Saturday, March 29, 2014

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren preview capsules

Belvidere County Seaters

Coach: Aaron Feldman (53-70, sixth season).

2013 record: 10-14, 6-8 Skyland Conference Valley Division (tied for fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Jake Carlson (.278 avg., 21 RBIs) C; Sr. Logan Welles (.408, 24 RBIs) 1B-P; Jr. Henry Myerchin (.329 avg, 20 RBIs; 5-4, 3.81 ERA) SS-P; Jr. Bobby Merle (.390 OBP) OF.

Key losses: Sr. Tyler Grogan INF-P; Sr. Caleb Seibert 3B-P; Avery Sepulveda INF; Johnny Giacchi OF-P; Anthony Madeo 2B; Tyler Tutka OF-P; Alex Hoffmaster OF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Jacob Seibert OF-P; Sr. Niles Sena INF-OF; Sr. Josh Unangst INF-P; Jr. Owen Kaiser INF-P; Jr. Kevin Merle (transfer from Stroudsburg, Pa.) P-INF-OF; Jr. Stephen Merle (transfer from Stroudsburg, Pa.) OF-C-P; So. Thomas Madeo INF-OF; So. David Woodworth P-1B.

Coach's comment: "After winning 17 games four years ago and graduating 13 seniors that year, we have steadily improved with this group of seniors. From five wins three years ago, to eight wins two years ago, to 10 wins last year. Our goal this season is to be well-above .500. We have nine different players that could pitch for us."

Outlook: County Seaters have four solid players to build around in Carlson, Welles (Moravian College recruit), Myerchin and Bobby Merle. Myerchin will be the staff ace, while Welles will be the catalyst in the batting order. Feldman is looking for players to set the table for those strong middle-of-the-order bats, which accounted for 65 RBIs a year ago. This program has shown steady improvement the past couple of seasons and has a favorable schedule to get above that .500 mark this spring.

Delaware Valley Terriers

Coach: Marty White (97-113, 11th season).

2013 record: 9-13, 4-6 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (tied for third).

Key returnees: Sr. Joe Chiarino 3B-P; Sr. Chris Fiaschetti (0.96 ERA) SS-P; Sr. Adam Novotny 1B-OF-P; Jr. Logan Brown P; Sr. Nick Perna 2B-P; Jr. Frank McHugh OF.

Key losses: Scott Skripko 1B-P; Chris Pilone C; Reed Williams 2B-SS-P; Ryan Hann P; Chris Innocenti OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Mike Pilone C; Jr. Billy Osmun C-3B; Jr. Travis Scharffenberger 1B-OF; Jr. Devin Merritt SS; Jr. Drew Mera 2B; Jr. Kurt Heeren OF; So. Jake Brogan P-OF-3B; So. Chris Schaible P-OF-1B; So. Chris Miller OF.

Coach's comment: "With the loss of five starters [three All-Conference players], we will have to grow up quickly. Replacing that much experience and talent won't be easy. I expect to hit a few bumps in the road, but I believe we have the right players to get there."

Outlook: Terriers did indeed lose five quality starters from last season, but the six returnees are plenty talented, starting with Brown and Fiaschetti, the Nos. 1 and 2, atop the rotation. Chiarino was a solid contributor last season as the cleanup hitter and will be counted on to help lead a young lineup. Offense is a question and if the bats can produce, this team has a strong chance to finish atop the division with a good mix of arms. Finding a way to win close games also is a priority, with 11 of 13 losses last year decided by four runs or fewer.

Hackettstown Tigers

Coach: Gary Poyer (153-117, 13th season).

2013 record: 10-14, 5-9 NJAC Freedom Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Justin Nicholls (.310 avg.) OF-P; Sr. Kenny Stelmack (.290) C; Jr. Matt Engels (.280) OF-P; Jr. Jonathan Pezzato (.305) C; Sr. Vin Putignano (.385) 2B; Sr. Jeff Carajat (.410) 1B-P.

Key losses: Nick Garno 3B; Ronald Gieger SS-3B; Matt Bailey C; Matt Lerman 3B-P; Joe Alitz OF.

