BRISTOL - Last season was a successful one for the local baseball teams and this season appears to be poised to be a repeat.
Coming off a Class S state title, St. Paul will have holes to fill in the pitching staff but the many returning players and defense could help to offset the losses and inexperience.
Bristol Eastern’s 2016 season did not end like the Lancers had hoped and some key cogs from a year ago will not be back. But the team’s returning offensive firepower and defensive prowess could allow the Lancers to address some of their unfinished business.
A significant chunk of Bristol Central’s starting lineup in 2016 graduated after the season but the Rams have some talent coming up to plug the gaps. Pitching and defense are expected to be strong for Bristol Central but teams need to score runs to win, which could be an issue for the Rams.
Terryville is the only local baseball team with a new head coach this season but the players are experienced. Defense could keep the Kangaroos afloat for a while but Terryville will need to find consistent offense and pitching quickly if it wants to make another appearance in the postseason.
Here’s a closer look at each of the teams:
Coach: Vic Rinaldi (2nd season, 20-5)
Last season: 20-5, Class S champions
Key returners: Andrew Owsianko (sr., 3B), Zach Parent (sr., led team in hitting in 2016), Ryan Greene (jr., 1B), Wes Lahey (sr., P), Dylan Gagnon (so., P), Nick Morrell (jr., 2B), Jack Bator (sr., OF/P)
Falcons’ outlook: For the first time since the 1973 season and only the third time in school history, St. Paul is entering a season as a defending state title champion. The Falcons won back-to-back Class M titles in 1971 and 1972 - amid three consecutive title-game appearances - and will be looking to repeat the feat this season in Class S after last season’s 4-2 win over Morgan in the state final.
The Falcons lost quite a few integral seniors from last year’s team, including All-State pitcher Connor Crean, who pitched in the title game. But there are also some key players coming back for St. Paul. Senior pitcher Wes Lahey is Crean’s heir-apparent and St. Paul coach Vic Rinaldi explained that he will be the team’s horse this season.
Andrew Owsianko was solid on the mound, in the field and at the plate last season for St. Paul, but because of an injury, he will not be on the mound this season. Rather, he will be the Falcons’ third baseman and bat in the middle of the order. Zach Parent, who led the Falcons at the plate last season, will also be back.
For Rinaldi, the returning guys are known quantities. Where the questions lie is with the newer players.
“We did lose five starters so we’re going to have to rely on the young guys,” he said. “The quicker they contribute, the quicker we will be successful.”
With the loss of Crean - and, for that matter, Owsianko - on the mound, there could be more pressure on the defense but Rinaldi is confident the Falcons are up to the task.
“Our strength is going to be defense, especially the infield,” Rinaldi said. “Our defense in the infield is strong.”
NVL outlook: Rinaldi had a difficult time picking out one or two teams to beat in the league, saying, “The NVL is going to be competitive, with a lot of talent from a lot of teams like any year.”
“It’s anyone’s league to win,” he added. “I’d like to think we’re one of them.”
Coach: Mike Giovinazzo (43rd season, 568-310)
Last season: 21-3, CCC South Blue Division champions, lost in Class L semifinals
Probable starters: Mike Massarelli (sr., C/1B), Gary Gagnier (sr., C/3B/P), Josh Nohilly (jr., 1B/OF/P), Shawn Savior (sr., 2B/P), Cory Fradette (jr., SS/P), Macgregor Goulet (jr., 3B), Zac Marquis (sr., OF/P, 2016 team leader in RBI, all-conference), Jake Violette (sr., OF/P, .353 batting average in 2016), Anthony Lozier (sr., OF), Jaden Laprise (so., OF), Ethan O’Day (sr., P), Carter Dziedzic (so., P), Alex DeNote (jr., P)
Key reserves: Ethan Pearson (sr.), Matt Thornton (sr.), Keegan Bartis (jr.), Dave Bernier (jr.)
Lancers’ outlook: Bristol Eastern entered last season’s Class L tournament as the No. 1 seed but suffered a crushing loss in the semifinal round. Now, the Lancers will be trying to follow up their 21-win season and avenge the early exit.
Possibly the biggest question for Bristol Eastern entering this season is pitching. All-State pitcher Nate Carney was stellar for the Lancers last season and leaves quite a void in the staff and Tyler Troth, the team’s No. 2 starter as a junior last season, moved to Torrington. According to Bristol Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo, the Lancers’ pitchers this season are relatively untested but if they can step up, the team could contend.
