Thursday, March 31, 2016

Baseball: Sussex County preview capsules

High Point Wildcats

Coach: Ryan Ellis (16-9, second season).

2015 record: 16-9, 5-3 NJAC Freedom Division (T-second).

Key returnees: Sr. Billy Kerwien (.398 avg., 20 RBIs, .554 slug) SS-P; Sr. Ben Costello (.392 avg., 13 RBIs; 3-2, 2.10 ERA) 1B-P; Sr. Ben Armstrong (.349 avg., 16 RBIs) OF-2B; Sr. Kyle O'Connell (.467 avg., 35 hits) OF; Sr. Tim Space (.373 avg., 11 RBIs) 1B; Jr. Bryan Franko (.391 avg.) 3B-OF.

Key losses: Riley Keenan (.365 avg.) C; Tyler Schulok (7-3, 3.50 ERA, 33 K's) P-2B; Matt Magura (.280 avg., 5 HR, 20 RBIs) Utility-P; Trevor Risdon (.394 avg., 16 RBIs; 6-2, 2.00 ERA) Utility-P; Brian Lange P-OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Matt Douma INF-OF; Fr. Sam Armstrong P-INF; Fr. Matt Carter C; Jr. Zach Disanza C; So. Joe Gramignano P-Utility; So. Jake Phillip C; Sr. Shaun Rittweger INF; Jr. Derek Sarupchiello P-Utility; So. Luke Steinman P-OF; So. Matt Sunda P-INF; Jr. Braedon Steinman P-OF.

Coach's comment: "I am very excited about this year's pitching staff, the returning players, and watching our group of sophomores and freshmen who are coming up through the program. I am looking forward to seeing this team play day in and day out."

Outlook: Wildcats showed considerable improvement under Ellis, who led the program to 16 wins, up from 7 in 2014, last season. Pitching seems the biggest question this season with the loss of 91 innings (Schulok and Risdon) to graduation. Costello should be the ace (20 innings last year). Offensively, this team should be in good shape with several key bats returning from a unit that averaged nearly seven runs per game in '15. Expect the Wildcats to finish in the top half of a very tough division.

Hopatcong Chiefs

Coach: Jason Mulvihill (7-14, second season).

2015 record: 7-14, 1-7 NJAC Colonial Division (T-fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Christian Ammiano (.406 avg., 5 HRs, 20 RBIs, 4-5, 2.52 ERA, 52 K's) 1B-P; Sr. P.J. Rodick (.270 avg., 12 RBIs) C; Sr. Brandon Vanderhoof 3B; Sr. Dalton Delrosso (.409 avg., 14 SBs) P-SS; Sr. Eli Perez 1B-OF; Sr. Chris Stundon P-1B; Jr. Anthony Melillo 2B-C; Jr. Brandon Olmstead; Sr. Ben Carreno; So. Armando Santiago.

Key losses: Shea Bongiovanni (.456 avg., 11 RBIs) P-OF; Jason Twaits OF.

Promising newcomers: Jr. Bart Yarosz (transfer from Morris Catholic) P-OF; Jr. James O'Brien OF; Jr. Stephen Lengkong 1B-3B; So. CJ Glosser P-1B; So. Anthony Mastroeni 2B-OF.

Coach's comment: "We are looking to take the next step With strong senior leadership, they will work hard to continue to progress, earn a [sectional] playoff berth and make a run in the county and sectional tournaments."

Outlook: Chiefs have gone 78-132 over the past nine years (12-57 the last three seasons), but they showed marked improvement in Mulvihill's first season at the helm. Ammiano is one of the best players in the tri-county area. He led the offense with a .406 average and the pitching staff with 52 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings last season. Delrosso should be the No. 2 pitcher, but there are big questions after those two arms, though Yarosz should help on the mound. Hitting in the Homer Dome, the Chiefs' home field, shouldn't be an issue, but last year's team struggled to produce runs on the road against the better teams on the schedule. Getting to .500 will be the main goal and the biggest challenge.

Kittatinny Cougars

Coach: TJ Orlando (8-39, third season).

2015 record: 3-22, 1-7 NJAC Colonial Division (T-fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Dom Maio (.278 avg.) 2B-SS; Jr. Mike Montella 1B-OF; Sr. Brendan Wood (.300 avg.) OF; So. Chris Litterio P-3B; Jr. Tyler Vough P; Jr. Bobby Rogers (.324 avg.) 3B-OF; Jr. Dillon Rossi (.370 avg.) OF-SS.