Promising newcomers: So. John Franco 3B-P; So. Anthony Carida INF-P; Jr. Nick Pixley 1B-P; Jr. Thomas Bordi 3B; Jr. Tyler Profilias SS-P; Jr. Taylor Karnis 3B-P; Jr. Joe Lake OF-P; Jr. Eric Kendra OF; Sr. Chris Donohue OF; Sr. Paul Heyrich OF; Sr. Mike Remick C-1B.

Coach's comment: "Pitching will be our biggest question mark. We have strong defense and good speed, and strong leadership."

Outlook: Tigers showed major improvement last year coming off a four-win season in 2012 -- going 1-1 in the North 2, Group 2 playoffs. Nicholls, Stelmack and Engels form a good nucleus in what figures to be a strong offensive lineup. As Poyer says, pitching is a definite question mark, so it's hard to figure this team to make a jump up in the standings. Probably a middle-of-the-pack finish for this group.

Hunterdon Central Red Devils

Coach: Mike Raymond (268-98, 14th season).

2013 record: 21-9, 8-6 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (tied for fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Mike Pfenninger 3B; Sr. Matt Stalter (.265 avg., 11 RBIs) SS; Jr. Brett McManus (.395, 3 HRs, 22 RBIs) 2B; So. Matt Toke (.343 avg., 2 HRs, 21 RBIs) 1B-P; Jr. Henry Hawkins OF; Jr. Mike Novello (6-2, 2.61 ERA, 36 K's) P; Sr. Ryan Horzepa P.

Key losses: Geggie Russomagno OF; Jeremy Ake 2B; Bill Maier P; John Icaza OF; Brett Mele C.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Zak Vacca C; Sr. Zach Gusitites OF; Sr. Sean Hanigan DH; Sr. Christian Carey OF; Jr. Dan Scassera 1B; Jr. Anthony Cillo 2B; Jr. Ryan Pasko SS; Jr. Mike Perone 3B-P; Jr. John Korn OF; Jr. Brent Lincoln C; Jr. Cale Pfauth C; Jr. Pat Clare P; Jr. Sam DiGiovanni P; Sr. Matt Schuster P.

Coach's comment: "I believe this year's team has the talent and potential to be successful again this season. Our guys are working very hard at improving and are excited to start the season, and add to our tradition of championship baseball. I believe we have the potential to contend and ultimately have a legitimate shot at another Central Jersey [sectional] title."

Outlook: Red Devils, who won 12 in a row before a loss to Eastern in the Group 4 semifinals, are primed for another banner season with plenty of offensive firepower back, including McManus, Stalter (NJIT recruit, moving from third to short) and Pfenninger (Manhattan recruit, moving from first to third). Novello and Horzepa are solid returning arms and will be counted on in an otherwise inexperienced rotation. Raymond expects this group to be solid defensively. If the pitching can complement the offense, this group should challenge for another Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex title -- third overall in five years -- and have a strong chance to proceed deep into the playoffs.

North Hunterdon Lions

Coach: Mike Kane (29-28, third season).

2013 record: 17-12, 8-5 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (third).

Key returnees: Jr. Andrew Meiners C; Sr. Marc Monks OF; Sr. Zach Kaminsky OF; Jr. Tom Schumacher 3B; Sr. Quentin Klein P-3B-DH; Sr. Kurt Thompson P; Sr. Griffin Hatton P; Jr. Shayne Fontana P-OF.

Key losses: C.J. Rasile OF; Shane Brown OF-P; Mike Ragozine 1B; Robbie Young 2B; Andrew Gianos OF; Tyler Smith P; Justin Trinity P.

Promising newcomers: So. John Wilson P-1B; Sr. Jon Scott 1B-DH; Sr. Shane Cassidy 2B; Sr. Austin Arndt SS-P; Sr. Mike Zandanel OF.

Coach's comment: "We graduated nine seniors, including two starting pitchers, and we are happy to say that our current seniors and underclassmen look to fill the voids. We are looking forward to another successful baseball season."

