And there the similarities end. The Huguenots lost only two players from last season’s 15-6 team (starter Conor Probst and outfielder/pitcher Steve Mistarka), while the Huskies lost nearly their entire starting team (ace Cody Weaver, shortstop Mike Fallatik, second baseman Matt Relyea, centerfielder Jared Gersch, rightfielder Landon Ingraham, first baseman Marcus Kolber, DH Steve Tozzi and reserve infielders Aaron Franco and Chris Hait).
Back for New Paltz is five-year veteran Jon Diaz (a senior) in centerfield, four-year veteran JT Ferraro (senior) at shortstop, starting catcher Pete Ferrante (senior), third baseman Eric Pesavento (junior), second baseman Rick Drosdowich (junior), leftfielder/pitcher Austin Pikulski (senior), rightfielder/pitcher Brian Krebs (junior), reliever Mike Beck (senior), first baseman/outfielder Ryan Lamarck (sophomore, who came up from JV’s in the middle of last season), catcher/DH Chris Mazzei (senior), pitcher Tyler Pece (senior) and utilityman Sean Harrington (senior).
Coach Sam Phelps, now in his fifth year with the varsity, has put together a solid program, with this year’s team ready to win it all. “Jon (Diaz) has the big bat (eight home runs last season), speed, defense in the outfield -- we’re not pitching him this season -- and teams with JT (Ferraro), who is just an amazing asset with his incredible defense at short, speed, surprising power and leadership, to give us two of the best players in the Section. Then add Pes (Pesavento) who is also one of the best players in the Section, who can hit and plays his position as well as anyone around; Ricky Drosdowich, who is coming on and had a bunch of clutch plays and hits for us last year; and Pete (Ferrante) behind the plate, and our strength through the middle can match up with anyone in the Section.”
Losing Probst and not having Diaz to pitch -- he was number two last season -- points up maybe the only chink in the New Paltz armor. “Right now Austin (Pikulski) is our number one, with Krebs and newcomer (junior) Kyle Hoffman as two-three, and maybe Tyler Pece and newcomer (junior) Kyle Smith getting some innings as well. And besides Mike (Beck) in relief, we’re also going to try (senior) John Ferrante, who didn’t play last year, as a closer.” Other newcomers are sophomore slugger Anthony Amado (first base) and junior outfielders Chad Wells, Eric Scagnelli and Anthony Tortorici.
“This is a veteran team who put up some good offensive numbers last season, but whose real strength is defense. We had a great defense last season. It carried us in a lot of tough games,” said Phelps. “So, yeah, we’re loaded, but with Marlboro always good, Red Hook an up-and-coming young team and Onteora again solid, our Division (2 of the MHAL) is as tough as usual. Cornwall is the team to beat in Sections, but Marlboro moving up from B to A adds another tough team to get through.” Phelps only problem, as he sees it -- and one that could interfere with this team emerging as maybe the best in the Section -- is that the Huguenots only have 14 scheduled games. “We have no tournaments this season. All the games are league games. It’s frustrating and harder to keep that edge you need if you want to win a title. Last year we had 18 regular season games, plus three in the Section playoffs, for 21...we really want to play some more games.”
New Paltz baseball opens the 2011 season at FDR on Thursday, April 7 at 4 p.m.; with the home opener against Wallkill on Monday April 11 at 4 p.m. The Huguenots are at Saugerties on Wednesday, April 13 at 4 p.m. and finish the week hosting Division-foe Onteora on Thursday, April 14 at 4 p.m.
Highland returns a solid nucleus for fifth-year coach Jim Delmar, with most of his players able and willing to play a myriad of positions. “We’re fortunate to have these kind of players, and with a lot of pitching should find us qualifying for Sections for the fourth season in a row.”
That pitching that Delmar speaks of starts with sophomore ace Max Cruz (third base/outfield when not on the mound), who last season hurled a masterful lights-out 2-0 shutout win over number two seed O’Neill in a Section 9 quarterfinal, and continues to senior Devin Palmatier (first base), senior Travis Dutka (who was out last season, also centerfield), sophomore Gavin McCann (shortstop/second base), juniors Anthony Smith (first base/outfield), Jake Doyle (rightfield), Eric Velie (first base) and Matt Hart (third base/catcher), and sophomore newcomer Chris Ranalli (second base/shortstop/catcher). The other non-pitcher returnees are starting leftfielder Mike Forte (a senior), starting catcher Terrance Sheehan (senior) and up-from-JV’s junior outfielder Anthony Pavese. Another newcomer is sophomore infielder Jared Babineau.
“After Max, Devin and Travis it will be relief by committee, see who has the hot hand. The only issue with the guys is that they all play multiple sports and sometimes in the past have not focused on baseball during the season. I know it’s hard with all their involvements in other club sports, but if they want to improve and really become a top team in the league, they’ll have to make that commitment to the game. Like I said it’s hard, but with a Division (2 of the MHAL) of Spackenkill -- who plays baseball year-round -- Ellenville -- on the upswing with some terrific all-around ballplayers -- and Rhinebeck -- who has a very good team this year -- it’s a game we have to focus on.”
Highland opens the season at Pine Plains on Tuesday, April 5 at 4 p.m.; then hosts Millbrook in a home opener on Thursday, April 7 at 4 p.m. The Huskies travel to Coleman on Monday, April 11 at 4 p.m. and host Webutuck on Wednesday, April 13 at 4 p.m. and Division-foe Rhinebeck on Thursday, April 14 at 4 p.m.