It appeared to be a rebuilding season for the Shawnee baseball team, but coach Brian Anderson didn't see it that way. Even though only two starters returned from a 19-3 team that won the 2008 Olympic Conference Patriot Division, Anderson didn't see an inexperienced team. He looked at it as a hungry one.
And while there were some difficult losses, Shawnee toughened up on an ambitious schedule and was playing its best when it counted the most.
Seeded seventh in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament, the Renegades won the title, outscoring three teams, 22-2.
The Renegades advanced to the state final, finally falling to a talented JFK-Iselin team by 5-2.
This Shawnee team that others felt was slated for a difficult rebuilding season ended up going 18-7 and was finished ranked No. 4 in South Jersey by The Inquirer.
Is it any wonder then that Anderson is The Inquirer's South Jersey baseball coach of the year?
Anderson turned the team's relative inexperience into an advantage. He knew that veteran centerfielder John Montemurro and ace righthander and third baseman Anthony Montefusco would give the team leadership and production. And he didn't want the rest of the players to use their relative inexperience as a crutch.
"We had seniors, many who had waited their turn, and this was their chance to make the most of the opportunity," Anderson said.
He realized that he had to coach a little differently than he did the previous season, and he had to make sure that his players were both prepared and confident.
"I knew a lot of guys were under the radar, but they worked hard, and you could see the improvement," Anderson said.
Anderson, who guided Shawnee to the 2003 state Group 4 title, has an even but firm temperament. He is able to push his players but also take his foot off the accelerator when needed.
"He made it fun to play for him," said Sean Doolittle, the star of the 2003 team who is now a rightfielder for the Oakland A's triple-A Sacramento River Cats. "He was pretty laid back but definitely knew when to get serious and when to let us have our fun."
Anderson knows the most fun comes in winning.
"He let us play for the most part, but he made sure he reeled us in when we needed it, and he found the right balance," Doolittle said.
Anderson wasn't afraid to make a change in mid-game or mid-season if it would help the team. He originally penciled in sophomore righthander Mike Cogliano as the Renegades' top junior varsity pitcher.
Around midseason, Anderson saw that the pitching staff needed a boost. He used Cogliano more and more, and the sophomore went 4-0 and won a key South Jersey Group 3 semifinal against Highland with a shutout.
"He is a great coach and a great leader," said Montemurro, who batted .407 with a team-high 34 RBIs.
Leaders lead in a variety of ways. Anderson isn't the overly vocal type who has to prove that he's the boss. He treats everybody with respect but also expects maximum effort.
As a consequence, he received plenty of both, and it translated into a championship season.