Sunday, March 31, 2013

Baseball: Sussex County preview capsules

High Point Wildcats

Coach: Mickey Thomas (239-117, 16th season, third stint).

2012 record: 10-11, 6-8 NJAC American Division (tied fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Mike Ragnetti P-OF; Jr. Kyle Adams INF-P; Jr. Jon Stone P-INF; Preston Rowan INF-P; Brandon Carr INF; Matt Valente C.

Key losses: Brett Fundell P-INF; Ryan Conklin P-INF; Ryan Shulok OF; Luke Loughery Utility.

Promising newcomers: Tyler Bahr INF; Ken Christensen OF-P; Bayley Hickey INF; Matt Magura OF-P; Brandon Potucek OF; Trevor Risdon INF-P; Tyler Saczawa INF-P; Tyler Shulok INF-P.

Coach's comment: "We're looking pretty competitive in gymnasium baseball."

Outlook: Wildcats are looking to rebound from a sub-.500 season, but the losses of Fundell, Conklin and Shulok will be tough to overcome, as well as a potentially season-ending injury to Rowan. Ragnetti and Adams should be good atop the rotation, but the rest of the arms are young and inexperienced. A lot of the offense from a year ago is gone, so the 'Cats will have to swing the bats in order to approach last year's win total.

Hopatcong Chiefs

Coach: Chris Buglovsky (66-75, seventh season).

2012 record: 14-8, 8-2 NJAC Freedom Division (first).

Key returnees: Sr. Ryan Frace (.288, 20 runs) 3B-P; Sr. Adam McLagan (.404, 13 SBs) OF; Sr. Rick Prestifilippo C; Jr. Pat McNamara 3B; Jr. Pat Stanton P.

Key losses: Scootie Fischer SS-P; Ray Annett 1B; Hunter Guard 3B-P; Frank Fendrock C; Matt Cautero P; Dillon DelRosso P; Ben Colabella 2B; Dave Testa OF; John Loscalzo P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Kevin Mulharin OF; So. Shea Bongiovanni SS; Fr. C.J. Robertson 2B; Fr. P.J. Rodick OF; Fr. Christian Ammiano 1B; Fr. Brandon Vanderhoof 1B; Fr. Brennan Dickens P; Fr. Vince Giordano OF.

Coach's comment: "Frace, McLagan, and Prestifilippo are guiding up to six freshman on the varsity squad, so the future looks set for the years to come."

OutlookAfter winning their first division championship in 14 years, the Chiefs graduated another talented group so this figures to be a bit of a rebuilding year. Frace will likely be the staff ace. This year's version is young and will need some time to jell, but the program is well coached and this could be a team to watch by season's end.

Kittatinny Cougars

Coach: Brian Bosworth (11-10-1, second season).

2012 record: 11-10-1, 6-3 NJAC Freedom Division (third).

Key returnees: Jr. David Moyer (3-4, 2.16 ERA) SS-P; Sr. Kyle Potten (.350, 2-3, 3.00 ERA) SS-P; Jr. Joe Repasy (2-2, 2.69 ERA) INF-P; Sr. Matt Moszczynski OF; Sr. Casey McArdle (2-0, 2.25 ERA) OF-P.

Key loss: Greg Orlando C; Dan Chernati 2B; Brendan Ullmann 1B; Dustin Sallitt 3B; Jordan Murch OF-P; Cory Zervas OF-P; Brian Frawley OF; David Coombs INF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Nick Pastor Poe INF; Sr. Dan Rosica 1B; Jr. Mike Dispoto INF-OF; Jr. Adam Goriscak OF; Jr. Dan Imperiale OF; Jr. John LaFiura C; Jr. Brian Reznik OF-P; Jr. Scott Sponder C; So. Cowan Sikora INF.

Coach's comment: "We graduated nine seniors from last year’s team, so our younger guys will have to elevate their games very quickly. There are some underclassmen who are excited for their opportunity to contribute at the varsity level. We do have the luxury of returning most of our pitchers. They pitched well last year and will be asked to shoulder a bigger load this season."

Outlook: Cougars finished over the .500 mark -- a step in the right direction -- and finished third in the division in Bosworth's first season in charge. Pitching is scarce in the area, so with four pretty good arms, this team should be competitive in most of its games this season. If the offense can contribute, the Cougars could be one of the teams to beat in the division race.

Lenape Valley Patriots

Coach: Bob Klinck (60-64, sixth season).

2012 record: 12-12, 4-6 NJAC Freedom Division (fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Drew Burke P; Sr. Ken Costa P; Sr. Bryan Falato OF; Sr. John Leyden P-1B; So. Jim Fluke SS-P; Sr. David Kain OF; Sr. Greg Walker C; Sr. Mike Deerfield P.

