Monday, March 30, 2015

Baseball: Hunterdon-Warren preview capsules

Belvidere County Seaters

Coach: Aaron Feldman (64-81, seventh season).

2014 record: 11-11, 8-6 Skyland Conference Valley Division (fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Henry Myerchin (.365 avg., 15 RBIs, 3-1, 4.90 ERA, 43 K's) SS-P; Sr. Bobby Merle (.393, 12 RBIs) OF; Sr. Owen Kaiser (3-2, 2.68, 21 K's) 1B-3B-P; Sr. Kevin Merle P-OF; Jr. Thomas Madeo OF; Jr. David Woodworth (.304, 11 RBIs) P-1B; So. Jake Thornton (.283, 10 RBIs) 3B-SS; Jr. Brad Duckworth OF-P; Jr. Matt Duckworth 2B.

Key losses: Logan Welles (.493, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs) 1B-P; Jake Carlson (.304, 14 RBIs) C.

Promising newcomers: So. Terrell Tutka P; So. Zach DeLuca OF; Jr. Ben Healy INF-OF; So. Alex Nelson C; Fr. Ryan Kokawski C.

Coach's comment: "Bernards was moved to [the Raritan Division] and we beat everyone else in our division at least once last year so we're optimistic that we will be competitive in the [Valley] division -- and beyond -- this season.."

Outlook: County Seaters have steadily improved the last four seasons -- going from five wins in 2011, to eight wins in '12, to 10 wins in '13 and 11 last year -- since winning 17 games in '10. There is enough talent returning to believe this team will make a major move forward this spring. Myerchin, a four-year starter, is the leader of this group, and he's coming off a solid junior season. He, along with Kaiser, will anchor the pitching staff.

Delaware Valley Terriers

Coach: Marty White (106-124, 12th season).

2014 record: 9-11, 4-6 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Logan Brown (3-4, 1.65 ERA, 53 K's) P; Jr. Chris Schaible (3-2, 3.45, 27 K's) P-OF-1B; Sr. Frank McHugh OF-P; Sr. Mike Pilone C; Sr. Travis Scharffenberger 1B; Jr. Jake Brogan OF; Sr. Devin Merritt SS-2B; Sr. Kurt Heeren OF.

Key losses: Joe Chiarino 3B; Chris Fiaschetti SS-P; Adam Novotny 1B-OF; Nick Perna 2B.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Kevin Delatte 2B; So. Sean Hanczaryk C-DH-P; Fr. Christian Hlinka SS; Fr. Ian Kulik SS-P; Jr. Lake Cole 3B-P; So. Scott Becker OF-1B; So. Brian Godown P; Jr. Kyle Refalvy P.

Coach's comment: "I like our young kids, but there's going to be a learning curve of competing at the varsity level. We could beat anybody and anybody could beat us. There's potential, but we're unproven."

Outlook: Brown was one of the area's top pitchers last season, but he's sidelined with an injury to start the season. There's no timetable for his return, but getting him healthy is the top priority and a big key to the season with pitching depth already an issue. Schaible and McHugh will be the 1-2 atop the rotation for now. Terriers look to have "five or six good hitters who will hit the ball," according to White, so playing sound defense will be crucial to any success.

Hackettstown Tigers

Coach: Gary Poyer (163-128, 14th season).

2014 record: 10-11, 7-7 NJAC Freedom Division (tied for fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Matt Engels OF-P; Sr. Jonathan Pezzato C; Jr. John Franco 3B-P; Jr. Anthony Carida 2B-P; Sr. Nick Pixley 1B-P; Sr. Thomas Bordi 3B; Sr. Tyler Profilias SS-P; Sr. Joe Lake OF-P; Sr. Eric Kendra OF.

Key losses: Justin Nicholls OF-P; Kenny Stelmack C; Vin Putignano 2B.

Promising newcomers: So. Jake Hall SS: So. Matt Arcona OF; So. Peyton Stewart 2B; Jr. Matt Buchanon P; Sr. Frank Iannone INF.

Coach's comment: "This is a promising group with strong pitching and defensive prowess. Hitting will determine how far this team will go."

Outlook: Tigers appear to be back on track after going 1-1 in the North 2, Group 2 playoffs the past two seasons since a four-win campaign in 2012. The loss of Nicholls and Stelmack (the battery) will be felt, but Engels was a catalyst in last year's lineup. Pitching was a question heading into last season, but it's now a strength. With the new five-team division alignment, there's no reason this group can't challenge for the title after a predicted middle-of-the-pack finish in 2014.

Hunterdon Central Red Devils

Coach: Mike Raymond (289-102, 15th season).

2014 record: 21-4, 11-3 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (first).

Key returnees: Sr. Brett McManus (.421 avg., 32 hits, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs) 2B; Jr. Matt Toke (.442, 15 RBIs, 2-0, 2 saves) 1B-P; Sr. Henry Hawkins (.358, 18 RBIs) OF; Sr. Mike Novello (1-0, 1.75 ERA) P; Sr. Pat Clare (7-1, 2.20) P; Sr. Sam DiGiovanni P; Sr. Mike Perone (.412) SS; Sr. John Korn OF.

