If things go the way the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs want them to, they could be taking a team swim later this high school baseball season.
The way it works is like this: If the Monarchs win a county championship, they jump into the pond that lies beyond the left-field fence at their home field. Funny as it may sound, it’s a team tradition and it means a lot to the players.
“It sounds silly to me or you, but these guys talk about it all the time,” McGann-Mercy Coach Ed Meier said. “It’s something they really want to do.”
The Monarchs took a dip in the pond last year after they swept the Port Jefferson Royals in two games in the Suffolk County Class C finals. They went on to a Southeast Region semifinal before falling to the Friends Academy Quakers, ending their season with a 14-7 record.
Meier, who will take a 79-58 (.577) career record into his eighth season in charge of the Monarchs, said his team didn’t have high expectations last year and cannot afford to take things for granted this year.
“We have to stay motivated,” he said. “We have to stay hungry. We have to have the same focus that we brought last year.”
Certainly, the quality is there, starting with Pat Stepnoski, an all-county pitcher/center fielder. The junior is in his fourth year as a varsity player.
Meanwhile, the infield looks tight with two all-league selections in senior third baseman/first baseman Rocco Pascale and junior shortstop Keith Schroeher. Meier said Schroeher and junior second baseman/pitcher Joe Crosser constitute the best middle infield tandem he has ever had.
Tom Kretz, a senior outfielder, is the team’s fifth returning starter.
Two senior corner outfielders, Will Affourtit and D. J. Wilmott, have varsity experience as do junior middle infielder Conner Galvin and sophomore pitcher/first baseman Christian Lynch, who were both called up to the varsity team for the playoffs last year.
Tony Mercuri, a sophomore, looks like the starting catcher. Pitcher/first baseman J. T. De Scalo, outfielder Brian Merle, center fielder Carl Dickinson, infielder Willie Jacobs and left fielder Owen Gilpen are also looking to make their imprint.
Stepnoski and Crosser are the top two starting pitchers, with the third spot being competed for by De Scalo and Lynch.
“I really do feel great energy on the team to do well,” said Pascale.
Meier said the Monarchs have speed, too. “Speed gives you a lot more options, and options are always good,” he said.
“My biggest concern is always the same, and that’s throwing strikes,” Meier said. “If we throw strikes, we’ll be in the conversation with anyone. If we can’t throw strikes, we’re going to have to find other solutions.”
Perhaps the Monarchs will end up in the pond again.
“It’s something they buy into,” Meier said. “It’s a disgusting thing to do, but it’s an exciting thought, at least. If we’re in the pond, it’s a good season — or we’re fishing for baseballs.”
It’s true that the Riverhead Blue Waves (9-11 last year) lost 11 seniors from last year’s team. But it’s also true that Coach Rob Maccone believes this year’s team has more pitching and more depth than last year’s squad had. What remains to be seen, though, is how that pitching will stand up.
“Pitching-wise we have 10 arms, 10 pretty quality arms,” said Maccone, who is in his second year as the team’s coach. “The only question we have is innings. Last year you could put a kid on the mound and he would give you six innings. This year, I’m not saying that they can’t do it, they just haven’t proven that they could do it yet. It’s a little bit of uncharted territory for us with the pitchers. They don’t have any innings under their belts on varsity. If they throw the way they’re capable, they’ll be fine.”
Three seniors will make up the starting rotation: Jamie Fox, Glenn Patriss and Rob Pisano.
Jon Tucci, a senior second baseman, was an all-league choice last year. He had a .333 batting average, .a 448 on-base percentage, eight runs batted in and a .983 fielding percentage.
Two other seniors, first baseman/relief pitcher Jordan Demchuk (.303 batting average, .410 on-base percentage) and catcher James Porco, were starters last year. In addition to Fox, Patriss and Pisano, senior pitcher/shortstop Gabe Rice got some playing time as well.
They are joined by a bunch of newcomers, including two sets of twins, catcher Joey Prete and second baseman Nick Prete and third baseman/pitcher Tyler Carroll and outfielder/pitcher Connor Carroll. All four of them are juniors.
The other new additions are: outfielder Mike Ruisi, outfielder/pitcher Matt Crohan, outfielder/pitcher Tim Clement, first baseman Jake Maccagli and shortstop/pitcher Mike Hinchy.
“We have some kids who aren’t field tested yet, but they will get that right away,” said Maccone.
Maccone said there are mostly open competitions at every position and most of the players can play more than one position.
“That’s not a bad thing,” he said. “Having kids this year who can play multiple positions is a big help.”
Riverhead will face some stiff competition in League IV from the likes of Half Hollow Hills West, North Babylon, West Babylon and Bellport.
But Demchuk expressed faith in the group of players who were waiting for the opportunity that is now before them. “We always had talent, we just had older kids filling the spots,” he said. “Now that they’re going to have a chance to play, I think they can prove themselves.”
Maccone scheduled about 15 scrimmages to evaluate players.
“The key to the season is taking care of business against teams that we’re supposed to beat, and winning series against teams that people don’t think we’re going to” beat, he said. “If we do that we’ll be fine.”
The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats return one of their deepest senior classes off a team that posted a 19-5 overall record last year.
The defending League VI champion, Shoreham will begin its title defense with a three-game series against East Hampton starting April 4.
In the double-elimination playoffs last year the Wildcats went 2-2, losing in the second round to Mount Sinai and then, 5-3, to Hauppauge in the loser’s bracket. This year they will look to take the next step as they pursue their first county championship since 2002.
Anchoring the pitching staff for Shoreham will be right-hander Dan Sperruzzi, who signed with the University of Hartford. He’s coming off an outstanding junior season in which he posted a 7-1 record with a 1.44 earned run average. He struck out a team-high 53 batters and earned all-county and all-state honors. Sperruzzi can also play in the outfield.
Senior Ryan McAlary is another returnee who brings a lot to the field. He won six games as a pitcher last year, striking out 42 in 44 innings. He is also a strong defensive player at third base and at the plate he led the team in home runs, slugging percentage and batting average last season. He plans to play at SUNY/Cortland next year.
Senior Matt Kneisel returns behind the plate after earning the team most valuable player award last season. He signed with LeMoyne College. In center field Chris Frick returns for his third year as a starter, where he has won the team’s gold glove award each year. Senior Kevin Davis returns at shortstop.
Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.