His team a year older and a year wiser, Riverhead High School baseball coach Rob Maccone hopes the experience his returnees accrued will boost the Blue Waves into the playoffs.
Riverhead (8-12) missed the postseason by three games last year.
“The experience they got last year, that’s a big plus,” Maccone said. “We’re a year older, a year stronger. We’ll be so much stronger. We should be a playoff team.”
Part of the optimism comes from Riverhead’s pride and joy: senior left-handed pitcher and outfielder Matt Crohan. Crohan, who is already committed to attend Winthrop University (S.C.) this fall, led the Blue Waves with a .500 batting average and in runs batted in last year, but Winthrop was more impressed with his arm. He throws in the 88- to 92-miles-per-hour range.
“We’ll have a bunch of Major League Baseball scouts,” Maccone said. “He’s the real deal.
“He’s such a great kid, got a great temperament. You just can’t beat that kind of kid. I’ve got one more year so I’m going to enjoy every moment of that.”
Crohan’s supporting cast also gives Maccone cause to smile.
Junior shortstop Jesse Patriss, coming off an all-league season while batting .350 and fielding his position well, gives the Blue Waves some strength up the middle. “He’s going to set the table for our three-four-five guys,” Maccone said.
Also helping are junior outfielder Brian Brenton, sophomore third baseman John Wendt, junior second baseman/catcher Cody Smith, right-handed pitcher Joe Napoli, who can play third base and the outfield as well, and senior catcher Kyle Trypuc.
Maccone said Trypuc has a good arm and blocks the ball well.
“As long as you can receive or block pitches at the high school level, I don’t care if you can’t run or hit,” said Maccone.
Also expected to help are two juniors promoted from last year’s junior varsity team, right-handed pitcher and first baseman Josh Brewster and left-hander and first baseman Ryan Gaffney.
Maccone is encouraged that he has more pitching depth, especially in the bullpen. Last year, he was forced to bring in field players cold from the field or after throwing on the sidelines between innings. Now, he’s got relief pitchers who will be properly warmed up.
“If a pitcher is struggling, instead of pushing him through the inning, we have someone on the bench,” he said. “It’s huge.”
Due to some realignment, League III champion East Islip was dropped to League IV. Maccone and the Blue Waves will have an opportunity to test their mettle soon enough as they open a three-game series and the season at East Islip on Monday.
With so many starters graduated from last year’s 6-13 team, Bishop McGann-Mercy coach Ed Meier realizes this season will present plenty of unique hurdles.
“We’re younger this year,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to be good or successful.”
The other challenge is that McGann-Mercy has dropped down to Class C and will be only one of two in its class in League VIII along with Port Jefferson.
“That’s a little different for us, playing teams that are not in our class,” Meier said.
Much will be expected of senior first baseman Cristian Lynch, who is expected to be in the middle of the order, driving in runs and holding the line as a left-handed starting pitcher.
He will be joined by senior catcher Tony Mercuri, who should bat fifth, and sophomore shortstop Marco Pascale, who is expected to hit third after a good pre-season. Senior Ray Ellis and junior Pat Marelli are also expected to shore up the pitching staff.
Meier said he is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “The group that I had has moved on. I had them since they were freshmen.”
Now the new generation is ready to prove itself.
“We have a lot more energy,” Meier said. “Since it’s a new group, you look at it at a new angle and with more passion. You look forward to the younger guys improving, picking up the material and growing. This is a good coachable group. They’re hungry to learn. They know this is their shot. It makes it fun to go out there.”
Meier will find out soon enough as the Monarchs will start their season hosting Center Moriches on Monday.
They don’t rebuild at Shoreham Wading-River, they reload. The Wildcats’ storied baseball program has reached the playoffs a Suffolk County-record 27 times and looking at this year’s talent, No. 28 certainly would not be out of the question.
“We’ve had great kids,” coach Sal Mignano said. “They want to work hard to maintain the tradition. That’s extra motivation to them as well.”
Shoreham-Wading River (20-6) is coming off back-to-back county championship seasons, losing to Plainedge, 3-1, in 11 innings in last year’s Long Island Class A final.
“We had a pretty good run the last two years,” Mignano said. “We hope to be in the mix again this year.”
Mignano has good reasons to be optimistic. Of his top eight returning players, six are juniors.
The best of the bunch is junior first baseman/shortstop Nick Bottari, the first eighth-grader to play on a Mignano team in his 37 years as coach. Bottari, who has verbally committed to the University of Miami, has put his mark on many of the school’s baseball records. Bottari is batting .448 with an on-base percentage of .518. He also has clubbed 12 home runs and batted in an incredible 88 runs in only 225 at-bats.
“He is one off the premier players in the Northeast,” Mignano said.
But Shoreham-Wading River is far from a one-man show.
Junior third baseman Tyler Osik is the son of Keith Osik, a former Shoreham-Wading River player himself who enjoyed a 10-year career in Major League Baseball. Mignano has coached father and son.
“He’s got a lot of great attributes from his dad,” Mignano said. “When you grow up around baseball, a lot of that has rubbed off. If Tyler gets anything from his dad, it’s a plus.”
Mignano has the core of another very good team. There’s senior outfielder Drew Sterruzzi, who rapped the RBI single that boosted the Wildcats to the country title. There’s junior catcher Jack Massa, whom Mignano called “the glue to our pitching staff,” thanks to being “an outstanding defensive catcher [with a] strong throwing arm.”
Junior second baseman Kyle Pendergast, who has great speed, is a candidate for the lead-off spot. Other players that Mignano is counting on are junior outfielder/right-handed pitcher Chris Moran, junior Keven Timentel, a hard-throwing right-hander, and senior first baseman/outfielder Sean Logan.
The Wildcats, who will play in League VII, will play their season opener at Mount Sinai on Monday.