Kearny HS baseball team may surprise people, coach says

Heading into the season, Kearny baseball coach Dave Smart saw a team that while young, had the offensive talent to sneak up and surprise people this season.

It only took one game for the secret to be out as the Kardinals exploded for 15 hits in a head-turning 17-6 victory over Memorial of West New York.

Nine different players scored at least one run in the five-inning win.

“I think as we started moving on and we started practicing and having a couple of scrimmages, they started to really feel that confidence,” Smart said. “(Friday) was a real eye-opener for them and shows that we can do this and put things together.

“I really think as their confidence builds, they’re going to surprise some people. They’re going to put the ball in play, they’re going to hit the ball hard, and it could be fun to watch.”

Designated hitter and cleanup batter Rexhep Berisha led the attack with four runs and four RBI.

Hitting in front of Berisha was Sharif Wilkenson (3-for-4, three runs, three RBI), who played shortstop in the opener, but is likely to start all over the diamond at one point or another this year.

“He really is one of our most valuable players,” Smart said of Wilkenson, who will be a mainstay in the middle of the lineup regardless of position. “Sharif is an athlete for us. He can play anywhere in the infield for us and he can catch for us too.”

Sophomore William McChesney, who homered, is the primary first baseman. Juniors Lucas Perez and Jayden Casanova are at second base with senior John Hernandez at third.

The main shortstop will be Ryan Gill, who at 6-foot-5 doesn’t look the part, but has the athleticism to handle the position.

“Ryan is very athletic and I have the confidence to put Ryan anywhere on the field,” said Smart. “If I needed him at first, he can go to first. If I needed him in the outfield, I know he can play there. The only place I wouldn’t feel comfortable with Ryan is catching and that’s just because his height makes him a big target. Ryan is just an athlete, a great player and a great person who will run through a wall for us.”

Casanova and sophomore Jaiden Malave share left field. Junior Bryan Diaz leads off and plays center field and Joe Rocco is in right field. Timothy Schewzer is the fourth outfielder.

At catcher is talented sophomore Victor Hanson, who played in the outfield last season, but moves back to his more natural position this year.

Gill, who posted a 2.51 ERA in 30⅔ innings last year, is the top returning pitcher for Kearny. McChesney, the lone lefty in the rotation, takes the No. 2 slot, followed by righties Schewzer, Joseph Drefko and Hernandez.

Casanova, Malave and Rocco are capable arms out of the bullpen.

“There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs being a young team,” Smart said. “I just hope we can stay on track.”

Kearny will look to continue its early momentum this coming week with HCIAL American Division contests at Hudson Catholic on Tuesday and Union City on Thursday.

In addition to its challenging division schedule, Kearny plays perennial state title contender St. Mary’s of Rutherford on Saturday. On April 30, the Kardinals square off with Nutley as part of a four-game Hudson vs. Essex challenge set to be played at historic Miller Stadium in West New York.

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)