Outlook: Lions lost a wealth of talent from last year's 17-win team, but the cupboard is well-stocked as usual. Meiners is a solid catcher, one of the best in the state according to Kane, while the coach also expects a big year from Schumacher, now the starting third baseman. Monks, the team's best hitter a year ago, shifts from second base to center field. Seems like a lot of teams are in the same boat, but if the pitching can hold up, this could be a very strong team and should be a contender atop the division.

North Warren Patriots

Coach: Jim Haupt (217-143, 16th season).

2013 record: 14-10, 9-5 NJAC Freedom Division (third).

Key returnees: Sr. Cam Esposito (.414 avg., 15 RBIs, 14 SBs) OF-P; Sr. David Wilbur (.323, 15 RBIs) C; Sr. Alex Hladik (.337, 19 RBIs, 5-4, 2.02 ERA) SS-P; Sr. Brian Turner (.338, 15 RBIs) 2B-P; Sr. Nick Meyer (.297, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs) 1B; Jr. Lance Kernoschak (3-2, 3.92 ERA) INF-P; Jr. Matt Nicholoff INF-P; Jr. John Vuz OF; So. Sean Thornton P; Jr. Vince Lubertazzo P.

Key losses: Hunter Stevens (.400, 25 SBs) OF-P; Mike Clothier (.362, 14 RBIs) OF.

Promising newcomers: Fr. Jared Vuz SS; Jr. Dale Durling OF; Sr. Nick Nicholoff OF.

Coach's comment: "We have a great group of seniors and players who have really worked hard to get better over the offseason. My goal for this team is to play hard and give ourselves a chance to win every game. Our strengths should include pitching and offensive experience, and talent."

Outlook: Patriots lost two talented starters (Stevens and Clothier) from last season, but there is a wealth of experienced players returning, including Hladik, who is the team's staff ace and starting shortstop. Esposito, Wilbur and Turner are among the top players in the division. With 13 of its top 15 players returning, including six of seven pitchers, this group should be a serious challenger to defending champion Newton for Freedom Division honors, or at least a solid No. 2 in the standings. A loss in last year's North 1, Group 1 semifinals will also serve as motivation.

Phillipsburg Stateliners

Coach: Dave Hinkle (47-58, fifth season).

2013 record: 7-18, 1-13 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (eighth).

Key returnees: Sr. Chris Trent (.538 OBP) OF; Sr. Matt McAnally 3B; Sr. Tyler Plesnarski DH-P; Sr. Andy Ferrara C; Sr. David Wodzisz (.386 avg.) SS; Jr. Jake Knoble OF.

Key losses: Alex Martin OF; Tyler Widitz 3B-P; Bryan Gardner 1B; Tyler Woscek P; Zach Yale P; Max Ellerth P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Jake Clifford OF; Jr. Mark McGuire 1B; Jr. Tim Hinkle C; Sr. Lou Fasano 2B; Jr. Pete Schmidt INF; So. Matt Yanes 3B-P; Jr. Billy McAuliffe P; Sr. Brandon Shay P; Jr. Ashish George P; Sr. Matt Stiehler C.

Coach's comment"We have tons of experience back in our lineup. I think we'll be able to score runs, which hopefully will take some pressure off of our young and inexperienced pitching staff, and help them come of age. We expect to be vastly improved from last season and to be very competitive in the division this year." 

Outlook: Stateliners experienced the trials and tribulations last year of playing in one of the state's toughest divisions -- getting outscored 111-52 in those 14 games. Obviously, pitching was a main reason for the lack of success in division contests ('Liners gave up double digits in runs nine times). Despite the loss of nearly the entire staff from 2013, Hinkle believes this year's group, which is inexperienced, has a higher upside. Offensively, Trent is one of the best leadoff hitters around, while McAnally is a solid performer. If the pitching, and it's a big if, can be decent, this team should be able to approach the .500 mark or better.

South Hunterdon Eagles

Coach: Cory Weingart (first season).

2013 record: 6-13, 5-9 Skyland Conference Valley Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Jared Bogdan OF; Sr. Toby Coleman 3B; Sr. Jimmy Eick OF; Jr. Jimmy Smiegocki 1B-P; Sr. Ryan Godown OF-P.

