Westchester County Baseball preview

Posted Friday, April 02, 2010 by lohud.com

Top teams
Class AA
Mamaroneck: With no one ready to fill the void left by Mamaroneck's mass graduation, the two-time state champs get the benefit of the doubt. Their backups last year were better than most teams' starters. Sam Gruppo, the only returning starter after Mike Rosenfeld's season-ending surgery, is joined by power-hitting Scott Hagan and middle infielder Dean Chiapparelli. The five senior pitchers, including Ryan Gerspach, all throw in the 80s.
John Jay: Any number of teams could go in this spot. A slight nod goes to the Indians because of their three reliable pitchers. Steve Green blows hitters away, Jared Hirschberg is going to Manhattan College, and Dean Lambert will play for Tufts. Power hitting, in copious supply during the Iacomini era, is a surprising question mark.
Keep an eye on: North Rockland, Fox Lane, Arlington, Suffern, Ketcham
Class A
Lakeland: Five times the Hornets have visited the sectional title game in the last decade, and four times they've been sent home. Co-aces Jon de Marte and Joe Arena figure it's time to reverse that trend. Last year's no-hit loss to Somers is fresh in their minds. Along with the hurlers, returning players like SS Chris Salvo and C David Judisky could propel them to another 20-1 start. This time they plan to make it count.
Hen Hud: With eight starters returning from a sectional quarterfinalist, Hen Hud has the most experience up and down its lineup. The big names are shortstop T.J. Olesczuk and 6-foot-6, 250-pound pitcher Mike Tandy, but it's guys like CF Nick Ritornato, 2B Ronan Callagy, and C Dillon Conklin that provide championship-level depth. The question mark is a rotation that, except for Tandy, has been beset by arm injuries.
Keep an eye on: Somers, Beacon, Harrison
Class B
Rye Neck: Rye Neck gets the edge over the rest of Class B because it has the most unstoppable force this side of Robbie Aviles in Ryan Pennell. A guaranteed winner almost every time he takes the hill, Pennell can shut down anyone in sectionals. The question is, can No. 2 starter Mike McCarty fill in the gaps? Alternatively, can the 10 returners (seven starters) like CF Jeff Colangelo, SS Matt Monaco, and 3B Anthony Saputo hit enough to win those games 7-5 or 9-8?
Keep an eye on: Nanuet, Kennedy, Dobbs Ferry, Pleasantville
Class C
Keio: Until the four-time champs are deposed, they are the guys to beat in a small field. Ironman pitcher Kenta Miyoshi (85⁄ innings) isn't there to carry the load. Gota Kato, the ace, shortstop, and No. 3 hitter, is the new star, with an assist from catcher Shunsuke Yokoyama. The rotation will have to be more balanced without Miyoshi's rubber arm.
Keep an eye on: North Salem, Haldane

Stepinac: With three Bronx/Westchester division championships

in five years, including the last two, this is a golden era of Stepinac

baseball. The 14 returners looking to avenge a CHSAA

championship loss to Fordham Prep include five-tool shortstop

Steve Martinez, C/RF Steve DePompeis, 2B Mike Annunziata, and

6-foot-4, 230-pound junior pitcher Greg DiGiacinto.

