Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Baseball: Sussex County preview capsules

High Point Wildcats

Coach: Ryan Ellis (first season).

2014 record: 7-12-1, 5-8-1 NJAC American Division (fifth).

Key returnees: Sr. Riley Keenan (.400 avg., .500 OBP) C; Sr. Tyler Schulok P-2B; Jr. Billy Kerwien (.355) SS-P; Sr. Trevor Risdon Utility-P; Jr. Ben Costello 1B-P; Jr. Ben Armstrong OF-2B.

Key losses: Kyle Adams (.415, 20 SBs, 4-2) 2B-P; Matt Musilli (.426, 26 hits) OF; Jon Stone P-1B; Brandon Carr SS; Mark Smolen OF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Matt Magura Utility-P; Sr. Tyler Saczawa 3B-P; Jr. Kyle O'Connell OF; Sr. Brian Lange OF-P; So. Howard Ayers P-2B; So. Matt Douma 2B; So. Bryan Franko P-Utility; So. Andrew Martinez 3B-P; Jr. Tim Space 1B; So. Braedon Steinman P.

Coach's comment: "With a strong nucleus of talented players returning, mixed with a healthy balance of underclassmen ready to make the transition, we are looking to surprise a few teams this year. Our lineup will be balanced from both sides of the plate, and we will work on manufacturing runs."

Outlook: Wildcats have a new coach for the first time in almost two decades, as Mickey Thomas (251-143-1) retired from teaching after 17 seasons over three stints at the Wantage school. Ellis, played for Thomas, who will remain with the team as a volunteer in the mid-1990s. Ellis inherits a program that returns some solid talent, particularly Keenan, who is one of the tri-county area's top backstops. As has been the case in recent seasons, scoring runs and finding consistent pitching will be the main issue for this group, though this team features eight arms who could provide some depth on the mound. Offense will be key. The 'Cats scored just 29 runs in their final eight games last year and totaled three or fewer in 11 of 20 games overall.

Hopatcong Chiefs

Coach: Jason Mulvihill (first season).

2014 record: 3-20, 1-13 NJAC Freedom Division (eighth).

Key returnees: Jr. Christian Ammiano (.363 avg., 19 RBIs) 1B-P; Sr. Shea Bongiovanni (.407, 5 HRs, 19 RBIs) P-OF; Jr. P.J. Rodick C; Jr. Brandon Vanderhoof 3B; Jr. Dalton Delrosso P-SS; Sr. Jason Twaits OF.

Key losses: Pat Stanton OF-P; Kevin Mulharin (.373, 17 SBs) OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Eli Perez 1B-OF; Jr. Chris Stundon P-1B; So. Anthony Melillo 2B-C.

Coach's comment: "Coming off a tough season with a young squad that struggled at times to land in the win column, this year's [team is] looking to take the next step."

Outlook: Chiefs are going on three years since capturing the program's first conference title since 1998 -- winning the Freedom Division in 2012. It's been a rough going since, as Mulvihill takes over  a program that went 71-118 the past eight years (5-43 the last two seasons) under Chris Buglovsky, who is now the school's AD. Getting off to slow starts has been an issue (0-10 in 2013, 1-12 in '14), but there is a pretty good nucleus coming back, including Ammiano, who should be one of the top players in the area. Approaching .500 seems like a reasonable goal this season.

Kittatinny Cougars

Coach: TJ Orlando (5-17, second season).

2014 record: 5-17, 4-9 NJAC Freedom Division (seventh).

Key returnees: Sr. Cowan Sikora SS-P; Jr. Dom Maio 2B-OF; Jr. Dan Tuohy OF-P.

Key losses: David Moyer (.410) P-1B; Joe Repasy P-SS-3B; Mike Dispoto OF-P; Adam Goriscak (.340) OF-P; John LaFiura (.260) C.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Connor Foran OF; Jr. Andrew Michelman OF; Jr. Cort Rohsler 3B-OF-C; Jr. Michael Stenderowicz P-1B; Jr. Griffin Waldron P-1B; Jr. Brendan Wood OF; So. Nick Geimer OF; So. Mike Montella 1B-P-OF; So. Bobby Rogers C-OF; So. Dillon Rossi OF-SS; So. Tyler Vough P; Fr. Ryan Callahan P-3B; Fr. Chris Litterio P-3B-1B.

