Hometeam: Central Mass. baseball preview capsules.


Division 1

Algonquin Tomahawks

Coach: Mike Mocerino (second season).

Last season: 13-9; lost to Doherty, 1-0, in CMass Division 1 quarterfinal.

Outlook: The Tomahawks look to compete after graduating 11 seniors, including Pat Kane (4-2, 2.59 ERA, 45 Ks), Malik Daley (.359) and Jack Henningson and losing Mike Stamas (3-1, 3.39 ERA) to the Cushing Academy basketball team. However Mocerino has solid senior leadership in shortstop Ryan Solomon (.351, 4-0, 1.60 ERA, 22 Ks), second baseman Eric Hart, third baseman Zach Foster and catcher David Wrin. Juniors Connor Henderson, Charles Gallagher and Nolan Kessinger make up the pitching staff, with Matt Geoffrion also getting limited time on the mound and at first base after recovering from Tommy John surgery. With such a young team and influx of new players, Mocerino recognizes that while they're strong up the middle and on the mound, they still need to gain some experience in all aspects of the game. "The eight returning players all had varsity time last year, which will really help the new players learn,'' Mocerino said.

Burncoat Patriots

Coach: Jim McNamara (third season).

Last season: 8-13; lost to St. John's, 2-1, in CMass Division 1 first round.

Outlook: The Patriots graduated their best hitter in Matt Howard (.582, 3 homers, 24 RBIs) and top pitcher in Chris Ladou (4-2, 1.89 ERA), but McNamara can still rely on senior three-year starter Seamus O'Connor (pitcher/shortstop), junior Jorge Nieves (catcher) and senior Irvin Gonzalez (pitcher/third base). Junior Andrew Bitar starts in center field, and senior Christian Vega and sophomore Sylvester Drew also contribute. Nieves and Bitar head up a strong junior class that also includes Brandon Kania, Jose Rodriguez, John Alicandro, Jim Strong, Jan Carlos Sanchez and Dave Howard.

Doherty Highlanders

Coach: Ed Whalen (10th season).

Last season: 15-7; lost to St. Peter-Marian, 2-1, in CMass Division 1 semifinal.

Outlook: The Highlanders have a big void left with the graduations of Luke Brennan (5-2, 1.17 REA, 74 Ks) and Jackson Benoit (.462, HR, 16 RBIs), but Doherty looks to a strong core that includes second baseman Matt Lyons and outfielder Drew Goldstein to compete this year. They will help offset the lineup punch lost with the graduations of Anthony Rentsch (.426, 11 RBIs) and Tim Quitadamo. Senior Eric Vescey (3-2, 2.59 ERA) and junior Nick DeMauro (2-1, 2.02 ERA) step in to lead the rotation. "It's tough losing Brennan and Benoit,'' Whalen said, "But I like to think defensively we're going to be strong with a bunch of talent.'' Sophomores J.J. Early (outfield), Dylan McNary (infield) and Matt Szyk (shortstop), and juniors Cam Kasper (catcher) and Mick David (third base) will also contribute.

Fitchburg Red Raiders

Coach: Ray Cosenza (first season back, 10th season overall).

Last season: 1-17

Outlook: Longtime Fitchburg High athletic director and former football coach Ray Cosenza steps into the dugout to guide the Red Raiders, who ended a 43-game losing streak with a 6-5 win over Groton-Dunstable in 11 innings last season and were outscored, 113-2, over their final seven games. Senior Darius Flowers is the only returning pitcher, so he will be looked upon to carry the staff that is filled with players with no varsity pitching experience -- including senior shortstop Andrew Lara, who didn't play last season. The Red Raiders look to make improvements this year and make the season special, with Cosenza returning after coaching Fitchburg baseball from 1990-98. "It's great to be back,'' Cosenza said. "The kids are really working hard. I'm really excited.'' Among his new roster, sophomore Arcadio Santiago has stood out and impressed in practices thus far.

Holy Name Naps

Coach: Jeff Heenan (sixth season).

Last season: 13-8; lost to Wachusett, 2-0, in CMass Division 1 first round.

Outlook: Last year's Naps improved upon their 2013 record by three games before succumbing to a three-hit shutout in the opening round of the postseason. First baseman Joey Fitton (.421), one of Heenan's favorite players he's coached, has graduated, along with center fielders Josh Riley (.422) and Joe Caico (.394), which means senior outfielder Pat Grow (.350) and senior third baseman Connor Lavin (.346) will be the central returning figures in the lineup. Riley (3-4, 2.20 ERA) and Caico (4-3, 3.45 ERA) also will be missed in the rotation, and junior Trent DuBois (3-0, 3.68 ERA) and senior Pat Cozza are the only returning pitchers. Among those expected to step up include senior second baseman and stud defender Troy Davenport, and senior shortstop Justin Gering. "All the kids get along very well, as they've started to learn their own mistakes and help each other out,'' Heenan said.

Leominster Blue Devils

Coach: Rich Barnaby (second season).

Last season: 21-4; defeated St. Peter-Marian, 2-0, in CMass Division final; defeated Norwood, 6-1, in Division 1 state final.