Key losses: Cowan Sikora (.377 avg.) SS-P.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Michael Stenderowicz P-1B; Sr. Austin Scrivani OF-C; Sr. Mike Insalaco P-1B; Sr. Tyler Foster 3B-P; Sr. Luke DeGroat Utility-P; Sr. Carmelo Calascibetta OF; Jr. Jesse Dispoto INF; Jr. Josh MacMillan P; Jr. Ryan Mahedy OF' So. Korey Vough C; So. Paul Litterio 2B-SS.

Coach's comment: "While we only lost one senior [Sikora], we are still relatively young in terms of experience. As we try to change the baseball culture at Kittatinny to not settle for mediocrity, we hope to be turning the corner. We hope to reach the .500 mark and qualify for [sectionals]."

Outlook: Cougars, who have gone 26-54-1 over the previous four seasons, have some work to do if they are to turn the corner this season. Orlando is excited about five seniors who have come out for the team, including Scrivani, who has been a star wrestler for the Cougars but has never played baseball in high school. Tyler Vough and Chris Litterio will lead a very young pitching staff, which must gain consistency if this team is going to approach .500. The bats will also need to contribute after last year's team scored 19 runs combined over its final eight games -- all losses.

Lenape Valley Patriots

Coach: Bob Klinck (98-95, ninth season).

2015 record: 7-14, 4-4 NJAC Freedom Division (fourth).

Key returnees: Sr. Tom Armstrong (.355 avg., 18 RBIs, 0-2, 3.99 ERA) P-OF; Sr. Mark Lisi (1-3, 4.83 ERA) P-INF; Sr. Tyler Robertson OF; Jr. Matt Helfrich (4-1, 1.22 ERA) OF-P; Jr. Kyle Piekarz INF-P; So. Dan Titus OF-P; So. Anthony Esposito INF; So. Brandon Bready INF.

Key losses: Jim Fluke (.358 avg., 2-4, 2.70 ERA, 63 K's) SS-P; Pat Togno (.310, 14 RBIs) OF-1B; Rob Sparacino C; Cole Swanson (0-4, 2.47 ERA) P-1B; Christian Basciano (.371 avg. 10 RBIs) 1B.

Promising newcomers: Sr. John Stanley C; Jr. Connor Nodoro INF; Jr. Zach Fowler C; So. Derrick Sidoli OF; So. Jared Miller P; So. Kyle Noeltner INF; So. Mike Plemenos C-INF; So. Chris Plemenos P-INF; So. Jordan Costanzo OF; Steve Rabe C.

Coach's comment: "Our pitching and defense look promising early on as we return four pitchers with varsity experience. Our lineup will include some younger players with varsity experience who will need to respond at the plate for us to be successful." 

Outlook: Patriots went from 18 wins to seven last season (went 2-11 after 5-3 start) after capturing the program's first NJAC Freedom Division title in 2014. It was surprising for a team that was expected to challenge for another division championship. The graduation losses were significant -- including Fluke (12 wins and 151 K's the past two seasons) -- but the Pats do have several experienced arms to build around. Expect a bounce-back season in Stanhope.

Newton Braves

Coach: John Selitto (91-138, 11th season).

2015 record: 11-11, 6-2 NJAC Colonial Division (T-first).

Key returnees: So. Chase Cramer (.324 avg., 24 hits) OF; Sr. Cole Van Luvender (4-2, 4.51 ERA) P-3B; Sr. Bobby Fehr (.260 avg.) C; Jr. Scott Price 1B-OF-P; Sr. Tom Giordano (.333 avg.) OF; Jr. Alex Blanar (2-3, 3.28 ERA) P-3B; Jr. Aldo Vallorosi (.294 avg., 21 runs) 2B; So. Luke Young (.276 avg.) 1B-OF-P; Jr. Mike Luzzi (.350 avg., 14 RBIs) OF.

Key losses: Nick Grant (.360 avg., 8 RBIs) P-1B; Jon Bernotas (.645 avg., 10 RBIs) SS; Nate Kolzow P; Joey Defeo 3B-P.

Promising newcomers: So. Billy Carson SS-P; So. Jake Tarabokija Utility-P; So. Gianni Periera OF-P; Jr. Jason Leonardo P-OF; So. Justin Samilijan 1B.

Coach's comment"Coming off a rebuilding year with a very young team, we return many starters with varsity experience. We look to be improved defensively and offensively, with the strength being our pitching depth."

Outlook: Braves, as expected, took a bit of a step back last season, despite claiming a three-way share of the Colonial Divison title with North Warren and Wallkill Valley. However, there's a lot to like about this year's squad. As Selitto points out, there is depth on the mound. Van Luvender pitched better than the stats indicate and will be the ace. Cramer leads an offense that should produce more runs than last spring. Luzzi was a pleasant surprise as a sophomore, batting .350 and among the leaders in RBIs. This should be the team to beat in the division race.