Key losses: Bob Pregno C; Carmen D'Aiuto OF; Zack Samiljan INF; Kyler Houser 1B; A.J. Nolan 3B-P; Will Portington OF-P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Anthony Basciano P-1B; Jr. David DelSontro C; Jr. Tyler Rogers INF-OF; Jr. Dan Rafferty INF; Jr. Nick Sabatini OF; So. Pat Togno P-OF; So. Rob Sparacino C; So. Nick Leonard OF; So. Cole Swanson P-1B.

Coach's comment: "We return some very good pitching that should determine our success this year.  We have great competition at all positions, which will hopefully make us stronger. We expect to be competitive every game and have a successful season." 

Outlook: Patriots reached the sectional semifinals a year ago and return their No. 1 pitcher in Burke, who was 6-1 with a 2.07 ERA as a junior. Costa is the No. 2, so the pitching staff is in good shape. The question is offense, as Pregno and D'Aiuto were major losses from the lineup. Expect this team to make a run at the division title and compete in the sectional playoffs.

Newton Braves

Coach: John Selitto (48-111, eighth season).

2012 record: 6-17, 2-8 NJAC Freedom Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Anthony Morro (.362, 20 RBIs) P-1B; Sr. Chris Branham (3.41 ERA, 41 K's) P-3B; Sr. Ryan Vasquez OF; So. Nick Grant (3.50 ERA, 28 K's) P-OF-1B; Sr. Joey Selitto 2B; Jr. Ben Cramer OF; Sr. Brady Castle OF-SS-P; Jr. Casey Thomas SS-OF-P; Jr. Joey Maker 3B-C; Jr. Charlie Grotyohann C.

Key losses: Sammy Hontz OF-1B-P; Jim Papis C.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Luke Leifken P-1B; Jr. Justin Smith OF; Jr. Steve Kelly P-3B-1B; Jr. Anthony Brown SS-2B; So. Jon Bernotas INF; Jr. Ryan Hattersley 2B-P; Sr. Quinn Kramer P-OF.

Coach's comment: "This is a team that should compete at the top of the conference. Pitching and defense will be the strength of the team with good senior leadership. [We] have experienced the growing pains over the last two years and they're eager to prove themselves as a legitimate contender for the conference title. We have the ability, attitude and desire to be very good."

Outlook: Braves, who went 9-34 overall the last two seasons, are coming off four straight losing campaigns, but optimism for a banner season remains high. The loss of Hontz, a four-year starter, hurts, but Selitto believes this should be a turn-around campaign for a tradition-rich program. Morro, Branham and Grant are a formidable group on the mound and also should help the Braves with their bats. This club is anxious to register a few overdue winning moments on its timeless home field at Memory Park.

Pope John Lions

Coach: Vin Bello (215-134-1, 14th season).

2012 record: 16-9, 12-2 NJAC American Division (second).

Key returnees: Jr. Dan Cunico P-3B; So. Jay Sanford SS; So. Ethan Collins P; So. Matt Piwko P; Sr. Ken Mott P; Sr. Anthony Gignatelli P; Sr. Rob Sanders 1B; So. Zack Leach C; Jr. Connor Kopnik INF; Jr. Mike Young OF; Jr. Axel D'Addario P-2B.

Key losses: Matt Tietz SS; Matt McNally OF; Glen Gavan 3B; Sam Redwood OF; Jack Meehan P; Colin McGivney P; Jay Newman INF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Steve Tummenello 2B; Sr. John Fierro OF; So. Austin Bailey OF; So. Cyrus Ahmadi; Sr. Graham Jensen OF; So. Jack Nelson 3B.

Coach's comment: "We are playing a very tough [non-conference] schedule."

Outlook: The loss of Tietz, a slick-fielding shortstop and the top player in Sussex County last year, is a big blow to the offense, which is a big question mark heading into this season. If this team hits, the Lions will be tough to beat once again, as they feature several of the area's best arms in Cunico, Collins and Piwko. The hard-throwing D'Addario was a big bonus in the bullpen last spring. Young, the leadoff man, Sanders, Leach and Sanford are the only starting position players returning for the Lions.

Sparta Spartans

Coach: Sam Slobodzian (251-162-2, 17th season).

2012 record: 12-12, 6-8 NJAC American Division (tied fourth).

Key returnees: Jr. Thomas Ruddy (.443, 23 SBs) OF; Sr. Peter Forman C; Sr. Sean Dilger (.363, 22 RBIs) 1B-P; Jr. Austin Unglaub 2B; Jr. Kevin Foulds (3-3, 3.15 ERA) 3B-P; Jr. T.J. Estanislau 3B; Jr. Matt Chemis OF; Sr. Grant Hagedorn OF; Sr. Codie Aromando OF-P; Sr. Jon-Karl Widuch OF.

Key losses: Devon Livingston C-P; Jason Postorino 3B-P; Sr. Derek Tappen 1B-P.

