Monday, March 31, 2014

Baseball: Sussex County preview capsules

High Point Wildcats

Coach: Mickey Thomas (244-131, 17th season, third stint).

2013 record: 5-14, 2-12 NJAC American Division (eighth).

Key returnees: Sr. Kyle Adams (.492 avg.) INF-P; Sr. Jon Stone (.333) P-INF; Sr. Brandon Carr INF; Brandon Potucek OF; Jr. Tyler Schulok P; So. Billy Kerwien INF-P; Jr. Matt Magura OF-P.

Key losses: Mike Ragnetti P-OF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Matt Musilli OF-P; Sr. Mark Smolen OF; Jr. Riley Keenan (transfer from Vernon) C; Jr. Tyler Saczawa INF-P; Jr. Trevor Risdon Utility-P; So. Kyle O'Connell Utility; So. Ben Costello INF-P; Jr. Brian Lange OF-P; Jr. Billy Hemmer INF; Jr. Reilly McGregor Utility; So. Ben Armstrong Utility-P.

Outlook: Wildcats have struggled in recent seasons, but they feature one of the area's top players in Adams, an All-NJAC First Team selection a year ago who batted around .500. Life in the American Division is not easy, so this group will have to pitch extremely well and play solid defense to have a chance to move up the standings and finish around the .500 mark.

Hopatcong Chiefs

Coach: Chris Buglovsky (68-98, eighth season).

2013 record: 2-23, 1-13 NJAC Freedom Division (eighth).

Key returnees: Sr. Pat Stanton OF-P; Sr. Kevin Mulharin OF; Jr. Shea Bongiovanni SS; So. C.J. Robertson 2B-C; So. P.J. Rodick C; So. Christian Ammiano 1B-P.

Key losses: Ryan Frace 3B-P; Adam McLagan (.407, 16 SBs) OF; Rick Prestifilippo C; A.J. Bongiovanni OF.

Promising newcomers: So. Brandon Vanderhoof 3B; So. Dalton Delrosso 2B-SS; Sr. Willie Russell 3B-OF; Jr. Jason Twaits 2B.

Coach's comment: "We will continue building toward the future with most of the roster being underclassmen. We will rely on up-and-coming sophomores Ammiano and Rodick."

Outlook: Chiefs are two years removed from capturing the program's first conference title since 1998 -- winning the Freedom Division in 2012. Last year was a struggle as Buglovsky's squad dropped its first 10 games before a stunning 9-3 win over unbeaten Newton, which went on to win the division title. Stanton is a good all-around player, but this team will be extremely young, with as many as seven sophomores in the starting lineup at a given time. Expect this group to get better as the season goes on.

Kittatinny Cougars

Coach: TJ Orlando (first season).

2013 record: 7-15, 4-10 NJAC Freedom Division (seventh).

Key returnees: Sr. David Moyer (.408 avg., 3 HRs, 17 RBIs, 44 IP, 42 K's) P-1B-3B; Sr. Joe Repasy (.400, 15 RBIs, 32 IP, 34 K's) P-SS-3B; Sr. Mike Dispoto (.402, 19 RBIs) OF-P; Jr. Cowan Sikora (.279) SS-P; Sr. Adam Goriscak OF-1B-P; Sr. John LaFiura C-OF; Sr. Brian Reznik (OF-1B-P); Sr. Scott Sponder C-1B-2B; Sr. Dan Imperiale OF-3B.

Key losses: Kyle Potten (.319, 12 RBIs, 2-3, 3.47 ERA, 41 K's) SS-P; Casey McArdle (.407, 21 runs) OF-P; Nick Pastor Poe (.347, 11 RBIs) INF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Anthony Ippolito OF; Sr. Robert Roff 2B-OF-C-P.

Coach's comment: "While we have a number of seniors on this year's team, quite a few have limited varsity experience. If our teams plays to its strengths, we look to be competitive in our last year in the Freedom Division and hope to qualify for the state tournament."

Outlook: Orlando takes over the head coaching duties from Brian Bosworth, whose teams went 18-15-1 over the previous two seasons. Cougars feature a nice 1-2 punch on the mound with Moyer and Repasy. As Orlando notes, this team lacks varsity experience and will need its senior leaders to step up and guide the way. Offense seems to be a big question. With a talented group of pitchers, this team will do well if the bats come alive this spring.

