More than any other sport, the beauty of baseball is the notion that “on any given day” cliché rings truer than most. The idea of a No.16/15 seed knocking off the No.1/2 seed isn’t quite as far-fetched in baseball as it is in basketball, football or lacrosse, and the No.5 vs. No. 12 game is almost like a pick ‘em game. It all comes down to pitching, and who’s toeing the rubber on that particular day. These are just a handful of names, guys that are expected to produce on the mound, and some others expected to hold it together behind the hurlers.
Class A LAKELAND will have a decided advantage in that regard as the defending champion Hornets seek the first repeat in program history with two of the most consistent pitchers in the section returning under fifth-year Coach Bill Casey, the kind of stern yet soft-spoken ruler athletes love to play for.
Lakeland junior lefty Joe Vetrano is everything you want in a student athlete; he’s sharp, he’s a leader and a loyal friend, a coach’s dream and everything a mom/dad wants in a son. The Boston College-commit is also the best pitcher in Section 1 after a sophomore season in which he posted some of the best numbers in the history of the tradition-rich Hornets, who snagged the fourth sectional title in school history last June before bowing out in the state finals for the first time ever.
“Joe is the leader of this team on and off the field,” Casey said. “He plays the game the right way. He hustles every play out all the time. He genuinely cares about his teammates and shows it all the time in practice and games. Joe had big numbers last year and we expect the same this year but all he cares about is winning.”
With a fastball topping out regularly in the low-90s, an ERA of 1.48 and an unblemished record (9-0) last season, pro scouts are sure to blaze a trail to Lakeland and all points north or south when Vetrano toes the rubber this spring.
Oh, yeah, he also batted to the tune of .462 last season with a .962 slugging percentage (9 doubles, 2 triples, 9 homers in 80 at-bats). The best part is the humility exhibited by 6’3” 210-pounder on and off the field.
Additionally, Lakeland will lean on junior lefty Evan Berta (P/OF), who combines craft, guile and big-game awareness as part of his repertoire (66K’s in 48 IP). The kid can also play a mean center field and hits for marginal power (.505 slugging).
In addition to being a great pitcher, Evan He is a very good outfielder that covers so much ground for us, which he showed throughout the playoffs last year,” Casey said. “We expect him to play even a bigger role for us this year on the mound and with the bat.”
If the supporting cast, including versatile senior SS Leo Cummings, junior OF/P Andrew Croce, senior C Zach Lerman and junior 1B/P Jason Green, can round into consistent form, and Berta and Vetrano can hit in the clutch, there’s only a scant handful of teams in the section/state standing between the Hornets and their first state title #SorryIfWeMushThis.
That’s the expectation this season, as it often is for one of the section’s most consistent programs. The Robinson brothers may not be coaching baseball at Lakeland any more, but the ‘Lakeland Way’, or the branding infused by Dennis and Mike, remains the same. Putting on the green and gold cap with the raised L has meant a lot to a lot of student athletes over the years, but the program is in a position to make the kind of history it’s never seen before; beginning with an encore performance in 2019.
It will be done largely on the back of Vetrano, who just might go down in history with the likes of for aces Hornet aces Anthony Eannacony, Dennis Robinson Jr., Chris Moran, Jonathan de Marte… to many to mention. If Lakeland repeats, he’ll have topped them all, and the nucleus of this club will rank atop the all-time great Lakeland teams so #HaveAtIt.
Across the district, WALTER PANAS Coach Anthony Fata enters his 19th year as skipper of the Panthers and coming off a 13-10 season where the Panthers lost in the Class A semis, it’ll be tough to match last year’s success with so much lost to graduation.
Senior P/IF Don Hopper and junior IF Diego Urreta are key figures regarding the Panthers’ 2019 success. Urreta is a solid infielder with a big-time stick, and Hopper is the team’s most versatile player
“Diego has a big bat and Don is our everything-guy, our spark plug,” Coach Fata said.
Juniors Sean Cregan (OF/P), Mark Perez (IF/P) and Matt Calise (P) are impactful rookies. Calise is said to be a hard worker and has shown impressive stuff at each level along the way to his initial varsity foray.