The good news for the Lancers is that the defense and hitting did not take as big of a hit because of losing seniors as the pitching. Zac Marquis led Bristol Eastern in RBI last season and Jake Violette recorded a .353 batting average. Marquis and Violette will be joined by Anthony Lozier in the outfield, forming an all-senior unit.
In addition to the outfield, Bristol Eastern has either a junior or senior poised to start at every defensive position. Giovinazzo is especially high on his middle infield defense, with senior Shawn Savior at second base and junior Cory Fradette at shortstop.
CCC outlook: Bristol Eastern won its division last season but the competition could be stiffer this season and may not come from very far away. Giovinazzo singled out Bristol Central and New Britain from a very-competitive division as frontrunners.
Coach: Bunty Ray (11th season, 161-58)
Last season: 12-10, lost in Class LL second round
Probable starters: Jeremy Ganavage (sr., C), Jacob Santiago (fr., C), Eric Gaudreau (sr., INF), Brock Clark (sr., INF/P), Noah Plantamuro (jr., INF/P), Jaylen Dias (so., INF), Kevin White (sr., INF/P), Dathan Hickey (jr., OF), Mike Lemke (sr., OF), Alec Diloretto (so., OF/P), Kenny Knox (sr. OF/P), Alex Balfour (jr., P),
Key reserves: Josh Bodley (sr.), Stephen Warkoski (jr.), Rich Santana (jr.)
Rams’ outlook: Youth and inexperience is the story for Bristol Central entering this season. The Rams lost three quarters of their starters from last year due to graduation, including All-State first baseman Jordan Banks, which could hurt their offensive production this season.
But Bristol Central coach Bunty Ray believes his team has the potential to surprise some people with its play this season
“How fast our guys settle into new roles will be important,” Ray said.
The Rams’ strengths are expected to be defense and pitching this season. All-conference shortstop Noah Plantamuro will be back this season for Bristol Central, as will speedy center fielder Dathan Hickey. And the Rams will have a seasoned trio of hurlers taking the field this spring.
“Brock Clark, Ken Knox, and Alec Diloreto all have significant experience on the mound,” Ray said, “and Alex Balfour will factor in the rotation on the mound.”
Ray sees pitching depth as a key to success for his team, mostly because of the volatile New England weather, which could force a condensed schedule at the end of the season. He feels that his staff is more than capable of handling the load and giving the performances that they may need to down the stretch.
CCC outlook: Ray returned Giovinazzo’s praise, naming Bristol Eastern as one of the teams the Rams will be looking out for, as well as an experienced Wethersfield squad. Behind them, Ray mentioned the dangerous pitching of New Britain and Newington.
Coach: Brian Rosano (1st season)
Last season: 10-11, lost in Class S second round
Probable starters: Colin Bamrick (so., C), John Grimes (sr., 1B), Riley Zappone (jr., 2B), Shawn Fulton (sr., SS, 2016 First-Team All-Berkshire League), Mike Tiscia (jr., 3B), Zach Harnish (sr., OF), Derek Thibodeau (sr., OF), Brad Kozikowski (sr., OF), Matt Jobaggy (sr., OF)
Key reserves: Tanner Carone (OF), Josh Wrigth (P/OF), Adam Sprague (3B/1B), Dominic Zappone (P/2B), Frank Tirino (P/1B)
Kangaroos’ outlook: After eight seasons coached by Peter Veleas, Brian Rosano has taken over as the head coach for Terryville and, to make the transition a bit easier, he has plenty of veteran leadership on the team. The Kangaroos have five starters from a year ago returning and only one player in the starting lineup is not a junior or senior. They also have five pitchers that have varsity experience under their belt.
One weakness for Terryville this season could be offensive production. The loss of star catcher Ian Schmidt to graduation will be a tough hole to fill, as he was responsible for so much last season.
On the other side of the ball, the Kangaroos’ pitching could be pivotal this season.
“The depth of our pitching staff will certainly be tested,” Rosano said, “and the way that we perform on the mound will go a long way in determining our success.”
Despite the possible road blocks, the Kangaroos are still hopeful they can finish above .500 and qualify for the state tournament.
Berkshire League outlook: Terryville will be facing some stiff competition in the league this season. Rosano singled out Northwest Regional as the cream for the Berkshire League crop, while also mentioning Thomaston, Gilbert and Lewis Mills as contenders.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @K_baum30