Coach's comment: "As we lost all of our starting pitchers to graduation, we will look to untested underclassmen to handle the mound. This year will be a growing and learning process for the team as they learn to compete against higher-level competition."

Outlook: Cougars, who dropped a 1-0 decision in 12 innings to Group 2 semifinalist Ramsey in last year's North 1, Group 2 playoffs, have gone 23-32-1 over the previous three seasons. It appears as if this will be another rebuilding campaign with young and inexperienced players, especially on the mound. Sikora, a three-year starter at shortstop, is the only returning senior. Orlando figures he may have as many as five freshmen or sophomores in the lineup, so this team will need to mature quickly to give it a chance to be successful.

Lenape Valley Patriots

Coach: Bob Klinck (91-81, eighth season).

2014 record: 18-6, 12-2 NJAC Freedom Division (first).

Key returnees: Sr. Jim Fluke (.360 avg., 10-1, 1.13 ERA, 88 K's) SS-P; Sr. Pat Togno (.342, 20 RBIs) OF-1B; Sr. Rob Sparacino C; Sr. Cole Swanson (3-1, 1.30) P-1B; Jr. Tom Armstrong P-OF; Jr. Mark Lisi P-3B-1B; So. Matt Helfrich (2.72 ERA).

Key losses: David DelSontro (.373, 20 RBIs) C-3B; Tyler Rogers (.329, 16 RBIs) OF; Dan Rafferty (4-2, 1.93) P-SS; Nick Sabatini (.278, 13 RBIs) OF; Ryan Lindner (.361, 25 RBIs) 3B; Adam Varian, 2B.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Christian Basciano 1B; Sr. Zachary O'Brien P; Sr. Carl Rosequist SS; Sr. Jeff Beck P; Jr. Dan Willoughby OF; Jr. Tyler Robertson OF; Jr. C.J. Robertson C-INF (transfer from Hopatcong); Jr. John Stanley OF; So. Kyle Piekarz OF; So. Tyler Tarnowski OF; Fr. Dan Titus OF; Fr. Anthony Esposito INF.

Coach's comment: "We return a strong pitching staff and have great senior leadership. We expect to contend for a [division] and [sectional] title." 

Outlook: Patriots are coming off one of their best seasons in many years, dropping a 7-1 decision to Ramsey in the North 1, Group 2 final after capturing the program's first NJAC Freedom Division title. Fluke was one of the tri-county area's top players last season (3-0 in playoff starts) and returns as the staff ace. Togno is the top returning bat, while Swanson did a nice job as the No. 3 starter. Expect this club to challenge for a second straight division title.

Newton Braves

Coach: John Selitto (80-127, 10th season).

2014 record: 14-9, 9-5 NJAC Freedom Division (tied for second).

Key returnees: Sr. Nick Grant (.382 avg., 6-1, 1.12 ERA, 41 K's, .386 avg. 16 RBIs) P-1B-OF; Sr. Jon Bernotas (.244, 11 RBIs) SS; Sr. Nate Kolzow (0-1, 4.66) P; Sr. Joey Defeo (.350, 1-2, 4.44) 3B-P; Jr. Cole Van Luvender (.333, 5-2, 2.04) P-1B-3B; Jr. Bobby Fehr C; So. Scott Price OF-P.

Key losses: Ben Cramer (.373, 15 RBIs, 31 hits) OF; Casey Thomas (2-2, 3.78) OF-P; Joey Maker (.294, 15 SBs) 3B; Charlie Grotyohann (.295, 15 RBIs) C; Justin Smith (.295, 15 SBs) OF; Anthony Brown 2B; Steve Kelly (2-1, 3.67) P-1B.

Promising newcomers: So. Aldo Vallorosi 2B; So. Michael Luzzi OF; Fr. Chase Cramer OF; So. Alex Blaner P-3B-C; Fr. Luke Young P-OF-1B; Fr. Billy Carson P-INF; Fr. Jake Tarabokija INF-P; Fr. John Nitting P-3B; Fr. Gianni Periera P-OF-1B; Jr. Tommy Giordano OF; Jr. Tim Baty OF; So. Jason Leonardo P-OF.

