He doesn’t look like an ace.
He stands around 5-foot-9.
He weighs around 150 pounds.
And there are those thick, black-framed glasses.
“I hear, ‘Goggles,’ all kinds of stuff,” Cherry Hill East senior right-hander Steve Lombardi said. “I love it, though. Even some guys on my team, they call me ‘Glasses.’
“It doesn’t go to my head. I like it.”
In a way, Lombardi is the perfect representative of the Cougars.
He might not look like a top-of-the-rotation guy for a Group 4 power. He just pitches like one.
And Cherry Hill East might not have been projected as champion of the Olympic Conference American Division and a serious threat to win the South Jersey Group 4 title. The Cougars have just played that way.
“They know each other,” Cherry Hill East coach Jason Speller said of his players. “They know how to pick each other up. There hasn’t been a moment this season that has been too big for them.”
Lombardi was front and center Monday when Cherry Hill East beat Lenape, 7-2, to capture its first playoff game in five years and clinch its first outright division title in 17 years.
It was quite a double-dip for the Cougars, and nobody seemed to enjoy it more than the starting and winning pitcher.
“He was locked in,” Cherry Hill East senior second baseman Sean McKenna said of Lombardi. “You could see it on the bench.”
Lombardi often was the first player out of the dugout to greet a teammate who scored. When McKenna crossed the plate in the fifth, Lombardi made him put his helmet back on so he could playfully whack him on top of the head.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Lombardi said. “There’s no better connection than this team.”
Lombardi, who along with senior third baseman Joey Wright plans to attend Immaculata University in Malvern, Pa., and play baseball for the NCAA Division III Macs, has been the Cougars’ go-to guy on the hill.
He’s 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA. He’s not overpowering — witness his 29 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings. But he works fast, throws strikes and mixes three pitches. Most of all, he takes a tenacious attitude to the mound.
“He’s a bulldog,” Speller said. “He doesn’t look like he’ll go out there and crush you, but his mentality allows him to thrive.”
Lombardi has been at his best as the games have gained in importance. In his last four outings, he’s 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA, with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 20 innings.
And he’s done it all behind those glasses that give him a bit of mild-mannered, Clark Kent look.
“I tried to get the prescription Oakleys, but they said my prescription was way too bad to get them,” Lombardi said.
He also tried contact lenses.
“I tried for three months, but I was never able to put them in,” Lombardi said. “So glasses have been my thing.”
Lombardi and the Cougars have fashioned a storybook season. They’ve clinched sole possession of first place in the Olympic American, perhaps South Jersey’s deepest division, for the first time since 2002.
They’ve won a playoff game for the first time since 2014. They’re set to host Howell in the South Jersey Group 4 quarterfinals on Thursday.
“Everything about this year has been special,” Lombardi said. “Practicing every day is a joy with these kids. I love these kids.
“Going away next year is going to be terrible, but I’m trying to live in the moment right now and be with my friends.”