez, as well as energetic coach Keith Gorman, have rejuvenated the Dukes.
"Things are going good," said Stashak, an Oakcrest High School graduate.
Cumberland has won 57 games the past two seasons after winning a total of 46 during the previous seven combined.
The Dukes were knocked out of the National Junior College Athletic Association playoffs in three games by Northampton College (Pa.), a series that ended May 5.
"We finished out with a winning season," said Stashak, 18, of Mays Landing. "It stinks that we fell short, but it was a great season."
Cumberland ended the year with a 33-14 record.
"We sneak up on a lot of teams, but we can actually play some ball," said Buena Regional alumnus Lopez, 18, of the Collings Lakes section of Buena Vista Township. "We definitely flew under the radar. They didn't take us as a threat until they actually played us, and before they knew it they were in a tight game."
Stashak and Lopez became teammates for the first time when they were younger and playing for the South Jersey Sand Sharks and coach Ed Hayes, and they have become good friends on and off the field.
Lopez said they played baseball together from "Georgia to New York and everywhere in between."
Their travels landed each at Cumberland County College.
Lopez was named to the NJCAA Division III Region 19 first-team this year, and Gorman said Lopez has started to receive interest from professional scouts.
Lopez led the country (NJCAA Division III) in runs (62), triples (10) and hits (71). He was fourth in total bases with 103 and sixth in steals with 31. The freshman shortstop, who hit second in the lineup, batted .415 with a .463 on-base percentage.
Lopez was all set to commit to NCAA Division II Bloomfield College after his senior season at Buena but decided on Cumberland County at the last second.
"Cumberland was the best decision for me," Lopez said.
Lopez said he tries not to worry about which scouts may or may not be watching.
"I just look at it as a good opportunity," he said. "But at the end of the day, I have to play the game. If I get too caught up in those things, the game will humble me."
Stashak said Cumberland made the most sense for him as he tries to improve his recruitment standing.
"I feel like I made a good choice," Stashak said. "I went there because I'm trying to hopefully get my grades up and get some Division I schools looking at me."
If Stashak plays as well next season as he did this season, he likely will have plenty of options to choose from for continuing his collegiate career.
Stashak - usually No. 3 or 4 in the lineup - batted .360 with a team-high .602 slugging percentage. He finished eighth in the country in RBIs (47), 11th in hits (62) and 10th in total bases (88).
Stashak also pitched well, going 6-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 55 innings. He threw a no-hitter against Middlesex County College on April 21.
"I had never thrown a no-hitter," Stashak said. "It was kind of cool. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things."
Gorman said that Lopez and Stashak were team leaders in just their first season. Each has one more year at Cumberland before looking for their next home.
"They were great," said Gorman, 33, of Absecon. "We were a freshman-heavy team, which is a good thing and a bad thing at times. Those guys got it done for us all year."
Gorman, the athletic director and former baseball coach at Holy Spirit, has players excited to stay closer to home to play.
"One, we've got some good players in and good players make coaches look smart," Gorman said. "Two, there is no secret to what we do - we try to outwork everybody. If we work hard, we are going to put ourselves in position to win games. You have to work hard day in and day out, and I think that's the reason for the big turnaround."
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