Stepinac Baseball leans on tradition

Posted Friday, April 03, 2009 by Lohud.com

Baseball preview: Stepinac leans on tradition

By Josh Thomson
The Journal News • April 3, 2009

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WHITE PLAINS - It graduated 12 seniors, including an ace and a hitter so formidable teams game-planned to avoid throwing him strikes. If those losses don't faze Stepinac as it opens a new season, what will?

Indeed, the mood in the Crusaders' camp this spring was upbeat. Even without Alex Maruri, a slugger who hit a robust .483 and .500 the last two seasons, thoughts of a repeat have the defending Bronx-Westchester division champ charged to start 2009.

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Stepinac has won two of the last four division titles. Despite 14 underclassmen, it begins the search for another.

"We've come a long way. We're actually a team other teams look to beat," coach Pat Duffy said. "We're in the playoffs every year. We have a couple of titles. We took Iona down a couple of times, swept them last year, and it's something to be said. We're happy but we want to keep that going."

Tradition is built one senior class at a time in the CHSAA. Last year's class sent four players to Division I or II programs: Maruri, a first baseman, to Elon; Eric Capowski, the shortstop, to Iona; Eric Cuadrado, the former ace, to American International; and Greg Caruso, a pitcher and outfielder, also to American International.

While this year's class may lack that depth, Duffy hopes it will make up for it in impact. Iona-bound spark plug Anthony Muccio will shift from the leadoff spot to the three-hole and from second to third base. Catcher Ed Martinez will guide a promising pitching staff led by senior righty Ed Byrne.

That trio and their classmates don't intend to step backward after a run to the final four of the city tournament.

"They were all good players, but I think we can compete," Muccio said. "We're very young, but we're a very talented team. All the younger players can hit and they know how to play baseball."

One, junior Steven Martinez, is the heir apparent to Maruri. He batted .338 with 13 RBI as a sophomore third baseman, but will move to short this year.

Duffy said Division I programs have already swooned, including St. John's.

"He's got that kind of talent. Five tools," Duffy said. "He can be that marquee guy."

More advance billing comes attached to 6-foot-4, 220-pound Michael Bradshaw, a junior transfer from rival Iona Prep.

The big righty sat out his sophomore year after a disagreement with the Gaels' coaching staff. He redshirted at Stepinac last fall but was able to practice with the club, and could now add major talent to the pitching staff.

"He can definitely fill in for one of the top pitchers," Ed Martinez said. "He has a lot of velocity. We're still working on his control, but hopefully by playoff time he should be fine."

Duffy cautioned that Bradshaw had yet to throw a varsity pitch, although it hasn't stopped him from imagining what could be.

"He throws the ball real hard, he's got four pitches and he's big. Who knows where he can go? The sky's the limit, but it's early," Duffy said. "I wouldn't be surprised if this kid comes out, is lights out and is our guy."

Two sophomores promoted from the JV, Danny DiFilippo and Greg Digiacinto, are expected to pitch quality innings. A junior, JV MVP Steven DePompeis, will slot into the outfield immediately.

Stepinac will need their help. Fordham Prep and Mount St. Michael have pitching; Iona Prep has tradition and three Division I-bound players.

"It's usually Iona, but I think it's going to be Fordham and Mount this year," Muccio said.

"I don't see a runaway horse," Duffy said. "I would love to say us, but we're so young."

And hungry.

Reach Josh Thomson at jthomson@lohud.com.

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