By Dylan Butler
Every year, Cardozo baseball coach Pete Douglas says, the goal is to win the city championship.
But after last year’s success, when the Judges advanced to the quarterfinals only to lose to top-seeded Lehman by one run, and with a number of key returnees — including the 1-2 pitching punch of Danny Rosenbluth and Mike Lenzo as well as underrated shortstop Bernie Estevez — that goal has never been more attainable.
“Because of the new setup, where you play a best-of-three series in the semifinals, it can really help us that we have that depth,” said Douglas, whose team finished 19-4 last year and won the Queens East A crown for the 11th time in 12 years.
With Rosenbluth, last year’s TimesLedger Player of the Year, crafty southpaw Lenzo, as well as James Kim and Mike Errigo back on the mound, Cardozo has one of the most experienced pitching staffs in the city.
Its infield, featuring returnees Estevez, Denis Medic (2B), Jesse Malin (3B) and Rosenbluth and Lenzo, who will platoon at first base, is experienced and solid. The biggest question marks, though, are behind the plate and in the outfield.
If Cardozo isn’t the best team in the borough, then the title will likely belong to perennial powerhouse John Adams, which defeated the Judges, 3-2, in an exhibition game Saturday.
The Spartans, who were 19-5 last year in the PSAL and lost to Lehman in the city semifinals, have plenty of punch in the lineup, led by mega-talented junior shortstop Carlos Guzman.
Also back for Adams is senior Johnny Lluberes, who will be the team’s No. 1 pitcher, junior first baseman Alex Cordero, senior pitcher/infielder Xavier Carpio, junior second baseman Louis Gioppo, junior first baseman Jeff Batista and senior catcher Louie Gonzalez.
Back from academic ineligibility is speedy sophomore center fielder Freddy Pena and sophomore designated hitter/pitcher Lucas Tellado.
“Our lineup is equal to the [Lafayette city championship team] in 1991, the [John Adams] team in 1997 that went 47-0 and lost in the third round of the playoffs and the 1999 city championship team at John Adams,” said Adams coach Glenn Beyer. “From one through nine there are no easy outs.”
Joining Adams, as well as Brooklyn powers Grand Street Campus and Bushwick in Queens West A, is senior-laden Grover Cleveland. Jack Ciano, who enters his 14th year as head coach, expects to go further than last year’s 5-3 first-round playoff loss at Port Richmond.
“We have a lot of three- and four-year guys,” Ciano said. “If everything goes right, we should be very competitive this year.”
Among the six starters returning for Cleveland, which finished 10-9 last year, are senior center fielder/pitcher Ricky Perez, a power hitter who already hit two homers in four preseason games, and junior pitcher Michael Boothby, who was 3-0 with a 0.41 earned run average last year.
Newtown coach Neil Rosenblatt had high expectations last year, but the Pioneers finished a disappointing 7-11.
This year Newtown’s success will rest on a very young pitching staff led by one superb ace in senior Miguel Maria, who is also the team’s top hitter.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Rosenblatt said. “We have a lot of young arms and we’ll see how far they’ll carry us.”
Returning for Newtown is junior pitcher/second baseman Tommy Mejia, sophomore shortstop Yordis Veras and catcher Miguel Reyes. Leading the youth movement is freshman lefty Andres Caceres, who will figure in the rotation.
Aviation struggled last year, finishing 4-15 and in last place in Queens West A, but with a strong core of returnees, led by senior lefty pitchers Ronny Vargas and Jonathan Bonhomme. Also back is senior shortstop/pitcher Jose Hernandez and sophomore Jeffrey Hernandez, who will move from first base to catcher.
“It was rough last year; we lost a lot of games last year, but we learned from them,” said Aviation coach Mike Fisher. “We should do a lot better this year. We should be more competitive.”
Long Island City is also looking to rebound from a tough 2002, when the Bulldogs were 4-14. Head coach Harley Watstein has a slew of returnees, including senior catcher David Mercado and senior center fielder Jason Lopez. The Bulldogs also have three pitchers returning, including junior Luis Taveras.
While Cardozo appears to be the clear favorite in Queens East A, Francis Lewis and Bayside should also contend for a playoff berth.
After graduating Jonathan Lewis (Stony Brook) and Mario Santiago (Queensborough) in consecutive years, Francis Lewis will be without a dominant pitcher for the first time in years.
But the Patriots do return a very strong defensive team, including senior catcher Adlai Allen, senior first baseman Chang Yi Chiang, senior infielder Matt Adams, senior pitcher Mike Guarnieri, senior leftfielder Peter Stein and junior rightfielder John Tibay.
“The key to this team is defense,” said coach Randy James. “If we get good pitching and defense, we should fight with Cardozo for the division title. If not, we’ll be fighting for a playoff spot.”
Nothing short of a return to the playoffs, where Bayside gave PSAL champion Monroe a first-round scare last year, will be acceptable for Commodores coach Pat Torney.
“If we don’t make the playoffs this year it will be disappointing,” he said. “We have guys with experience at almost every position.”
Leading the returnees is senior pitcher Anthony McCarty (6-2, 2.83 ERA), the middle infield of Jason Espinal (SS) and Alfredo Nunez (2B) as well as senior centerfielder and leadoff batter Michael Dynia, senior utility player Justin Hutt and much improved first baseman Andres Ferreira.
Greg Reo, last year’s TimesLedger Coach of the Year, led Richmond Hill to the playoffs for the first time in four years. But without pitchers Luis Abreu (Queensborough) and Jorge Rivera, a second straight trip to the postseason will not be easy.
Should the Lions make the playoffs, a big reason will be senior catcher Jason Martinez, who batted .459 with 17 RBI last year. Also back is sophomore Ted Riofrio, junior Chris Esposito and sophomore Anthony Villardi.
Without much pop at the plate, Thomas Edison will rely on strong pitching and defense if it wants to improve on last year’s last-place finish in Queens East A.
Returning for the Inventors are senior twins Angel and Miguel Espinal, who will play center field and shortstop, respectively, senior catcher Michael Fels and senior first baseman Reuel Mensche. Coach Gerry Levy also starts three sophomores, lanky lefty pitcher Michael Gardner, infielder Chris Chan and outfielder Leo Marin.
Edward Shectman is the third coach in four years at Van Buren, and without all-purpose Brian Berg (Queensborough), who was 1-5 with a 2.41 ERA and batted .511, the young VeeBees will likely struggle to improve on last year’s 3-15 record.
Rounding out the division is John Bowne, coached by Ed Brown. The Wildcats lost their last three last year to finish 8-11.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.