Promising newcomers: So. Dillon Mendel 3B-P; Jr. Michael Meisel C-DH; Jr. Nick Shlala OF-P; Jr. Matt Pampin P; So. Connor VanKampen P; Jr. Drew Garger P.

Coach's comment: "We are extremely excited about this season. We return seven out of our nine starting positions. This includes three-year starter Thomas Ruddy, an All-NJAC center fielder and last year’s team MVP, and Kean University-bound Sean Dilger. Six out of the seven returning starters hit better than .300 and we look to improve on those numbers this year. I really like this group this year."

Outlook: Based on what they have returning, the Spartans are clearly the team to beat in Sussex County. Slobodzian, who doesn't over rate his teams, is excited about the season and with good reason. Ruddy, Forman and Dilger are an extremely talented trio, while Foulds is the team's ace on the mound. If the rest of the staff provides consistent pitching, the Spartans could make a deep run in the postseason.

Sussex Tech Mustangs

Coach: Brad Szatkiewicz (first season).

2012 record: 10-8 Independent.

Key returnees: Sr. Jimmy Crumb 1B-P; Sr. Chris Manzi C-P; Sr. Chris McNulty 2B-P.

Key losses: Dempsey Walters P-1B; Mike Hough OF-SS-C.

Promising newcomers: So. Paul Caron SS-P; So. Austen Campbell 3B-P.

Coach's comment: "I'm excited and so are my players. We have a mix of good leaders, strong newcomers and important role players. Along with staying healthy, this could help lead to being a very competitive team."

Outlook: Szatkiewicz, a former standout player for High Point who played college ball at Ramapo, takes over the coaching reins from Howard Drake, who spent the last six seasons at the helm. The Mustangs lost their best player in Dempsey Walters, who was the team's best hitter and pitcher. After going 10-8 last year and 10-9 in 2011, it's not a stretch to see the 'Stangs reach double digits in wins if the pitchers perform.

Vernon Vikings

Coach: Scott Berge (28-57, fifth season).

2012 record: 5-16, 2-11 NJAC American Division (eighth).

Key returnees: Sr. John Lipari 1B; Sr. Kevin Berge C-P; Sr. Ryan Duvall 2B-P; Sr. Kevin Ufferfilge OF-P; Sr. Michael Franklin 2B-P; Jr. Anthony Germinaro P-INF; Jr. Mike Harboy INF-P; Sr. Tyler Kart 3B; Jr. Chris Pontus OF-INF.

Key losses: Steve Fitzsimmons OF; Brian Vinniski 3B-C; Evan Schilling OF-P; Joe LoPicolo OF; Alex Hoffmann 1B-P; Mike Annunziata DH-C.

Promising newcomers: So. Riley Keenan Utility; Sr. Max Schriner OF; Sr. Sam Vitellaro OF-P.

Coach's comment: "[We have a] good nucleus of the team back and we're looking on improving from last years record."

Outlook: Vikings went 5-17 in 2010 and approached the .500 mark in 2011 at 7-11, before finishing 5-16 last season. Lipari is one of the top players in the county and will look to carry the offense again this spring. Of course, like most teams in the area, pitching is a big question mark. If the arms can keep the club in games, a finish around the .500 mark is not out of the question.

Wallkill Valley Rangers

Coach: Kevin Lukich (47-57, fifth season).

2012 record: 14-11, 7-3 NJAC Freedom Division (second).

Key returneesSr. Joe Hocking 3B-P; Jr. Brandon Grabkowski OF-P; Sr. Brian Niedergall 2B; Sr. Casey Jervis (3-3, 1.71 ERA, 30 K) P-SS; Sr. Rob Stecher P-1B; Sr. Alex Reiman C.

Key losses: Brendan Drexler C; Tommy Sweller 2B-P; Owen Law OF-P; Brandon Moore OF-P; Mike Penque 3B-2B; Eric Blain 1B; A.J. Castelucci OF-P

Promising newcomers: Jr. Nick McWilliams C; Jr. Brett Hill 1B-P; So. Kyle Rosencranz SS; So. Michael Armstrong OF; Fr. Richard Stecher OF; Fr. Wes Walton OF-P; Sr. Jim Lodema OF; Sr. Josh Todd OF.

Coach's comment: "After losing seven starters from last year, we will rely heavily on our returning pitchers.  With seven underclassmen, the development of the pitchers and team defense will determine our success."

Outlook: The Rangers doubled their win total and reversed their division record a year ago from the previous season. The program went 7-17 in 2011 and is now four years removed from a run to the North 1, Group 1 semifinals in '09. Last year figured to be a bounce-back season in Hardyston and it was. Lukich says this year's version is talented but young. He's regarded as one of the top coaches in the tri-county area, so look for this team to make some noise in what should be a wide-open division race with the additions of Jefferson and North Warren in the NJAC Freedom.

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