Key losses: Mike Pfenninger 3B; Matt Stalter SS; Ryan Horzepa P; Zak Vacca C; Sean Hanigan DH; Christian Carey OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Alex Horzepa 1B; Sr. Nick Luciano 3B; Sr. Ryan Carmen 3B; Sr. Anthony Cillo 2B; Sr. Ryan Pasko SS; Sr. Brent Lincoln C; Sr. Cale Pfauth C; Jr. Scott Rasile OF; Sr. Mike Kendzulak OF; Sr. Andrew Tackett OF; So. Matt Padre C.

Coach's comment: "I believe this year's team has the talent and potential to be successful again this season. We are getting great leadership from our seniors who understand what it takes to win and the sacrifices it takes to be successful."

Outlook: Red Devils are once again looking like the class of the tri-county area with potent bats and solid arms in the fold. McManus (Rhode Island commit) is unquestionably the top offensive player in the area and a tremendous leadoff hitter, while Toke (Seton Hall) and Hawkins add to a strong lineup. The strength of this team is pitching as four pitchers who combined for 14 wins in 2014 are back, led by Clare (7-1). Expect this club to challenge for championships across the board.

North Hunterdon Lions

Coach: Mike Kane (49-38, fourth season).

2014 record: 20-10, 10-4 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (second).

Key returnees: Sr. Andrew Meiners C; Sr. Tom Schumacher 3B; Sr. Shayne Fontana P-OF; Jr. John Wilson P-OF; Sr. Austin Arndt SS-P; Sr. Tim Heard 2B; Sr. Jeff Gernon P-1B; Sr. Tucker Brown P; Sr. Rikki Goodman 2B-OF; Sr. Josh Grunden P; Sr. Randy Grzankowski P; Jr. Kyle Busher OF.

Key losses: Marc Monks OF; Zach Kaminsky OF; Quentin Klein P-3B-DH; Kurt Thompson P; Griffin Hatton P; Jon Scott 1B-DH; Shane Cassidy 2B.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Jeff Guile SS-OF-C; Jr. Ian Kirk OF; Jr. Jack Peterson 1B-P; So. Billy Russo SS-2B; So. Jack Kennedy 1B-P.

Coach's comment: "We are looking forward to another exciting and successful season with five senior starters returning. With the depth we have at all positions, there will be some great competition throughout the season."

Outlook: Lions are coming off their first 20-win season since 2010, just the ninth in program history. After coming up one game short in their quest for division and Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex titles (winning eight in a row before a 6-3 loss to Hunterdon Central in the county final), expect this group to be hungry for championships this spring. A strong group of seniors will lead the way, including Kean University-bound Fontana (team-high 21 K's in '14) and Lehigh recruit Schumacher, the club's top hitter last season with 13 hits and 10 RBIs. Wilson, a big-game pitcher last season, joins Fontana atop the rotation.

North Warren Patriots

Coach: Jim Haupt (228-152, 17th season).

2014 record: 11-9, 6-7 NJAC Freedom Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Lance Kernoschak (3-2, 3.92 ERA) 3B-P; Sr. Matt Nicholoff (.288, 9 RBIs) 2B; Sr. John Vuz (.324) OF; Jr. Sean Thornton (2-2, 3.09) P-1B; Sr. Vince Lubertazzo (1-2, 4.73) P; So. Jared Vuz (.269) SS; Jr. Alex Predenkoski 3B-P.

Key losses: Cam Esposito OF-P; David Wilbur C; Alex Hladik SS-P; Brian Turner 2B-P; Nick Meyer 1B; Nick Nicholoff OF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Gino Fluri C; Sr. Eric Hill C-OF; So. Ron Lubertazzo 2B-OF; So. Hunter DePrimo P-C; So. Geo Kumetz OF.

Coach's comment: "We lost a talented group of seniors, but we are looking to reload with some younger players at key positions. Injuries were severe a year ago, so health will be a big key as depth is again an issue. However, this team has great chemistry, experience at the pitching position and great senior leadership."

Outlook: Patriots, who are now in the five-team Colonial Division, didn't quite have the season they expected a year ago -- largely due to injuries. The loss of ace Hladik is huge, but there are several experienced arms returning, including Thornton, who figures to be the No. 1. Offense may struggle a bit, at least early on, so this club will rely on pitching and defense in looking to play close, low-scoring games.

Phillipsburg Stateliners

Coach: Mike Rossetti (first season).

2014 record: 5-22, 1-13 Skyland Conference Delaware Division (eighth).

Key returnees: Sr. Jake Knoble (.250 avg., 1 HR, 13 RBIs) C; Sr. Jake Clifford (.298, 10 RBIs) OF; Sr. Billy McAuliffe (2-5, 6.22 ERA) P; Sr. Ashish George (1-2, 4.45) P; Sr. John Gurski (0-6, 4.71) P; Sr. Mark McGuire P-OF; Sr. Pete Schmidt SS; Jr. Matt Yanes 1B-P.

