By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Most high school baseball hitters have a plan when they step up to the plate. They are looking to put themselves into a good hitter’s count and get a pitch they can drive for extra bases. For the past several seasons, the plan against Absegami’s Matt Ardente was simply to make some sort of contact and not look completely foolish before making a right-hand turn and heading back to the dugout. Ardente, a recent graduate of Absegami, will be taking his talents to Seton Hall University this fall. He leaves behind a high school baseball résumé that will someday put him on the school’s wall of fame. The right-hander set a school record with 23 career wins, and for most of his four years on varsity was not only one of the top pitchers in the Cape-Atlantic League, but one of the best in South Jersey. As far as high school pitchers go, Ardente was very polished, developing the ability to throw four pitches for strikes consistently. He had a commanding mound presence, showed the ability to pitch a lot of innings, and became one of the true aces in South Jersey baseball. If Absegami was playing in a big game, chances are that Ardente was the guy coach Brian Wastell handed the ball to. Not many players get the opportunity to play varsity baseball as a freshman, let alone become one of their team’s top pitchers. But Wastell said he knew early on that Ardente could handle the spotlight, and the pressure that came along with being the Braves’ No. 1 pitcher. Not only was Ardente one of the best pitchers in Absegami history, he was one of the team's best hitters the past few seasons. He plans to continue his baseball career at Seton Hall University. Not only was Ardente one of the best pitchers in Absegami history, he was one of the team’s best hitters the past few seasons. He plans to continue his baseball career at Seton Hall University. Egg Harbor Township pitching coach Sean Coyle said he’s glad his team won’t have to face Ardente anymore. “We saw him as a freshman and you saw that he had a lot of the tools. You knew he was going to be really good, and every year I kept telling myself, ‘oh, man, this kid is still here.’ You saw this year and last year, he kept the ball away, he kept the ball down, and he rarely got hit hard. You saw his progression through high school,” Coyle said. “We beat him a couple times when he was younger, but he just continued to progress. He could locate and he had three pitches. He had a really good fastball and a really good curveball. And as games would progress his curveball got more and more effective. “As he got older, he could throw that pitch in any count. In the playoffs this year, we had the bases loaded and a 3-2 count, and he hammers a curveball in the dirt to strike one of our guys out. That takes a lot. And it’s almost impossible for a hitter to lay off that pitch. For him to bury a curveball, 3-2, with the bases loaded and nobody out, that was huge. It just shows the type of pitcher he is.” Coyle said Ardente is on the short list of pitchers the Eagles had fits with during the past four years. “There have been three guys who we couldn’t wait to see them graduate so we wouldn’t have to face them anymore: Ardente, Aaron Cox of Millville and the Justin Smith kid from Hammonton. Those are the three kids who just killed us year in and year out,” Coyle said. One of the reasons Ardente is such a good pitcher is he has been fortunate to have outstanding catchers throughout his career. As a freshman, his older brother, Anthony, was the starting catcher. Once Anthony graduated, Steve Hewa jumped right in behind the plate and the Braves didn’t miss a beat. Hewa became one of the best catchers in the CAL before graduating a few weeks ago. “His catcher, Steve Hewa, has been with him for years and he’s an all-conference type of player. Having Steve back there is a nice calming force,” Wastell said. “Matt is very low-key, and that’s a nice mix with Steve and our other captain, Drew Roesch, who have a little spunk to them. There’s a reason why Matt hit third in the lineup and Steve hit fourth. I think they made each other better.” “He works really hard. Every time he goes out on the mound he expects to win, and he doesn’t take losses very well,” Hewa said of Ardente. “I could usually tell if he was going to shut a team down or not. He works hard in the offseason on his pitches, and he has a lot of faith in his pitches. His curveball is really dirty. He likes to fool batters with it, and he knows what he can do with his pitches. He can spot his pitches really well and he knows the situation. He does really well with knowing what to throw in which counts. “It’s fun to catch Matt because he’s such a special pitcher. We have really good chemistry. We were both always thinking the same thing in any situation.” Ardente said another key to his success was the confidence the Absegami coaching staff showed in his ability to be a big-game pitcher. “From the preseason, the coaches would pound that into our heads that we needed to have confidence in ourselves, because they had confidence in us. They would always bring up examples of games that were won because somebody had the guts to throw a 3-2 curveball when somebody is looking fastball,” Ardente said. “That’s how you win ballgames, being confident in yourself.” Ultimately, Ardente will be remembered as one of the most dominating pitchers in Absegami history. However, he’d much prefer to be remembered as one of the guys who made up a pretty good Absegami team that had a nice run during the last four years. Like Wastell said, Ardente is the last guy who will single himself out above anybody else. And the coach said that is what made coaching this group of young men so special. It was always a team-first mentality. “It’s cool because Matt and Steve are such good friends and I think their success ties in with each other. I always sum it up this way: I bring my 8-year-old son, Jackson, up to practice and just let him go and I know he’s in good hands with those guys. If you have knuckleheads, you’re not bringing your son out there. When we play at the house with my son, he pretends he’s either Steve, Drew or Matt. And that’s pretty cool,” Wastell said. “Coaches sacrifice a lot of time — a lot more than people think — so when you get a chance to have your kid at practice on a Saturday, and you forget he’s even there because he’s out playing with the boys; then you watch him with his little bat bag walking with the guys, it’s why we do it. I’ve got quite a few pictures of Jackson with his bat bag along with Steve, Matt and Drew walking to the field together, and that’s kind of symbolic. It’s a good group of kids who were raised right.” “Not many teams had that close-knit group that everybody wants to have,” Ardente said. “The guys are great baseball players, all the parents have been together at games for years. Having the ability to win and finish strong, we all became better baseball players because of each other. We’re all going to miss this experience.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]