Key losses: Grant Jensen OF-P; Jake Phillips SS-P; Robert Albanir INF-P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Jayck Lopez 2B-P; Jr. Josh Phillips 2B-OF; Jr. Richard Roy III 3B-P; Jr. Dario Sabidussi SS-P; So. Jonathan Eick C; So. Andrew Lelie OF; So. Lukas Robinson INF-OF-P; So. Nick Scamuffa 1B-OF-P.

Coach's comment: "The goals for this season are to continue to improve and to compete in the tough division that we are in. We have a tough league schedule where there is no easy game. We are a young team that has a lot to prove. A lot of our players have limited experience on the varsity level."

Outlook: Weingart takes over for Toby Jefferis, whose teams went 32-89 over the previous seven seasons. The first-year coach has five returning starters to build around, including top hitters Bogdan, Coleman and Smiegocki. The Eagles lost their top two starting pitchers to graduation, but Godown and Smiegocki were right behind them in last year's rotation. If they can provide stability on the mound and the bats can produce, this team, which lost four games by four runs or fewer in 2013, could approach the .500 mark.

Voorhees Vikings

Coach: Cory Kent (first season).

2013 record: 6-16, 3-7 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (fifth).

Key returnees: Sr. Matt Furka P; Sr. Will Palmer (.282 avg.) 1B-P; Jr. Kyle Pierson P-OF; Jr. Johnny Wernicki 2B; So. Tyler Kroll SS; So. David Wernicki 3B-P; So. Jakob Twill C.

Key losses: Josh Hausler C; Dan Barone OF; Nick Marini OF; Mitch Palmer SS-1B; Andrew Haspel P-OF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Evan Vaccarella C; Sr. Jendry Seijas 1B; Sr. Grant Palmer 2B; Jr. James Cahill OF; Jr. Phil D'Armiento OF; Sr. Trevor Spatz OF; Fr. Ryan Cahill OF; Jr. Tobi Cozzolino OF.

Coach's comment: "We have a lot of unknowns as I enter my first year as a head coach in New Jersey. I know our kids have been working hard and have shown [they have] talent. We are young, but we have a lot of kids with experience and heart."

Outlook: Kent, a former standout player at Wilson (Pa.) in the Lehigh Valley, takes over a program that won 82 games under former coach Spark Mattson the last 10 seasons. The Vikings struggled last spring, primarily in the pitching department. Pierson, Furka and Dave Wernicki are returning starters on the mound and will be counted on to guide the staff. Last year's squad didn't score a lot of runs either, particularly in the second half -- 26 in the last eight games, including a 10-spot vs. Bishop Ahr -- so it appears that Kent will have his work cut out for him this season.

Warren Hills Blue Streaks

Coach: Mike Quinto (122-134, 10th season).

2013 record: 11-14, 4-6 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (tied for third).

Key returnees: Sr. Alex Julian 3B; Jr. Christian Stagaard (.297 avg., 12 RBIs, 2-0) C-P; Jr. Craig Lawson SS; Sr. Nathaniel Capone (4-2, 2.66 ERA) P; Jr. Jake Larsen (4-1, 3.30 ERA) 1B-P; So. Anthony Veneziano OF-P; So. Tim Woolf 2B; So. Matt Cummings (.385) OF.

Key losses: Shea Kohler 2B-P; Ron Legreide C-DH; Dallas Johnson OF-3B-P; Cody Crowley OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Nick Gagliano Utility; So. Evan Murray P.

Coach's comment: "We are young, but many [players] have varsity experience."

Outlook: Blue Streaks got off to a slow start last season -- 1-6 -- but really turned things around in the second half, winning six of their last nine. There is a solid nucleus of returning players, including Capone and Larsen, who will be atop the rotation. Veneziano gained some valuable experience last season, while Quinto expects good things from newcomers Gagliano and Murray, who is slated to be the closer. Offensively, last year's group struggled and that seems to be a big question this spring. If this team can swing the bats it should be able to compete with any team in the division.

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