HILLSBOROUGH: Five Raiders sign to compete in college

   Matt Hornich has dreamed of playing major league baseball since he first rolled out a baseball at age 3. He took another step Thursday by committing to continue his baseball career while studying at the University of Delaware.
   He was one of five Hillsborough High School athletes to sign letters of intent to continue their sports careers at major universities.
   Other than Matt, others who inked pacts were:
   • Donna Conrad, who’ll play softball at the University of Albany;
   • Alyssa VanDerveer, who followed through on last year’s verbal commitment, to ink to play softball at Penn State University;
   • Erika Cavallo, who has scored more than 100 career goals, will play lacrosse for Towson University, and
   • Jack Panagos, who signed to play golf for Rutgers University.
   Matt said, “The University of Delaware gave me the best opportunity to continue my baseball career…The coaches were wonderful from the start, not only about me but my family. They made it seem like a family.”
   He has two friends, Ron Maranocchio and Jeremy Ake, who are freshmen and playing on the team now.
   Matt is 6-5, 220 pounds and primarily a left-handed pitcher, although he’s played first base, too, for the Raiders. He sees the Raiders having the potential to be very good this spring, and he hopes to be a leader on the team, he said.
   He thinks his skills are well rounded — the velocity to blow by hitters when needed, and multiple pitches to command for strikes on any count, he said. His stats may be deceiving. In his sophomore year, he pitched two three-hitters and one one-hitter, and lost them all.
   His dad Ed, sister Emma, mom Wendy and trainer Kyle Newell sported Blue Hen hats, hoodies or shirts. The signing took place amidst the clanking of weights and the background music of comfortable surroundings — Kyle Newell’s strength training gym, where Matt has spent hours honing his body.
   ”Kyle’s been a big influence on me in the last few years,” Matt said. “He’s given me the mindset that hard work will pay off, and to never give up. He’s been like a second father figure.”
   Norm Hewitt was all smiles for his star.
   ”He’s going to live his dream,” said the longtime coach, for whom Matt has been in the program since he was 8. The coach remembered Matt as an 8th grader winning a summer all-comers home run derby – hands down.
   Hewitt said he considers Matt the proverbial five-tool player. A key element in Matt’s success so far has been focusing on mechanics and avoiding being hurt, the coach said.
   ”He’s got one thing only God could give, and that’s size. He’s so strong,” Hewitt said.
   ”Matt has been through a lot — more than people know,” he said, “and I admire his tenacity. When you are a gifted athlete, people put demands on you, and that brings a lot of pressure. He’s relieved by all of this.”
   Matt admitted there were games last year that he pressed because he knew scouts were in the stands.
   One thing Matt will have to guard against, said Hewitt, is getting too intense at times.
   It’s one thing to come out and play, said Hewitt. It’s another to come out and compete. I always tell my kids ‘participants show up. Competitors win.’ He gives everything he’s got.
       ”This year his leadership alone will win us three or four games,” Hewitt said. “He’s made the community and the high school proud, and youngsters look up to him.”
   Larry Smith, a former recreation travel team basketball coach of Matt’s, came with stories and even photos on his cell phone of Matt on a championship team that also included Smith’s son, James. With Matt at center, those teams put up a cumulative win-loss record of 121-17, he said.
   Matt sees himself as a business/sports management major at Delaware.