“We are looking to be competitive in a very strong league,” Fata said. “We are young and untested. Our strengths will be our defense and pitching. We need to solidify the line-up because we lost some big bats in our due to graduation.”
HEN HUD is coming off a solid 16-4 season under Coach Van Vourliotis but his Sailors were greeted rudely in the post season after a first-round ousting by Panas. Senior P Nick Caruso is now a is three-year varsity starter at the top of the Sailor rotation.
“Nick has earned the right to be the ace of our staff,” the coach said. “He will lead a very young varsity pitching staff that will look up to him to be our stopper.”
Caruso’s battery-mate, Montclair State-bound C Ryoji Schwartz, is a three-year varsity starter behind the plate and a middle-of-the-order bat, who thrives in situational hitting.
“He is one of the smartest baseball players I’ve ever coached and he understands everything that may arise during a game,” Vourliotis said. “The pitching staff besides Caruso has only a handful of varsity innings, but I love the energy this team brings every day. Something is unique with this team, they’re all very close to one another no matter the grade range, a real family like feeling. I hope they are playing their best baseball come May 1st.”
YORKTOWN has done nothing but remain competitive under 17-year Coach Sean Kennedy, an assistant on Yorktown’s lone 1994 sectional championship team.
Yorktown comes off a 10-10-1 campaign, which ended in 5-2 playoff loss to mighty Mamaroneck in Class AA playoffs.
Senior P/1B Anthony Fusco struck out 44 batters and fired 32 very effective innings last season and tops out in the 84-86 MHP range. The Albany-bound Fusco is an All-League player with All-Section ability, doing so at 6’3” and 240 pounds who added four doubles, two homers and 13 RBI last year.
“Anthony is an imposing player with on the mound and at the plate,” Kennedy said. “He will be our ace and middle-of-the-order bat.”
Yorktown senior P/SS Chris Sica shoves it at 88 MPH, so bring your bat and try him as he closes games out this season.
“Chris is our shortstop and will be taking over the closer role for Tyler McDonnell (Herkimer),” Kennedy said. “He has a live arm and plenty of power at the dish.”
Senior P/1B Joe Sgobbo has good, hard stuff and could provide a tremendous one-two punch with Fusco. Sica and Nick Campanaro are experienced middle infielders who can get the outs behind them and backstop Luan Biberaj is a three-year starter. Yorktown has the parts to do some damage and compete among a tough crop of clubs in League II-C, including John Jay, Panas, Greeley, Brewster, Somers and favorite Lakeland.
BREWSTER has morphed into the one team that nobody wants to see in the post season, and last year’s run to the sectional semis was another example for the 13-11 Bears, who could not stand up to Lakeland in the end. Coach Matt Cunningham has the makings for another run in junior All-League CF Paul Catalano (.429 BA, 33 Hits, 19 BB, 21 Runs, 10 RBI, .546 OBP, 1.079 OPS).
“Paul is a tremendous all-around player who works incredibly hard and truly loves baseball,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham will also turn to fellow junior P/SS Bobby McBride to get things done. It was McBride (4-1, 2.11 ERA, 42 K’s) who broke up the Class A bracket last season when he fired a four-hitter with seven strikeouts as the 17th-seeded Bears upset top-seeded Rye, 1-0. McBride, a fun-loving soul, hit .325 with 26 RBI and 18 runs during an All-League campaign.
“Bobby is a very talented two-way player that will be the true ace that we need,” Cunningham said.
1B Nick Girard is another talented play in the junior class.
“We have a committed group of young men that want to work hard,” the coach said. “The commonality that brings them together is that they play for one another and want to be successful. Our senior captains, Ryan Gergley and Thomas Mark, have provided strong leadership bolstered by our great group of juniors. We play in a very competitive league which has gotten even stronger by adding Yorktown and Horace Greeley. We are very excited about the season and the challenges ahead of us.”
SOMERS, seeded sixth a year ago, will rely heavily on senior P/3B Logan Carriero after a solid 14-7 season that ended in a first round playoff loss. Carriero, an All-Section selection, hit .400 with two HRs, 21 runs and 15 RBI at the plate and went 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA on the mound. Senior leftys Liam Kaseta (All -League, .365 BA, 2 HR, 24 RBI) and Joey Iorizzo (.333 BA 15 IP, 13 K’s) should be impactful as well.