Pope John Lions

Coach: Vin Bello (262-173-1, 17th season).

2015 record: 16-14, 6-2 NJAC American Division (T-first).

Key returnees: Sr. Kyle Malejko (.238 avg., 11 RBIs) OF-P; Jr. Trevor Backman (.306 avg., 3-3, 2.65 ERA, 27 K's) P-OF; Jr. Sean Miller (1-1, 1.52 ERA, 36 K's) P; Jr. Sean Roberts (1-1, 0.62 ERA) P; Jr. Hunter Silvernail (.258 avg., 13 RBIs) C; Jr.. George Somers (.259 avg., 8 RBIs) 2B; Jr. Ryan Casey (.312 avg.) OF; Jr. Justin Provost (.380 avg, 4 HRs, 17 RBIs) 3B; Jr. Davien Sanchez 1B.

Key losses: Jay Sanford (.379 avg. 36 hits, 5 HRs, 19 RBIs, .441 OBP) SS; Ethan Collins (.305 avg., 17 RBIs, 6-2, 2.47 ERA) P-1B; Matt Piwko (.290 avg.) 1B; Zack Leach (.313 avg., 3 HRs, 20 RBIs) C; Cyrus Ahmadi (0-2, 1.97 ERA) OF-P; Jack Nelson (5-4, 1.13 ERA, 72 K's) P.

Promising newcomers: Fr. Jake Wells P; Sr. Austin Markfarding SS; So. Joe Millar OF; Jr. Greg Zappalla P; Jr. Will Fowler P.

Coach's comment: "Pitching will carry this team with Miller, Roberts and Backman, and the newcomers filling in."

Outlook: Lions, who dropped their final six games in 2015, once again should be major contenders for division and county titles this season behind a solid pitching staff that features Miller and Roberts -- heading to Seton Hall and Marist, respectively -- at the top. Offense may be a question against what is an extremely tough independent schedule. Bello believes that Sanchez and Millar will have to chip in with the bats for this team to win 15 games this season.

Sparta Spartans

Coach: Sam Slobodzian (294-194-3, 20th season).

2015 record: 8-16, 2-6 NJAC American Division (fifth).

Key returnees: Sr. Connor Coyle (.329 avg., 23 hits) P; Jr. Mike Vocaturo (.328 avg., 20 hits) C-3B; Sr. Paul DeAquino (.311 avg.) SS; Sr. Jarret DiBlasio P-1B; Sr. Jared Kish P-1B; Sr. Ethan Guerra C-P; Sr. Cameron Estanislau 2B; Jr. Jack Kulik OF.

Key losses: Dillon Mendel (.319 avg., 20 RBIs, 2-3, 2.72 ERA) 3B-P; Nick Makowitz 1B-P; Tim Gondek (.337 avg., 28 hits, 11 RBIs) P-OF.

Promising newcomers: So. Cole Patten P-3B; Sr. Eugene Jerome OF; Jr. Premal Patel P; Jr. Connor Dick P; So. Matt Guerra Utility; Jr. Eric Lesch INF; So. Jake Zerrillo OF.

Coach's comment: "I feel the strength of this team will be starting pitching. With this year's core players returning, combined with a talented new crew of players, we feel this could be a very special group."

Outlook: Spartans took a big step back last season -- finishing in last place -- after winning 18 games and capturing the NJAC American Division title in 2014. But with what Slobodzian, who is six wins shy of 300, deems a solid starting staff, a bounce-back season appears to be in order. Offensively, this group struggled last season, so scoring runs will be key to a turnaround campaign.

Sussex Tech Mustangs

Coach: Brad Szatkiewicz (22-57, fourth season).

2015 record: 8-19, 0-8 NJAC Freedom Division (fifth).

Key returnees: Jr. Brandon Bendes (.290 avg., 18 runs, 2-7, 45 IP, 31 K's) OF-P-C.

Key losses: Paul Caron (.390 avg., 30 hits, 18 RBIs) SS-P; Austen Campbell (.333 avg., 24 hits, 15 RBIs) 3B-P; Eric Wistermayer (12 RBIs) C; Tom Slate (.354 avg., 23 hits, 19 runs, 15 RBIs) 2B-P; Justin Brauchle OF-P; Corey Small (.302 avg., 10 RBIs) 1B-P.

