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Coaches say Brooklyn/Queens up for grabs

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Holy Cross' Kurt Schaffner said what everyone else in the Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan seems to be thinking.

"The league should be very competitive," the varsity baseball coach said. "I don't think there are any overpowering teams. It's going to be pretty close."

There are many reasons why this season may prove to be one of the most intriguing for Catholic High School Athletic Association baseball teams in Queens, but it could probably best be described by the departure of Ruddy Ludo from Xaverian High School.

In his career with the Brooklyn school, Lugo continued the trend set by other dominant pitchers who came before, making his team almost unbeatable, especially in the playoffs.

Lugo is now with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, something for which opposing players and coaches are certainly thankful. With Lugo and other key players from around the division gone, the race for the diocesan and city championship is wide open.

"I think it's as competitive as it's ever been," said McClancy coach Bob Lowenberg. "I'm not sure if there's an outstanding team, but there are a lot of very good teams."

Those teams will most likely be led by Xaverian. The defending city champion Clippers finished last season with a 25-5 record and are returning a host of talented players, including pitchers Keith Frerichs, Thomas Park and Chris Renna and position players Joe DeSiena, Jon Holzer and Manny Lora.

All these returning players make Xaverian a viable contender to repeat. But there will be plenty of competition from its Brooklyn/Queens counterparts.

"I think Molloy and Xaverian are still the top two," Schaffner said.

"Xaverian has the horses," said St. Francis Prep coach Brother Robert Kent. "They have the best athletes I think, but I think Christ the King and Molloy have the best pitching."

The Christ the King pitching staff is anchored by three-year veterans Gerard Bady and Dimitrios Giannios, two left-handed hurlers who also double as the Royals' top offensive threats. Both should make first-year coach Nick Melito's transition from assistant smooth.

Melito assisted former coach Ed Boland for three years before taking over the head post this season.

"We have decent pitching," Melito said. "We're young - most of the starters will be juniors and with experience. I think we'll get better as the season moves on."

Mike Cabrera will be the closer, while Ken Gleason will also see time on the mound when not playing in the infield. Outfielder Richie Reid and catcher Keith Crevates should provide offensive support for a team in the thick of a race for the division's top spot.

"The league is strong and when it gets to the playoffs anybody can beat anybody," Melito said.

The Archbishop Molloy Stanners, led by the venerable Jack Curran - entering his 42nd season at the helm - have won 16 city championships under their coach's tenure and been to the title game 25 times. This season could very well see another notch added to the well-worn belt of Curran.

"I think we could be pretty good," Curran said.

The team will be powered by senior Gary Kaible, a pitcher/first baseman who can do it all. Kaible will be aided by Bill DelMore, Bryan Bunyan and Mike Mole on the mound and by Mike Virgilio, Mike Baxter and John Sikiric in the field.

Coming off a 23-9 season that saw his team fall in the double-elimination playoffs with losses to St. Peter's and Iona Prep, Curran should have his team peaking come playoff time, but may suffer a couple of rocky points along the way.

As for the competition, Curran isn't sure yet.

"We won't know until we see them," he said. "But I think McClancy is going to be pretty good, Xaverian also."

The McClancy Crusaders finished last year 12-10 with losses to Iona Prep and Monsignor Farrell in the playoffs and could very well finish in the same position this year.

"I think we're in about the same situation," Lowenberg said. "If our pitching holds up we can make the playoffs and hopefully go from there. It's business as usual."

One thing that is not usual about the Crusaders is perhaps the best hitter in the division, Khari Council. A standout player with the school's varsity basketball team that went all the way to the CHSAA semifinals, Council is more at home on the baseball diamond, according to his coach.

"I think he's a little better in baseball," Lowenberg said of his first baseman, whom other coaches around the league compare to California Angels star Mo Vaughn.

Kenny Hock and Vin Syrok will likely be the team's two starters, with catcher Michael Farley, infielder Danny Tonkin and outfielder Billy White keying the defense.

In order for the team to succeed, however, Council will have to have a monster year from the left side of the plate and take advantage of the short right field porch at McClancy's home field.

St. Francis Prep is just the opposite of McClancy. Instead of one big stick, the Terriers will need contributions throughout their balanced lineup to combat a possible problem with lack of starting pitching.

Chris Catalano is the team's ace, but there is little else right now, Kent said.

"We have to find pitching, but I'll think we'll hit well and we can catch the ball," the coach said.

When not pitching Catalano will play first base, joining an experienced infield that includes shortstop Brenday Pettei, third baseman Nick Theoharis and second baseman Sylvester Guiterrez. Tommy Greene, the quarterback of the school's football team, will be the team's backstop, while Steve Connelly will see some time on the mound and sophomore Brian Forman could be the starter in centerfield.

So far this year the team has played better than expected in scrimmages, but that success might not hold up.

"They're doing very well," Kent said. "We just need our pitching to keep us in games."

The Holy Cross Knights appeared to have a solid team heading into last year before injuries devastated the team's rotation. This season, however, Schaffner has a battle-tested starter, Tommy Checchia, to rely on.

"He carried a lot of the team last year when (Ryan) Dolin and (Kyle) Swiatocha went down," the coach said. "I think we're going to be right in there. I think we have a good shot."

Checchia will get help from fellow starter Mike Morris and Greg Waters and offensive support from third baseman Richie Rivera and centerfielder Edwin Mejia, two players Schaffner is very high on.

"[Rivera] has tremendous power and he can play anywhere," the coach said. "[Mejia] is unbelievable to watch. He's gorgeous. He runs like a gazelle out there."

The Knights, which finished 18-14 last year and were eliminated before reaching the citywide playoffs, could have another tough season, but with the playing field leveled, anything can happen.

Joining the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan 'A' division is St. Edmund Prep, winners of the 'B' championship. The addition of St. Edmund to the 'A' accompanies Bishop Ford's step down to the 'B' league, where, St. John's Prep and Cathedral Prep will represent Queens.

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