It’s not everyday that a top prep school in New Jersey entrusts a 24 year old to run their varsity baseball program. Luckily for The Pennington School, their newly hired coach is proving he’s not your everyday 24 year old. Steve Kowalski is a former Mercer County baseball player, a lifetime .333 hitter at Drew University (he was recently named to the LandMark All Decade Team) and the man leading the Pennington Red Raiders to one of their most successful baseball seasons in recent memory.
In the past eight years Pennington has tried its hand with four different varsity baseball coaches. That lack of consistency from a leadership position has not boded well for the Pennington Program. Kowalski feels that the desire for stabilty is one of the many reasons Pennington took the gamble on hiring him at such a young age.
“The main reason Pennington was so intrigued in hiring me was because they knew I was young… They knew this would be my first start… and they view me as someone who will want to stay at Pennington for a while and build the program.”
A young coach has proven to be the refreshing change of pace the Pennington baseball program needed. Thus far in his first ever season coaching the Red Raiders, Kowalski’s team is 12-5. They have wins against rival Hopewell Valley, and Nottingham. To put those wins into perspective, both of those teams have qualified for this years Mercer County tournament semifinals. The Red Raiders most devastating loss came in a 12-inning battle against Allentown in the Mercer County tournament (a team that also made it to the MCT semifinals).
In addition, the Red Raiders are a number one seed in this years Prep B state tournament, and are set to play Newark Academy in the championship tomorrow. If the Red Raiders come out victorious, it would be their first state title since 1985.
So whats made the youngest current coach in Mercer County so successful in only his first season coaching? His pitching coach (and former Pennington graduate) Chris Wirth believes it’s the combination of talented players, and attention to detail.
“We harp on the small things, strategy, bunting, hit and runs, base running, and defense. Doing the little things right continuously makes us a tough team to beat.”
Wirth also believes coach Kowalski’s unique age has helped his coaching triumphs. Wirth observed, “The players feed off the young energy. Being 24 and the majority of the coaching staff being 24… we have high energy. We aren’t far removed from our playing years and that fire has carried over. We can relate to the guys.”
While Kowalski attributes both his attention to detail and ripe age as areas that have lead to his success, he gives credit to others regarding how he’s managed to attain such heights in his first season as the head coach.
“I never knew what Prep School was about when I got to Pennington…. Ever since I started coaching at Pennington both Jerry Eure (the long time, and legendary Athletic Director of Pennington) and Chad Bridges (The Dean of Students) have been more than helpful to make sure I have been accommodated with anything that I need…. Without their help I don’t know if I would be as successful as I’ve been.”
Although Kowalski recognizes the success he’s had in his first season, he has his sights set on even greater accomplishments. “Five years from now I hope Pennington gets the respect that Steinert and Nottingham get… I want to match up against some of the best talent in the area going forward…. I want to get recognized as one of the top programs in Mercer County.”
With the amount coach Kowalski has accomplished in just one season, becoming a top team in Mercer County within five years seems like a more than feasible goal for the revitalized Pennington baseball program.