Promising newcomers: So. Zach Clawson P-1B-3B; So. Tyler Crum 1B-OF-P; So. Vito Tarulli SS-P; Jr. Gary Wolz OF-2B-P; Fr. Ryan Bell 2B-P; Fr. George Guttierrez 3B-C-P; So. Billy Wiik OF-P; So. Devin Walz OF; Jr. J.P. Benoit Utility.

Coach's comment: "This is going to be a rebuilding year with Brandon Bendes as the only returner. He will have to take on a huge role, leadership and statistically, for us to be successful. With a solid defense and decent pitching, we will have to manufacture runs to stay competitive."

Outlook: Mustangs have gone 0-20 in divisional play since joining the NJAC two seasons ago. As Szatkiewicz said, this will be a challenging season with the heavy graduation losses. The fourth-year coach is excited about the young talent on this year's roster, so improving with each game will be the main goal this spring.

Vernon Vikings

Coach: Scott Berge (58-99, eighth season).

2015 record: 10-15, 3-5 NJAC American Division (T-third).

Key returnees: Sr. Christian Capuano (3-3, 3.14 ERA) P-3B; Sr. Connor Fitzsimmons (.418 avg.) C; Sr. Ryan McNeil P-1B; Jr. Brandon Lavorini (.268 avg.) OF; Jr. Mike Suppa OF; Jr. Nick Grifone OF-P-C; Jr. Ryan Janus 3B.

Key losses: Ed Battista (.311 avg., 19 hits) 2B; Louis Caiafa (.227 avg., 9 RBIs) P-OF; Matt Emerson (.342 avg., 12 RBIs, 3-4, 3.07 ERA) P-3B; Christian Quaranta (.348 avg., 12 RBIs) SS; Sultan Destani (2-3, 4.76 ERA) P-Utility; Bryan Brinster (.310 avg.) 1B.

Promising newcomers: Sr. Patrick Carr OF; Jr. Jacob Rodriguez SS; Jr. Christian Sasso 2B; Jr. Jeffrey Cox 3B-P; Jr. Luis Calderone SS-P; Jr. William Verblaauw P; Jr. J.T. Franetovich OF-P; So. Max Rodriguez OF-P; So. Ethan Metz 3B-P; So. Daniel Fedorko 2B-C.

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

Outlook: Vikings qualified for the North 1, Group 3 playoffs last season -- dropping a 3-1 decision to Montville in the opening round. After going 5-12 following a 5-3 start and losing four extra-inning games, this year's team will need to win some of the close ones if it is to approach .500 and another trip to the postseason. Capuano is the ace of a pretty unproven staff.

Wallkill Valley Rangers

Coach: Kevin Lukich (76-94, eighth season).

2015 record: 12-12, 6-2 NJAC Colonial Division (T-first).

Key returnees: Sr. Rich Stecher (.359 avg., 17 RBIs) OF; Sr. Wes Walton (6-2, 2.90 ERA, 44 K's) OF; Sr. Jordan Florio (.306 avg.) SS-OF; So. Dylan Harlos (.308 avg.) C; Sr. Ajay Hill (.320 avg.) 1B.

Key losses: Travis Hill (.413 avg., 22 RBIs, 1-0, 2.33 ERA) C-P; Kyle Rosencranz (.369 avg., 14 runs) 2B; Michael Armstrong (.360 avg., 10 2Bs, 17 RBIs) SS; Joe Colosimo (5-3, 1.86 ERA, 45 K's) P; Sean Endres (.407 avg., 13 2Bs, 27 RBIs) 3B; Cameron Blake (.345 avg., 9 RBIs) 3B; Joe Tizzano (.417 avg.) OF; Jimmy Moffitt (.327 avg., 11 RBIs).

Promising newcomers: So. Tyler Small C; Fr. Justin Rivera SS; Jr. Anthony Marsico 3B; So. Tanner Kronski OF; Jr. Ryan Gutt OF; Jr. Anthony Russo P; Sr. Anthony Vallila INF; Sr. Ryan Higgins OF; So. Richie Coltenback C; Fr. Jake Lonsky INF; Sr. Marko Bakovic 3B; Sr. Pete Russo OF; Jr. Bryce Falk P.

Coach's comment: "This year's team comes into camp with a lot less experience, but much deeper than in recent seasons. We will have a lot of competition for several starting positions."

Outlook: After back-to-back sub-.500 seasons, Rangers hit the break even point last year and advanced to the second round of the North 1, Group 2 playoffs, dropping a 4-2 decision to Lakeland after claiming a three-way share of the NJAC Colonial Division. The graduation losses were significant, but Stecher and Walton were among the top players a year ago. If the newcomers can contribute, this group could surprise behind a solid coaching staff.

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