“We expect our team to compete each day in practice and in games,” Somers Coach Joe Wooten said. “Our seniors remain our driving force.”
That may be so, but trust us when we tell you: Keep an eye out for versatile sophomore Jack Kaiser, who works behind the dish, on the hill and at the hot corner. He’s a breakout candidate.
Second-year MAHOPAC Coach Myckie Lugbauer comes off an 8-14 season, including a first round playoff loss to White Plains. The Indians do not return a pitcher with significant varsity experience, which is mega-reason for concern.
Senior 1B Kyle Brandstetter (.345 BA) is a solid bat in the lineup, and senior OF Mike Musantry is a spark atop the lineup, but the rest of the lineup is full of fresh faces. Mahopac will need to win the old-fashioned way, by being scrappy one through nine in the lineup and doing all the little things.
“Our guys have been working hard all off-season,” Lugbauer said. “They are excited to get out on the field and get the year started. We have a scrappy group of ballplayers that are going to go out every day and play the game the right way. We have a hungry group of pitchers that are ready to make a name for themselves this year. Kyle and Mike are going to be a big part of our offensive success in the middle of our lineup, and we have a lot of guys pushing each other at different positions to earn starting spots. Defensively, we have the potential to be a very special group.”
CARMEL outscored Mahopac 25-3 last season, including an 18-0 whipping, and comes off an impressive 15-7 campaign under third-year Coach Joe Hackert, who lost 15 seniors, so you can bet Mahopac is itching for payback. The Jack Sullivan (6-1, 3 saves) era began last year and the sophomore hurler was just getting started. Sullivan, and C Anthony Febo (52% caught stealing, 6 passed ball in 116 innings), another sophomore, are about to take matters into their own hands this season as one of the region’s top young batteries, but the rest of the unit is largely untested. The 2019 team will consist of eight seniors, two juniors, seven sophomores and a freshman.
“We are very young and this year will consist of many learning curves,” Coach Hackert said,
“but with our senior leadership, we will hopefully be quick learners.”
Senior P Joe Christiana, who was injured last year, returns as a hopeful No.2 in the rotation with a solid fastball and above average curve.
League I-A, where the Dutchess County powers roam, will likely provide a rough road for both Carmel and Mahopac to hoe this season.
PUTNAM VALLEY shows two top-notch hurlers in right-hand seniors TJ Brescia and John Millicker, both big parts of a 15-8 team last year, which ended in a semifinal loss to Briarcliff. Veteran Coach Joe Natalie, entering his 15th season at PV, will lean heavily on both at the front end of the rotation. Both are in the low-to-mid-80s and senior Matt Carlsen provided a steady third starter.
“We have several seniors returning from last year’s team, an All-Section player (Brescia), several returning All-League players, and all of our pitchers have returned from last year’s staff,” Coach Nats said. “We will really miss four-year catcher Mike Gaitan, though. We have a difficult schedule that will challenge us this year and hopefully help us advance further in the sectional tournament.”
CROTON comes off an admittedly disappointing 8-13 season and first round loss to Westlake, in which the Tigers blew a three-run seventh-inning lead.
But All-League junior P/1B Max “Bubba” Luke, who tops out at 85 MPH returns after hitting .422 at the plate with 4-4 record and 2.97 ERA to go with 41 K’s in 30 IP.
“This is Bubba’s third year on varsity and he continues to get better,” Croton Coach Eric Rosen said. “Bubbs will hit in the middle of the order and will be counted on to drive in runs and get key outs.”
Junior P Jon Casieri doesn’t light up the radar gun but knows how to get hitters out after an All-League season when he hit .317 with 18 runs scored and 11 RBI and went 1-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 26 IP.
“Jon was a pleasant surprise for us last season,” Rosen said. “He’s a sure handed infielder who will start at second base. Jon will be counted on to jump start out offense as our leadoff hitter. With 16 upperclassmen – most with varsity experience — the talent is there to make some noise in Class B.”