Lenape Valley Patriots

Coach: Bob Klinck (73-75, seventh season).

2013 record: 13-11, 7-7 NJAC Freedom Division (tied for fourth).

Key returnees: Jr. Jim Fluke (.339 avg., 3.19 ERA) SS-P; Sr. David DelSontro (.290) C-3B; Sr. Tyler Rogers OF; Sr. Dan Rafferty (1.17 ERA) P-SS; Sr. Nick Sabatini (.288) OF; Jr. Pat Togno (.358) 1B-OF; Jr. Rob Sparacino C-3B.

Key losses: Drew Burke (4-3, 3.43 ERA) P; Ken Costa (.298, 15 RBIs, 2-4, 5.07 ERA) P; Bryan Falato (.403, 18 runs) OF; David Kain (.368, 14 runs) OF; Mike Deerfield (5-2, 4.21 ERA) P; Anthony Basciano P-1B.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Cole Swanson P-OF; Sr. Ryan Lindner 3B; So. Tom Armstrong P-OF; So. Mark Lisi P-3B; Sr. Kevin Varian P-Utility; Sr. Chris Sclafani Utility; Sr. Tyler Shaw Utility; Jr. Christian Basciano 1B; Jr. Zachary Kronenfeld P; Jr. Zachary O'Brien P; Jr. Carl Rosequist 3B.

Coach's comment: "We have a very competitive team with several returning players. Success of the team will depend upon how newcomers respond to varsity competition. We expect to challenge for a division title and a state sectional championship." 

Outlook: Patriots return a solid nucleus of players, including Togno and Fluke, two of the better hitters in the Freedom Division. This team will need some arms to step up with the loss of Burke and Costa, last year's Nos. 1 and 2. Fluke and Rafferty will assume those roles. This club has set some lofty goals and is hungry after dropping a 3-1 decision to Hawthorne in last year's North 1, Group 2 sectional tournament.

Newton Braves

Coach: John Selitto (66-118, ninth season).

2013 record: 18-7, 13-1 NJAC Freedom Division (first).

Key returnees: Jr. Nick Grant (5-1, 2.18 ERA, 31 K's) P-1B; Sr. Ben Cramer (.451 avg., 15 RBIs, 26 runs, 10 SBs) OF; Sr. Casey Thomas (3-1, 2.80 ERA) OF-P; Sr. Joey Maker (.429, 16 RBIs, 10 SBs) 3B-C; Sr. Charlie Grotyohann (.316, 20 RBIs) C; Sr. Justin Smith (.391, 18 SBs) OF; Sr. Anthony Brown SS-2B; Jr. Jon Bernotas (.329, 11 RBIs) SS; Sr. Steve Kelly P-1B; Sr. Ryan Hattersley INF.

Key losses: Anthony Morro (.284, 26 RBIs) P-1B; Chris Branham (5-1, 2.59 ERA, 48 K's) P-3B; Joey Selitto (.368, 21 runs) 2B; Brady Castle OF-SS-P; Ryan Vasquez OF-DH; Quinn Kramer P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Nate Kolzow P; Jr. Joey Defeo INF-P; So. Cole Van Luvender P-1B-3B; So. Bobby Fehr C-INF-P; Sr. Ricky Izquierdo OF; Jr. Steve Papis OF; Fr. Scott Price C-OF.

Coach's comment"We return a strong, experienced unit. Senior leadership is a strength with six full-time starters returning, and losing just one pitcher from last year's staff. We are approaching the year with the feeling of unfinished business and still a lot to prove. Our first-year varsity players are talented and capable, and provide much depth."

Outlook: Braves are coming off capturing their first conference title and winning season since 2001. With most of last year's team returning, this group has championship aspirations once again this spring. Grant, who tossed a no-hitter last year, is the ace of a solid pitching staff, while Cramer is one of the top hitters in the tri-county area. Smith is a quality leadoff man and is a threat to steal whenever on base. Grotyohann and Bernotas were unsung heroes a year ago and should be at the forefront this season. There's no doubt that an ugly 13-3 loss to Pascack Hills at home in last year's North 1, Group 2 semifinals will serve as added motivation this spring.

