Some of Jake Andrey’s baseball buddies looked at him sideways when he told them the news.
He was transferring from Cherry Hill East, a large public school with rich tradition and high visibility, to King’s Christian, a tiny private school that played an independent schedule and operated well beneath the South Jersey sports-scene radar.
“Guys were like, ‘Why are you going there? They’re not any good,’” Andrey recalled of the reaction to his decision to transfer to King’s Christian after spending his freshman and sophomore years at Cherry Hill East. “I had to think about what was best for me.”
As a junior, Andrey flourished at King’s Christian, earning first-team All-South Jersey honors with a .611 batting average, a state-best 55 hits in 29 games and a 5-1 record and 2.89 ERA on the mound.
Now a senior, Andrey is a Rider University recruit who is set to lead King’s Christian into the most ambitious season in program history, highlighted by several games against established South Jersey powers.
The first big test will be Saturday at the Ralph Shaw Tournament at Audubon High School, where Andrey will take the mound vs. Bishop Eustace Prep, the No. 2 team in the Inquirer preseason Top 25 rankings.
“To get that recognition, we know we have to play better schools,” King’s Christian coach John Scanzano said.
Scanzano, who has been the King’s Christian coach since 2012 -- the year after the school dropped the sport for a season for lack of interest -- also serves as the school’s assistant athletic director.
He’s built the program into a small-private school power, having won the National Association of Christian Athletes national title last season as well as two straight Penn Jersey Conference titles.
But it’s significant step for King’s Christian, a Cherry Hill-based school that has just 109 students in grades 9-12, to play a schedule that includes traditional powers such as Bishop Eustace and preseason No. 1 St. Augustine Prep and No. 3 Egg Harbor Township along with Glassboro, Haddon Township, Paul VI, Wiliamstown, and West Deptford.
“I probably should have said no to a couple of them,” Scanzano said of the upgrades to the team’s schedule.
King's Christian returns six starters from a team that went 21-8 and added key transfers such as former Cherry Hill West pitcher Dylan Hanni, former Clearview infielder Hunter Kelly and former St. Augustine outfielder Chase Cooper.
King’s Christian’s Cole Magill, a senior infielder, battled .350 last season and plans to continue his career at Eastern University. Senior utility man/pitcher Jim Crew, who batted .371, plans to play next year at Widener University.
The coach’s greatest source of confidence is the presence of Andrey, especially when the hard-throwing right-hander is on the mound. Andrey is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in six innings this season, with 14 strikeouts and two walks.
At the plate, Andrey was batting .818 (9-for-11) through the team’s first three games.
“He’s just a gamer,” Scanzano said of Andrey. “Any time there’s a big game, he shows up. He just has that tenacity. When it’s on the line, he’s going to show up.
“He’s got that ‘it.’”
Andrey knows that some South Jersey baseball people still aren’t sure what to make of King’s Christian. He said the team can change a lot of minds this season.
“A lot of people think just an independent school, not good, not part of NJSIAA,” Andrey said. “But we have a lot of good players on this team.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win every game, but we’ll play every inning. We’re going to try to put our name out there.”
At Hank Greenberg Field at Audubon High School.
King’s Christian vs. Bishop Eustace, 11 a.m.
Audubon vs. Riverside, 2 p.m.
Consolation game, noon