Coach's comment"We have the potential to have a successful season if the young players continue to progress. Pitching and defense will be a strength, and a solid core of returning players will be counted on to lead the offense and ease the transition to varsity baseball for the younger ones."

Outlook: Braves are two years removed from capturing their first conference title and winning season since 2001. That being said, last year was a bit disappointing considering most of the players from that 2013 club were back in the fold. Despite heavy offensive losses, including Ben Cramer who has been one of the area's top hitters the past few seasons, this club should be a contender with ace Grant back to lead the staff. The senior lefty has gone 11-2 with 72 strikeouts the last two years. Van Luvender emerged as a solid starter in 2014, while Kolzow and Defeo also should contribute on the mound. This team will be a tough out provided it can score runs and play sound defense.

Pope John Lions

Coach: Vin Bello (246-159-1, 16th season).

2014 record: 16-11, 8-6 NJAC American Division (fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Jay Sanford (.289 avg. 22 hits) SS; Sr. Ethan Collins (4-3, 2.63 ERA) P-1B; Sr. Matt Piwko 1B; Sr. Zack Leach (3 HRs, 15 RBIs) C; Jr. Kyle Malejko OF; Sr. Cyrus Ahmadi OF-P; Sr. Jack Nelson (3-1, 61 K's, 5 saves) P; Sr. Conner Van Kampen 3B; So. Trevor Backman P-OF; So. Sean Miller P; Sr. Ty Dalzell C.

Key losses: Dan Cunico (4-4, 3.40, 53 K's) P-3B; Mike Young (.380) OF; Axel D'Addario (.345, 20 RBIs) P-2B.

Promising newcomers: So. Davian Sanchez INF; So. Justin Provost INF; So. George Summers 2B; So. Ryan Casey OF; Sr. Pat Fitzgerald P; Sr. Hunter Silvernail C-OF; So. Sean Roberts P.

Coach's comment: "We have a senior-laden team with some young talent, and we hope it all comes together."

Outlook: Lions should be a major contender for division and county titles this season behind a solid pitching staff that features ace lefty Collins, who along with batterymate Leach, will attend Rowan University next fall. Sanford, who is heading to Division I Towson, is one of the top infielders in the area and will be counted on to lead the offense.

Sparta Spartans

Coach: Sam Slobodzian (286-178-3, 19th season).

2014 record: 18-7, 12-2 NJAC American Division (first).

Key returnees: Sr. Dillon Mendel (4-1, 1.40 ERA, .429 avg., 17 RBIs) 3B-P; Jr. Connor Coyle (3-0, 1.15 ERA) OF-P; Sr. Nick Makowitz (.346, 15 RBIs) 1B-P; Sr. Tim Gondek P-OF.

Key losses: Thomas Ruddy (.448, 17 SBs) OF; Austin Unglaub (.443, 18 RBIs) 2B; Kevin Foulds (7-2. 0.59, .353, 12 RBIs) P-1B; T.J. Estanislau SS; Matt Chemis OF; Drew Garger C-P; Michael Meisel C-DH; Matt Pampin P; Alec Bowie OF; Gordy Bonker P; Matt Seville 3B.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Alex Herbert P; Sr. Steve Viola P-OF; Sr. Grant Cummings OF; So. Jack Simon INF-P; Jr. Paul DeAquino INF; Jr. Jarret DiBlasio P; Jr. Jared Kish P; Jr. Ethan Guerra C; Jr. Louis Ferrara OF; Jr. Cameron Estanislau INF; So. Jack Kulik OF; So. Nick Lucas P-3B; So. Mike Vocaturo C.

Coach's comment: "We are very eager to get started. I'm excited about this new talented group of ballplayers. I really feel they can play defense with the best of them. The obvious key with most young teams is how fast we can adjust to varsity pitching."

Outlook: Despite heavy graduation losses, including Ruddy (school record 130 hits) and Unglaub on offense, along with ace Foulds (2-0, 19 K's in playoffs), the Spartans return several key players, including No. 2 pitcher Mendel, from a team that lost in the North 1, Group 3 semifinals. This is a young group that will need to mature quickly with an ambitious schedule and a tough division. If that happens, there's no reason this team can't challenge for another division title after claiming the program's first last season.

Sussex Tech Mustangs

Coach: Brad Szatkiewicz (14-38, third season).

2014 record: 5-20, 0-12 NJAC Independence Division.