Pope John Lions

Coach: Vin Bello (230-148-1, 15th season).

2013 record: 15-14, 8-6 NJAC American Division (third).

Key returnees: Sr. Dan Cunico (5-4, 3.61 ERA, 57 K's) P-3B; Jr. Jay Sanford SS; Jr. Ethan Collins (6-2, 2.23 ERA) P; Jr. Matt Piwko (0-4) 1B-P; Jr. Zack Leach C; Sr. Connor Kopnik Utility; Sr. Mike Young (.371, 20 runs, 17 RBIs) OF; Sr. Axel D'Addario (.392, 10 2Bs, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs) P-2B; So. Kyle Malejko OF-P; Jr. Cyrus Ahmadi OF-P; Jr. Jack Nelson P.

Key losses: Ken Mott P; Anthony Gignatelli P; Rob Sanders 1B;

Promising newcomers: Fr. Davian Sanchez 3B; Jr. Conner Van Kampen 3B-P; Fr. Trevor Backman P; Fr. Justin Provost 3B; So. Kevin Dole 2B.

Coach's comment: "We have very strong pitching, great team speed and leadership."

Outlook: Lions are annually one of the top teams in the tri-county area and this year will be no exception. With a deep and talented pitching staff, led by Collins and Cunico, a Division 1 recruit by UMass-Lowell, this team will challenge for conference and sectional titles. D'Addario, a stellar relief pitcher, established himself as a solid everyday player last season. Sanford is an excellent shortstop and will anchor the infield, while the speedy Young will set the table at the top of the batting order.

Sparta Spartans

Coach: Sam Slobodzian (268-171-3, 18th season).

2013 record: 17-9-1, 10-3-1 NJAC American Division (second).

Key returnees: Sr. Thomas Ruddy (.495 avg., 30 SBs) OF; Sr. Austin Unglaub (.436, 34 RBIs) 2B; Sr. Kevin Foulds (.339, 6-4, 2.50 ERA, 66 K's) 1B-P; Sr. T.J. Estanislau (.329) SS; Sr. Matt Chemis (.320, 10 SBs) OF; Jr. Dillon Mendel (4-3, 2.19 ERA) 3B-P; Sr. Drew Garger C-P; Sr. Michael Meisel C-DH; Sr. Matt Pampin (4-2, 1.81 ERA) P; Sr. Alec Bowie OF.

Key losses: Peter Forman C; Sean Dilger 1B-P; Jon-Karl Widuch OF; Grant Hagedorn C.

Promising newcomers: So. Connor Coyle OF-P; Jr. Alex Herbert 3B-P; Sr. Gordy Bonker P; Jr. Nick Makowitz 1B-P; Sr. Anthony Longo OF; So. Tim Gondek OF; Jr. Steven Viola OF; Sr. Jake Davis 1B; Sr. Matt Seville 3B.

Coach's comment: "We are extremely excited about this season. We return an experience core of players, six out of nine starting positions and 12 returners from last year's 17-man roster. Five out of six returning strarters hit better than .300 and we look to improve on those numbers. The strength of this team is starting pitching with Kevin Foulds and Dillon Mendel. They make a formidable 1-2 punch on the hill. We feel this could be a special group."

Outlook: Spartans are loaded in the pitching and hitting departments and are primed for another excellent season after reaching the North 1, Group 3 sectional semifinals last year. Ruddy, an excellent all-around player and leadoff hitter, is headed to Yale next fall. He enters the season with 91 career hits, 59 steals (school record) and is riding a 31-game hitting streak dating to 2012. He hit safely in all 27 games in 2013. Unglaub, who comes in with a 13-game hitting streak, also is one of the top players around and was the Mugs Media Player of the Year as a junior. Expect this group to contend for a sectional title and possibly a Group 3 championship.

Sussex Tech Mustangs

Coach: Brad Szatkiewicz (9-18, second season).

2013 record: 9-18 Independent.

Key returnees: Jr. Paul Caron SS-P; Jr. Austen Campbell 1B-P; Sr. Matt Beck 3B-P; Sr. Dan Louis OF-P; Jr. Brian Keith OF; Jr. Eric Wistermayer C; Sr. Mike Petrasek Utility.