Keep an eye on: Fordham Prep, Iona Prep

Private schools
Rye Country Day: The Wildcats lost just two starters and no pitchers from a team that finished second in the Fairchester league last year. As Zach Tax goes about breaking school pitching records, 1B Jake Hulbert, 3B Clarke Ryan, and 2B Alex Marinier will back him up with solid hitting.
Top players
Joe Arena, Lakeland: The junior lefty spots his three pitches wherever he wants them. He went 10-0 last year with a 0.68 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 61Ÿ innings. He'll team with Jon de Marte to give Lakeland maybe the best 1-2 punch in the section.
Zach Avalos, Dobbs Ferry: Best remembered for his heroic pitching throughout the sectional and state tournaments, the senior lefthander won't pitch much in April. Elbow trouble ended his football season and will keep him in the bullpen during the first part of the season. Once he gets going, though, his curveball is nasty.
Robbie Aviles, Suffern: All signs point to the 6-foot-5 flamethrower being a high pick in the MLB draft. He has the body and the stuff of a future pro. If not there's a scholarship to Florida waiting for him. Expect a lot of strikeouts and an ERA south of last year's 0.76. All that's left to accomplish is a sectional championship.
Jon de Marte, Lakeland: It's hard to say whether the Richmond-bound junior was better as a hitter or a pitcher. He batted .410 with 12 extra-base hits, 15 runs, and 18 RBI. On the mound the big right-hander whiffed 101 with his 90 mph fastball.
Stephen Green, John Jay: Unhittable when he gets his 90 mph fastball in on your hands, the senior lefty can dominate when healthy. Therein lies the rub. He missed the end of 2008 with a sore shoulder and much of 2009 with a sore elbow. His innings will be limited in April so that he's healthy for the playoffs and for Boston College.
Tom Hanney, Nanuet: The Golden Knights never fail to field a hard-hitting lineup. If they do it this year without Dan Diaz, the primary reason will be Hanney, whose 2009 was filled with clutch hits. The senior catcher batted .378 with 19 runs and seven doubles.
Steve Martinez, Stepinac: Martinez did plenty for the Crusaders,

batting .480 with 21 runs and 14 RBI (with a wood bat) as a

shortstop. In addition to continuing that role in the heart of the

lineup, the senior will pitch in relief for a team with championship

expectations. He is looking at Pace. 

Colin Moran, Iona Prep: Moran is following his brother Brian to the University of North Carolina after a junior season in which he batted .500 with six doubles and five triples. Coach Fred Gallo said he's "twice as strong and grew 2 inches." If Iona Prep returns to the limelight it will be because of him.
T.J. Olesczuk, Hen Hud: Maybe the biggest bopper in Section 1, Olesczuk led the section with nine homers and 41 RBI last year. The four-year starting shortstop, who's headed to Winthrop, will try to bash Hen Hud to a Class A sectional title.
Ryan Pennell, Rye Neck: What can you say about Pennell that his stats — 9-0, 0.44 ERA, 136 Ks, and a 21-strikeout game — don't already? The 6-foot-4 senior worked on his iffy changeup so much in the offseason that it's now an out pitch. Pair it will his curve and a high-80s fastball with movement and you get why he's going to Elon.
Zach Tax, Rye Country Day: As long as the White Plains resident stays on the field he will break the school record for career wins, strikeouts, and ERA. He already owns the single-season strikeout record. His ticket is already punched for Columbia. 
Five questions about the season
1. Will we ever get the sectional finals back to a neutral site?
Barring a last-minute snag, the sectional championships will return to a neutral site. Sectional representatives are in talks with Dutchess Stadium, the former championship site, to bring all four classes back to the home of the Hudson Valley Renegades. Even if that doesn't work out, chances are the games will end up at Pace, Manhattanville, or another neutral site.
2. Why isn't my school playing its old league rivals?
Last summer Section 1 reshuffled the leagues to reduce travel expenses. This left many teams without traditional foes on their league schedule. Nanuet, for example, is in an all-Rockland league and will no longer play Hastings. Kennedy doesn't share a single league opponent from last year. 
3. Thanks to the realignment, my small school is stuck in a league with a bunch of bigger schools. Do I have any chance of making sectionals now?
Fear not. The section took this into account and lowered the standards to qualify for sectionals. A team needs only to win 25 percent of its overall, league, class, or class and above. It used to be 40 percent overall or 50 percent of class or class and above. It is now very difficult to not make sectionals.
4. Does Section 1 still have an extra round of regionals?
While most sectional champions in New York state have one round of regionals, Section 1 is still stuck with two (along with Sections 9 and 4). In all sports that makes it tougher to reach the final four, but especially in baseball where you have to burn pitching. At least Class AA has the rotating first-round bye this year.
5. Why is my firebreathing first-base coach so quiet all of a sudden? 
The National Federation that sets guidelines for high school baseball across the country is tightening the leash on assistant coaches. No longer will they be allowed to bark at umpires about bad calls. An umpire can now force a rowdy assistant to the bench or eject him for conduct that is permitted for a head coac