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Mount Olive Baseball and Softball Coaches Reach Career Win Milestones

Jul 18, 2022 02:23PM ● By Steve Sears

Coach Billy Romano celebrates win # 150 with his Mount Olive Marauders (courtesy of Mount Olive High School Athletics)

Both Mount Olive High School head softball coach, Billy Romano, and head baseball skipper, Pete Zoccolillo, insist it’s not about numbers, but about the kids, their players.

“I didn’t know that I did it until someone told me,” Romano says of his 150th career win, a 5 – 2 triumph over Jefferson High School on May 13. “You’re so focused on trying to win the game and getting the girls in the right state of mind to win the game, you don’t even think about it.” He then adds with a chuckle, “The girls said to me, ‘How come you didn’t say anything?’ And I said, “I didn’t know.”

Zoccolillo, who previously coached at Morris Catholic from 2013 to 2016 and took over the Marauder baseball program last year, was reminded around Easter time by his dad that he was closing in on the milestone. “He said to me, ‘Hey, you’re getting close to 100,’ and I didn’t know,” Zoccolillo recalls. “Honestly, I wasn’t even concerned about it. For me, it's just more about the team and for the kids, and just getting them to reach the goals that they wanted to reach this season. I didn’t even know what game it was going to be, but at some point this season, Gatorade was dumped on my head, and it clicked.”

Coach Pete Zoccolillo and his team display his 100th victory milestone banner (credit: Kelly Abrusci)

 Ironically enough, Zoccolillo’s 100th win also came against Jefferson, 5 – 3, on May 21.

Originally born in the Bronx and raised in Westchester County, Zoccolillo has also lived in Roxbury and currently resides in Mount Olive. After four seasons as a Rutgers Scarlet Knight - three of which he was First Team All-Big East - he was drafted in 1999 by Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, and then was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. “I spent a little over seven years in the minor leagues total, and I got a call up in 2003. It was towards the end of the year, there was an injury on the major league level, and I got called up to replace a left-handed hitter - I think it was John Vander Wal who had gotten hurt. It was the greatest experience of my life. It was everything that every kid ever dreamed of; just walking in the clubhouse and walking on the field for the first time was very surreal. It made all of those 10-to-16-hour bus trips in the minor leagues worth it, for even the briefest stint that I was there.”

Romano, who recently concluded his 13th season at Mount Olive, and also has coached baseball at Roxbury, New Brunswick, and Hopatcong, fondly recalls his 2018 and 2019 Mount Olive softball teams. The former was the first to win a North I Group IV title, and in 2019, his Marauders finished in second place in the overall Group IV finals, and both seasons made it to the Morris County Tournament title game. “They used to call me ‘Coach Dad,” Romano says. “It’s important because of the relationship you build with them. That's what I really enjoy the most about this whole coaching thing.”

2022 was a tough season for Romano and his team, but they did have some big wins. The Marauders defeated Ocean County champ, Toms River South, and beat the Bergen and Morris County semifinalists, Indian Hills and West Morris, respectively, and also Jefferson had a record of 14 -2 when Romano got victory #150. Romano, who is also an assistant wrestling coach at the high school, wants his club to return to its winning ways, but again, there’s something much more important. “It’s a humbling experience,” he says. “Trust me; it’s not about the numbers, it’s not about the wins, it’s about the girls and the relationships, and what we do here. I’m just a name with a title, that’s it.”

Zoccolillo often gets approached by his players about his professional playing days. “They always ask about stories, whether it's minor league professional baseball or Major League Baseball,” he says. “It's just what every kid ever dreams of, and for them to ask me questions because I was there, I think it's just kind of cool to tell them the stories and just tell them what it's like. I also tell them that if I made it, it's possible for any of them, too.”