Key losses: Jimmy Crumb (.425, 26 runs, 15 SBs) 1B-P; Chris Manzi C-P; Chris McNulty 2B-P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Tom Slate 2B-P; Fr. Brandon Bendes C-P; Jr. Justin Brauchle OF; Jr. Matt Colvin C-Utility.

Coach's comment: "We need to step up in all aspects of the game. The great group of returners and the few good newcomers mix well together. We know the importance of pitching and defense, so that is our main focus."

Outlook: Mustangs showed great improvement in Szatkiewicz's first season and are making a major jump in competition with the move to NJAC Independence Division. Despite the loss of three quality players from 2013, this group has the coaching and enough talent to make a run at the .500 mark this season.

Vernon Vikings

Coach: Scott Berge (39-70, sixth season).

2013 record: 11-13, 5-9 NJAC American Division (seventh).

Key returnees: Sr. Dave Baxter (.368 avg.) 1B; Sr. Anthony Germinario (.261, 3.22 ERA) P-2B; Sr. Mike Harboy (.321) INF-P; Sr. Chris Pontus (.267) OF.

Key losses: John Lipari (.483 slugging, 16 RBIs) 1B; Kevin Berge (.316, 3-2, 2.90, 42 K's) C-P; Ryan Duvall (.284, 15 RBIs, 5-3) 2B-P; Kevin Ufferfilge (.333) OF-P; Michael Franklin P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Kevin Moran 3B-P; Sr. Joe Roccasanta OF; Sr. Josh Rodriguez OF; Jr. Ed Battista C; Jr. Louis Caiafa P-OF; Jr. Matt Emerson P-3B; Jr. Christian Quaranta SS; So. Cody Bartsch OF; So. Christian Capuana P-3B; So. Connor Fitzsimmons C; So. Brady Keenan P.

Coach's comment: "We are looking to improve on last year's record, get above .500, and once again qualify for states."

Outlook: Vikings overcame a 2-6 start a year ago and made a surprise run to the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final -- its first in program history -- by knocking off No. 2 seed Newton, 6-2, in the quarterfinals and favorite North Hunterdon, 3-1, in eight innings in a classic semifinal, as a No. 6 seed. It might be tough to duplicate that run with heavy graduation losses. Baxter and Harboy were solid offensive contributors last year, while Germinario showed flashes of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. Being extremely inexperienced in the pitching department may be a big obstacle in achieving that goal of getting above .500.

Wallkill Valley Rangers

Coach: Kevin Lukich (55-70, sixth season).

2013 record: 8-13, 7-7 NJAC Freedom Division (tied for fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Brandon Grabkowski (.461 avg., 17 RBIs) OF-P; Sr. Nick McWilliams (.275, 14 RBIs) C; Jr. Travis Hill (.344) C-3B-P; Sr. Brett Hill 1B-P; Jr. Kyle Rosencranz (.377, 15 SBs) SS-P; Jr. Michael Armstrong OF-P; So. Rich Stecher (.333) OF-P; So. Wes Walton OF-P.

Key losses: Brian Niedergall 2B; Casey Jervis (3-5, 3.66 ERA) P-SS; Rob Stecher (5-1, 2.92 ERA) P-1B.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Joe Colosimo P-OF-1B; Jr. Brad Lodema 2B; Jr. Cameron Blake 2B-P; So. Jordan Florio SS-P; Jr. Sean Endres 3B; Jr. Joe Tizzano OF; Jr. Larry Ball SS-P; Sr. Pat Reiman P.

Coach's comment: "We bring back eight returning starters from the second half of last season. We will definitely be able to score a lot of runs this season as well as have a much improved defense. The big question will be if we can get enough good pitching to take the next step. If the pitching comes around, we should be right in the thick of it this season."

Outlook: Rangers had an up-and-down season in 2013, mainly because of inconsistent pitching. As Lukich says, this team will go as far as the pitching takes it this spring. Grabkowski is the club's best all-around player and will help anchor the pitching staff, which includes Brett Hill and Walton. The offense should produce enough runs to make each game interesting. The Rangers will be well coached as always so this is a group that could surprise and should be fun to watch.

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