By Dylan Butler
Newtown baseball coach Neil Rosenblatt is sure because of realignment that the Queens West A division, featuring perennial powerhouses John Adams and Grand Street Campus, is going to be one of the toughest in the city.
To prepare for the grueling league slate, which features up to four league games a week, Rosenblatt actively sought out some of the top teams in the city for its non-league schedule.
In addition to playing in the prestigious Monroe Holiday Invitational Tournament for a second straight year, Newtown will take on Monroe, George Washington, Lehman and Clinton.
Newtown, which won the Queens A-II division title last year with an 11- 5 record and lost to New Dorp in the first round of the playoffs, will depend on a deep pitching staff led by Miguel Maria. The junior hurler was 5-0 last year with a 1.82 earned run average and carries a 22-inning scoreless streak into the season.
Other standouts include Edwin Tolentino, a senior centerfielder/shortstop who was the team’s top hitter last year, batting .509 with three home runs and 18 RBIs in 53 at-bats, senior Allendi Peralta, who is the team’s No. 2 pitcher and will also play shortstop, and senior Rene Valerio, who will also see time on the mound and will also play the outfield and DH.
A shocking 4-0 loss to Lincoln in the second round of the playoffs last season is still fresh on the minds of John Adams. The Spartans (14-2 last season) will look to avenge that loss this year, but will do so without graduated Sean Bell (2-0, 1.75 ERA) and Nick Treppiedi, who batted .323 and was 1-0 with a 4.14 ERA.
An unexpected loss for head coach Glenn Beyer and the Spartans is senior ace Marc Rios, who is heading to Potomac JC in West Virginia. The lefty learned last week he is out for the year after breaking the pinky finger on his non-pitching hand in a 3-0 loss to New Utrecht March 15.
Senior Kervin King, also a centerfielder, will assume the role as ace of the staff. King was 2-0 last year with a 1.25 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 11.2 innings last season.
Also back is sophomore Carlos Guzman, a potential pro prospect, who will play third base and will also be the team’s lefty closer, Johnny Lluberes, a junior outfielder/first baseman, who batted .640 last year with two home runs and 21 RBIs in 50 at-bats, and versatile junior infielder Louis Gioppo returns after hitting .465 last season.
Grover Cleveland (7-7 last season) has been rebuilding the last two years and head coach Jack Ciano believes this could be the year that his Indians break out.
Leading the charge is senior catcher Gabriel Aracena, a transfer from Grady, and Ricky Perez, a junior three-year starter, who was 2-2 with a 3.50 ERA and batted .472 in the lead-off slot.
Ciano is also looking for production from seniors Danny Fruggero (.306 batting average last year), a leftfielder and pitcher who will bat fifth, and Jose Abreu, who will bat second and play third and pitch. He batted .391 and was 3-0 last year with a 4.38 ERA.
Aviation missed out on winning the Queens A-I crown by one game last year and lost to George Washington, 3-2, in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’re going to try and build on missing winning the division title by one game last year,” said Aviation coach Mike Fischer. “We might not have the big superstar names, but we have a big strong young team.”
Gone from last year’s team, which went 10-6, is Fadul Bambino, who batted .400 and was 4-2 with a 1.66 ERA and is now playing at Long Island University.
Returning is senior pitcher/second baseman Mario Arthur, who batted .394 as the team’s designated hitter last season. Junior lefty Ronny Vargas was the MVP of the junior varsity team last year and can also play the outfield. Senior centerfielder Michael Pietrzak is also back.
Long Island City went 6-9 last year with a young and inexperienced group. This year the Bulldogs are even younger, the youngest team in Harley Watstein’s five years as head coach, with half of its team freshmen and sophomores.
Sophomore pitchers Alveris Rodriguez (1-1, one save and a 5.15 ERA) and John Zohios (0-3 with a 3.59 ERA) will be depended upon to lead the pitching staff while junior catcher David Mercado, who batted .348 last season, should add much needed experience.
Rounding out the division is power hitting Grand Street Campus (14-3 last year, lost to Monroe in the quarterfinals last year) and much improved Bushwick.
Moving because of realignment, Richmond Hill is in its first season in the Queens A East division after going 3-12 last year. The Lions are a young group who have only three seniors. But one of those seniors, lefty Jorge Rivera, who was 1-4 last season with a 2.68 ERA and had 31 strikeouts in 31.2 innings, second-year head coach Greg Reo considers, “one of the best lefties in the city.”
Jason Martinez, who batted .389 last year, is a junior catcher/pitcher and probably the best all-around player on the team.
Some of the top young players are sophomore Chris Esposito, who will start at third base, and freshman Anthony Villardi, who will start at first and should bat fifth.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.