Key losses: David Wodzisz (.402, 35 hits, 19 RBIs) SS; Chris Trent (.338) OF; Matt McAnally (.333, 13 RBIs) 3B; Andy Ferrara (.339, 12 RBIs) C; Tyler Plesnarski DH-P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Colton Langworthy P-SS; Jr. Tyler Weiss 1B; Jr. Damian Dudek 2B; Sr. Ryan Flannagan C.

Outlook: The 'Liners have a new coach in Rossetti, who is best known for his wrestling success but has served as an assistant coach here in previous years. He inherits a program that went 52-80 the last four seasons under Dave Hinkle. Playing in one of the state's toughest divisions has been an issue record-wise -- getting outscored 111-52 in 14 games in 2013 and 47-127 in '14. Pitching has been a big reason for the lack of success in division contests ('Liners gave up six or more runs 11 times last season). Gurski returned to the mound last season after missing all of 2013 with an injury.

South Hunterdon Eagles

Coach: Cory Weingart (6-15, second season).

2014 record: 6-15, 6-8 Skyland Conference Valley Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Jimmy Smiegocki 1B-P; Sr. Josh Phillips SS; Sr. Richard Roy 3B-P; Jr. Jonathan Eick C; Jr. Lukas Robinson 3B-P; Jr. Nick Scamuffa 1B-P; Jr. Mike Gambino 2B.

Key losses: Jared Bogdan OF; Toby Coleman 3B; Jimmy Eick OF; Ryan Godown OF-P; Jayck Lopez 2B-P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Darrell Krieder OF; Fr. Leo Andreoli OF-C; Fr. John Hunt OF-3B-P; Fr. Robbie Rose 3B-P; Fr. Cameron Paventi OF; Fr. Joey Bacon 2B.

Outlook: Eagles have gone 38-104 over the the last eight seasons, but with seven returning starters to build around, this program may be ready to take a step forward. Weingart is now in his second season of trying to turn things around. Smiegocki returns as the ace in the rotation. Offense is once again a question mark, but if this team can hit, it has a chance to approach the .500 mark. Last year's club dropped five games by three runs or fewer.

Voorhees Vikings

Coach: Cory Kent (0-19, second season).

2014 record: 0-19, 0-10 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (sixth).

Key returnees: Sr. Kyle Pierson P-1B; Sr. Johnny Wernicki SS-2B; Jr. Tyler Kroll SS; Jr. David Wernicki 3B-P; Jr. Jake Twill C; Sr. James Cahill OF; Sr. Phil D'Armiento OF; So. Ryan Cahill OF-P; Sr. Toby Cozzolino OF.

Key losses: Matt Furka P; Will Palmer 1B-P; Evan Vaccarella C; Jendry Seijas 1B; Grant Palmer 2B;

Promising newcomers: Jr. Michael White 3B-C; Jr. Sean Morris P; Jr. Luke Twill P; Jr. Andrew Gonzalez OF; Jr. Matt Diacik P-2B-1B.

Coach's comment: "I am really looking forward to the new year. We have a strong group of athletes who are hungry and looking to prove themselves after last year."

Outlook: Things can only go up for the Vikings, who struggled mightily in their first season under Kent, a former standout player at Wilson (Pa.) in the Lehigh Valley. Unlike last spring, this group has a little more varsity experience to build around. There are seven to eight arms on the staff, and Kent expects as many as five to be starters. That leaves offense as a major question since the Vikes scored only a total of 80 runs in 21 games a year ago.

Warren Hills Blue Streaks

Coach: Mike Quinto (134-146, 11th season).

2014 record: 12-12, 6-4 Skyland Conference Raritan Division (third).

Key returnees: Sr. Christian Stagaard (.400 avg., 14 RBIs, 7 SBs) C-P; Sr. Craig Lawson (.434, 10 SBs) SS; Sr. Jake Larsen (.395, 12 RBIs, 4-2, 1.81) 1B-P; Jr. Anthony Veneziano (2 HRs, 8 RBIs, 3-5, 3.90, 47 K's) 1B-OF-P; Jr. Tim Woolf 2B; Jr. Matt Cummings (9 RBIs) OF-P; Sr. Nick Gagliano C-OF-3B; Jr. Evan Murray P-OF; Jr. Jon Fleck OF-P; Sr. Kyle Balaney OF-P.

Key losses: Alex Julian (.286, 11 RBIs) 3B; Nathaniel Capone (3-3, 1.52, 27 K's) P.

Promising newcomers: Jr. TJ Crowley OF; Jr. Jack Fenner INF; Jr. James Rother OF; Jr. Justin Wulff 3B-P; Jr. Kyle Barnes P; Fr. Thomas Moore 3B-P.

Coach's comment: "We return a number of varsity starters with more than one year of experience. Our strengths include the defense, especially up the middle, and our pitching staff. We also have good depth at all positions."

Outlook: Blue Streaks are one of the most experienced teams in the area when it comes to returning players, as seven have at least three seasons of varsity baseball under their belts. That should bode well for a program that is looking to get past the first round of the sectional playoffs after early exits in 2009, '10, '11, '12 and '14. Larsen, Stagaard and Veneziano are solid atop the rotation, while Lawson is one of the team's best defensive players. The main question will be if this team can produce enough runs.

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