Rowan College of South Jersey-Gloucester and Cumberland counties share the same administration, but their athletic programs are separate entities.
But the Roadrunners and Dukes baseball programs have something significant in common leading up to this season.
Gloucester was ranked second and Cumberland third in the 2021 National Junior College Athletic Association Division III Baseball Preseason Poll. The Roadrunners received 63 votes from the organization’s coaches, the Dukes 56. Tyler Junior College in Texas was ranked first with 70.
Gloucester and Cumberland also were ranked first and sixth, respectively, in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Division III Preseason Poll. Both teams compete in NJCAA Region XIX.
The Dukes are scheduled to open their season March 13 against host Salem Community College. The Roadrunners will begin March 9 against Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland.
Cumberland captured its first NJCAA D-III national championship in 2019 and are 326-93 since 2010.
“I think it’s great for the schools,” Cumberland second-year coach Marco Carolla said. “It’s great for recognition. Gloucester has been good for a long time, and we have been good for a long time, so it’s also a nice little rivalry.”
Last spring, Gloucester finished 6-1 (4-0 Region XIX) and Cumberland 10-2 (4-0) before the COVID-19 pandemic led to cancellation of the season.
“It’s great to get recognized, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Carolla, who noted the Dukes have been consistently a winning program for the past decade but “we still have a lot to prove.”
Gloucester has captured 23 regional and seven national titles and qualified for the Division III World Series in 20 of its last 25 seasons. The Roadrunners are used to being ranked and have grown accustomed to being one of the top teams in the NJCAA.
“We set high expectations in our program,” Gloucester coach Rob Valli said. “Winning has been a tradition in our program. Not to gloss over it, we are proud of our accomplishments, and it’s nice to be recognized, but it is preseason. These rankings don’t mean as much to me. It’s how you play in the game that is important.”
Now it’s all about living up to the hype.
“We expect to win every time we take the field,” Valli said. “It sounds cliché, but you have to take it one game at a time, especially during the COVID era where you don’t know what tomorrow brings. We just have to live in the moment.”
Gloucester sophomore right-handed pitcher Jack Billings is looking forward to the season. The 2018 St. Augustine Prep graduate, who committed to Virginia Tech out of high school but transferred after one semester, said he loves playing at Gloucester.
“We are very excited to be in this position,” said Billings, who was The Press Male Athlete of the Spring and a first-team Press All-Star as a senior in 2018. “But we have to be careful. With being ranked that high comes with a lot of teams wanting to come at us. It’s a great feeling, but you can’t think a lot of it. You still have to play the games.”
Cumberland returns a lot of players and features some newcomers who are ready to compete.
“It’s great recognition and shows the work we are putting in and the product on the field,” said Mike Dodd, a 2019 Egg Harbor Township High School graduate. “It’s a good group of guys, and we are looking to make noise this year.
“I think we will live up to the hype and make some noise. I can’t wait to get out there, especially with COVID and everyone having a hard time lately. I’m just excited for the season,” added Dodd, 20, of EHT. “
The Dukes have a ton of local players: Ramon Anglero, Jaques Colon, Scott Craig, Jeremiah Lebron, Nelson Ocasio, Jeremiah Torres (Vineland), Carelle Gonzalez (Cumberland Regional), Jose Bello (Millville), Jake Gugliegmi, Noah Robinson (Buena Regional), Andrew Simone (Cumberland Tech) and Bridgeton resident Gavin Gates (Gloucester Catholic).
“I think we are definitely going to compete,” Carolla said. “That is for sure.”
Carolla, Dodd, Valli and Billings each agreed this spring is going to be a welcomed opportunity to get back on the diamond after last season was cut short. Along with Billings, the Roadrunners feature three other local athletes: Sam Daggers (Absegami), Carson Haas (Middle Township) and Joe Marino (St. Joseph).
“It’ll be interesting this season with COVID, but I hope we are able to get a full season in,” said Billings, 20, of Voorhees, Camden County. “I think Gloucester and other junior colleges are competitive. I think a lot of guys underestimate the junior-college world. Once you get there you realize it’s a big baseball atmosphere and we have some talented players.”
GALLERY: Rowan College of South Jersey Cumberland baseball prepares for upcoming season
The Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland team works out Wednesday in Vineland. The Dukes were 10-2 and the defending national champs when …
The Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland baseball team practices Feb. 10 in Vineland. The Dukes, the 2019 national champions, will open th…