Outlook: The Blue Devils look to repeat as champions despite graduating Neil O'Connor -- one of the finest athletes in the history of Central Mass. UMass-bound shortstop Ryan Lever will shoulder the load and headline an infield that also returns third baseman David Barry and second baseman Andrew Curran. Jordan Mays is also back as DH, while newcomers Chris Kay, David Barry, Matt Palleschi and Eddy Cuddahy look to fill a rotation hurting from the losses of O'Connor (7-1, 0.86 ERA, 73 Ks) and Tanner Jakola (6-2, 2.19, 35 Ks). "It may take time to figure out our staff, but our goals won't change,'' Barnaby said.

Marlboro Panthers

Coach: Paul Duplessis (16th season).

Last season: 10-11; lost to North Middlesex, 4-3, in CMass Division 1 first round.

Outlook: The Panthers were a streaky team last year, winning four of five games twice while also suffering three- and four-game losing streaks, but that didn't prevent them from reaching the postseason. Marlboro looks quite different up the middle this year with the graduations of second baseman Chris Coppola (.418, home run), shortstop John Rumney (.300), center fielder Matt Thall, and top pitchers Garrett Harrington (1-0, 0.95 ERA, 22 strikeouts) and Nick Keymont (1.88, 34 strikeouts). Senior Kevin Scerra (2.51, 43 strikeouts) will be counted on to have a big year as the ace of the staff that features junior Kevin Falvey and senior right fielder Leo Coelho (.311). The team is inexperienced at some positions as junior Cam Plank will transition from designated hitter to catcher and junior Matt Bertachi will move to shortstop from third base. "This is a smart baseball team,'' Duplessis said. "Our goal is to make the opposing team beat us by limiting our mistakes.''

Nashoba Chieftains

Coach: Chuck Schoolcraft (14th season).

Last season: 12-9; lost to Shepherd Hill, 3-0, in CMass Division 1 first round.

Outlook: The Chieftains won eight of their last nine regular season games but couldn't keep the hot streak going to make a deep playoff run. Among the graduating seniors were seven positional players, including outfielder Nick Campana (.410, home run, 16 RBIs) and shortstop John Hannon (.340, home run, 16 RBIs). First baseman Charlie Ramsland (.467, home run) and outfielder Noah Milliard (.304, home run) are expected to lead the run production. Greg Cavaioli (4-1, 2.69 ERA, 23 strikeouts) and David Gaul (2-0, 0.65 ERA) likely will lead the rotation, and Ramsland, Milliard, and Ben Souza will pick up spot starts or important bullpen innings. "We'll have five senior pitchers and possibly a couple juniors and sophomores in the rotation,'' Schoolcraft said. "They got some good innings on the mound last year.'' Alex Borsari, Derek Hinckley, Nick Carlucci, Jimmy Henry and Michael Kane all return as integral parts of the team from last year looking to make a larger impact this spring.

North Middlesex Patriots

Coach: Todd Bartelson (10th season).

Last season: 14-8; lost to St. John's, 6-0, in CMass Division 1 quarterfinal.

Outlook: The Patriots fell one win shy of reaching postseason play in 2013, but a five-game win streak in April and winning seven of their last nine regular-season games put them over the top last season. North Middlesex's staff slashed their run prevention totals from 6.7 runs per game in 2013 to 3.7 in 2014, mostly due to the pitching of Sam Ineson (0.74 ERA), who has since graduated, and Jared Borneman (2-1, 0.73), David Neuhas (2.60, 30 strikeouts) and Tony Sylvester (3-1, 1.81), who return. "We have a pretty strong, deep rotation with Sylvester, Neuhaus, Borneman and Richard Sharp,'' Bartelson said. The losses of Shawn Pinney (.412) and catcher Ben Wright (.303) to graduation will attempted to be made up by first basemen Sharp (.352, 2 home runs) and Kevin Costello (.400), center fielder Tyler McDonald, and shortstop/pitcher Logan Kuzmitch.

St. John's Pioneers

Coach: Charlie Eppinger (10th season).

Last season: 17-8; lost to Leominster, 2-1, in CMass Division 1 semifinal.

Outlook: The Pioneers are loaded with talent, as Notre Dame-bound flamethrower Shane Combs (3-1, 1.69 ERA, 44 Ks, 22 BBs) and Dan Barlok (3-0, 1.05, 30 K, 8 BBs) lead the staff, and Virginia Tech-commit Jake Rosen (shortstop) and senior Kevin Quinlivan (outfield) power the offense. St. John's has been ousted by Leominster the last two postseasons, and graduated 11 seniors, including P.J. Browne (.313, 20 RBIs), Scott Manea (.306) and Steve D'Agostino (4-1, 0.97, 48-7 K-BB), who now play at Merrimack, N.C. State, and WPI, respectively. Eppinger highlights outfield depth and senior leadership as the strong points of the team, but said the inexperience in the infield and behind the plate, as well as the rotation behind Barlok and Combs is a bit concerning. "We want to improve throughout the season and play our best baseball in the tournament this year,'' Eppinger said.

St. Peter-Marian Guardians

Coach: Ed Riley (sixth season).

Last season: 16-8; lost to Leominster, 2-0, in CMass Division 1 final.

Outlook: After finishing 11-12 in 2013, the Guardians won...

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