By Anthony Bosco
Jack Curran led the Archbishop Molloy Stanners to the 17th CHSAA city championship in his more than four decades as head coach of the varsity baseball team. But the team’s 26th appearance in the title game has taken its toll on the 2003 squad.
Gone are such stars as Mike Baxter, Keith Hahn, Matt Fealey, Rich Romeo, Gil Valle and Mike Shea. But even with such key losses, no opposing coach is ready to count out Curran, who has more than a few stellar ballplayers to turn to this season.
“They have a good chemistry about them,” Curran said of his team.
Senior catcher Nick Derba was one of the league’s premier backstops a season ago and returns to the Stanners’ fold this season.
“He’s been great,” Curran said. “I expect him to do very well, like he did last year. He’s a key player.”
First baseman Matt Rizzotti is also back and will bat fourth in the Molloy lineup. Another returnee, pitcher James Lally, looks to be the anchor of a deep pitching staff that will also feature Rizzotti, Brian Honeyman, Ryan Roberts and Mike Montali.
Roberts will see time at center field when not pitching, while fellow junior Sean Chang will play second, senior Ed Hackimer will play both shortstop and center field and senior Mike Sportan will play third. Tom Catalanotto will patrol right field, while Curran will platoon several others in left. Jovan Santos will also figure into the mix at a variety of positions.
The consensus around the league seems to be that St. Francis Prep may well emerge as the team to unseat Molloy this season. After a 19-8 campaign in 2002 — and a trip to the CHSAA semifinals — head coach Bro. Robert Kent has a bevy of talented starters returning.
Gone are Mike Aglialoro, Brian Forman, Rich McGraw and Jason Leberfeld, who are playing ball in college, but just about everyone else is back.
Steve Eng is at short, Peter Mazzurco will play right field and pitch, Danny Michitsch is in center, PJ Gorynski will be at second and catch, and Sean Sciretta is penned in as a utility player.
The pitching rotation will feature Mazzurco, who was also the starting quarterback for the football team, Mark Foris, David Robertson and Danny Weinman.
Several new faces will join the Terriers this season, including Mike Xifaras, who will catch and be a designated hitter, third baseman/pitcher Joey Ivaces and first baseman Mark Burik.
“It’s up to us,” Kent said. “We have a pretty good team with a lot of experience. Unless we hurt ourselves, I think we got a pretty good shot.”
Christ the King is another team returning a good portion of last year’s squad, which went 25-8. Head coach Walter Tuthill will benefit from 11 returning players, eight of whom will start.
At the head of the pack are pitchers Robert Boland, Jose Duverge and Kenny Vanbrunt, giving the Royals perhaps the best rotation in the borough. Standout catcher Mike Schaetzle will again be the backstop, while Joseph Amato (2B/DH), Elvin Millan (2B) and Rafael Lajara (3B).
Senior pitcher/leftfielder James Calamia is a transfer from Cathedral Prep and should also see significant playing time.
“This is the first time I’ve had so many starting pitchers,” Tuthill said. “It’s a nice thing to have. And my catcher is tremendous. I think he’s the best catcher in the league. This team here is really focused. This is one of the hardest working teams I ever had. There’s just something there. They have that certain chemistry about them. They play well together.”
Monsignor McClancy and head coach Nick Melito announced in emphatic terms the Crusaders’ intention to be right in the thick of it this year by besting last season’s regular season Brooklyn/Queens champs, Xaverian, 4-1, in the league opener last week.
“We have experience,” Melito said. “I think we’re very strong defensively. I think we’ll be very competitive.”
Eight players are back from last year, including seven starters. Kevin Conlin, who may be Ivy-League bound, will be the team’s ace, bat clean-up and play first when not on the hill.
Junior Steve Kroski will bat sixth and play catcher for a second year on the varsity team. Ed Gonzalez will bat fifth and patrol the hot corner, while center field will belong to David Copello, a three-year starter and one of the fastest lead-off men in the league.
Junior shortstop Vinny Johnson makes the jump from Cathedral to McClancy, while Matt Gelormino, another returning starter, will play in the outfield, along with Chris Cesario, who sat out last year.
The pitching staff will include Peter Massaro, Ed McDonnell, Bob Gorvetzian and Brandon Stueber, and both could start if needed
“Basically, we’re built on speed and defense,” Melito said. “I think the pitching is good enough to hold up. On paper we’re pretty solid.”
Holy Cross, 3-15 in league play last year, is led by second-year coach Doug Manfedonia, who has nine players back, including five starters. Second baseman Tom Habermann, centerfielder Dave Dilello, shortstop Frank Terzo, first baseman Mike Mondesi and outfielder Mike Williams will all start. Pitcher Brett Swiatocha is also back
New players to receiver time will be pitcher/outfielder Anthony Bruno, third baseman Ryan McGovern and catcher Charlie Gill.
“I see an improvement,” Manfedonia said. “They’ve learned a lot in the past year. They’ve learned how to win and they’ve learned how to lose. In my eyes they just made a lot of what I call freshman mistakes. I think they have cleansed themselves of that. We had a pretty good fall and they’ve been very, very dedicated this spring.”
Manfedonia added: “I think there’s going to be more parity in the league this year. I don’t think the first-place team is going to be that far ahead of the second-place team. The bottom teams have taken one step forward.”
Cathedral Prep and St. John’s Prep both have new coaches and will play in the CHSAA ‘B’ division.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.