Key returnees: Sr. Paul Caron SS-P; Sr. Austen Campbell 3B-P; Sr. Brian Keith OF; Sr. Eric Wistermayer C; Sr. Tom Slate 2B-P; So. Brandon Bendes OF-P; Sr. Justin Brauchle OF-P; Sr. Corey Small 1B-P.

Key losses: Matt Beck 3B-P; Dan Louis OF-P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Matt Colvin C; Jr. Kodiak Sturges OF-P; Ralph Angolemmo Utility-P; Fr. Tyler Crum 1B-P; Zach Clawson P.

Coach's comment: "We are looking for our experience and leadership to make us competitive in the Freedom Division. If we stay healthy, the amount of seniors and a good mix of a few younger players, we can hopefully make it into the [sectional] tournament and make a run in the NJTAC tournament."

Outlook: Mustangs struggled in their inaugural season in the NJAC and they move up into a tougher five-team Freedom Division this season. However, this club has quite a few experienced players back in the fold, including Caron and Campbell, who were among the offensive stars last season. But it remains to be seen if this group can compete in division games.

Vernon Vikings

Coach: Scott Berge (48-84, seventh season).

2014 record: 9-14, 2-11 NJAC American Division (seventh).

Key returnees: Sr. Ed Battista 2B; Sr. Louis Caiafa P-OF; Sr. Matt Emerson P-3B; Sr. Christian Quaranta SS; Jr. Christian Capuano (2-0, 2.16 ERA) P-3B; Jr. Connor Fitzsimmons (.311 avg.) C.

Key losses: Dave Baxter (.303 avg., 14 RBIs) 1B; Anthony Germinario (.342, 18 RBIs, 6-2, 2.23, 49 K's P-2B; Mike Harboy (.351, 25 RBIs) INF-P; Chris Pontus (.325) OF; Kevin Moran 3B-P; Joe Roccasanta OF; Josh Rodriguez (.389) OF.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Bryan Brinster 1B; Sr. Sultan Destani P-Utility; Jr. Ryan McNeil P-1B; So. Nick Grifone C; So. Brandon Lavorini P-OF; So. Ryan Janus INF; So. Mike Suppa OF.

Coach's comment: "We are looking to improve on last year's record, get above .500 and qualify for [sectionals]."

Outlook: Vikings took a step back last season after a surprising 2013 season in which they overcame a 2-6 to make a stunning run to the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final. The losses of Baxter, Harboy and Germinario will be felt. Replacing Germinario atop the rotation will be the key to success this season, but with few experienced arms, the pitching department may be a big obstacle in achieving that goal of getting above .500.

Wallkill Valley Rangers

Coach: Kevin Lukich (64-82, seventh season).

2014 record: 9-12, 7-7 NJAC Freedom Division (tied for fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Travis Hill C; Sr. Kyle Rosencranz 2B; Sr. Michael Armstrong (.389 avg., 17 RBIs) SS; Jr. Rich Stecher (.316, 12 RBIs) OF; Jr. Wes Walton (3-2, 3.21 ERA, 27 K's) OF; Sr. Joe Colosimo (2-2, 2.42, 42 K's) P-1B; Sr. Sean Endres (.359, 18 RBIs) 3B; Sr. Brad Lodema 2B; Sr. Cameron Blake 3B; Jr. Jordan Florio SS-P; Sr. Joe Tizzano OF.

Key losses: Brandon Grabkowski (.382, 20 RBIs, 3-4, 2.96) OF-P; Nick McWilliams C; Brett Hill 1B-P.

Promising newcomers: Fr. Dylan Harlos OF; Sr. Jimmy Moffitt OF.

Coach's comment: "We have nine seniors and eight returning starters. As long as we stay healthy, we should be a dangerous team with all of our experience."

Outlook: Rangers finished under .500 the last two seasons since a 14-win campaign and a trip to the North 1, Group 2 playoffs in 2012. This may be the year the tide turns. The loss of ace Grabkowski to graduation will be felt, but Colosimo, a deceptive lefty, and Walton showed they can be reliable arms a year ago. Armstrong (who takes over at short) and Endres figure to be the offensive leaders. If this team can play sound defense, something it did not do consistently last year, expect it to be one of the most improved clubs in the area.

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