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PSA ‘A” Baseball Preview: Adams still strong despite many key losses

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Usually when a team loses an Iron Horse winner at first base, a pitcher who went 14-2, one of the top shortstops in the city and a solid catcher, finding replacements is a daunting task. Unless you are the John Adams baseball team. Then it is just another year.

After winning the PSAL crown in 1999, the Spartans went 35-5 last year, falling in the PSAL quarterfinals. Gone from that team are Jason Powell (Norwalk CC), who won the Iron Horse award, hurler Mike Miller (Queens College), who had a phenomenal senior campaign, Colvis Villavicencio (Norwalk CC), who played 175 games at shortstop at Adams, and catcher Mark Morales (John Jay), who was one of the team’s leaders. But according to Spartans coach Glenn Beyer, Adams is bigger and better than ever.

“We have as much depth as we’ve ever had at Adams,” he said. “We could go two or three deep at every position.”

To make another run at a city championship, Beyer had again assembled a rigorous schedule featuring some of the top teams in the tri-state area. The Spartans face North Bergen (NJ), East Meadow on Long Island, Iona Prep and will play in the Monroe tournament, the top baseball tournament in the city.

“We’re going to play seven days a week, we have a 48-game schedule and I would have liked to schedule more,” Beyer said. “In my mind it’s the most loaded schedule in the city. It allows us to get ready for games in May and June.”

Senior Nick Treppiedi leads a talented trio of starting pitchers that also includes senior Sean Bell and junior lefty Mark Rios. Beyer said the infield, featuring freshman Carlos Guzman at third, sophomore Louis Gioppo, who makes the switch from starting at third to shortstop, senior second baseman Mike Corcoran and sophomore first baseman Alex Cordero, should be one of the best defensively in the city. Junior Johnny Lluberes is expected to be a solid contributor behind the plate.

Adams may need its tough schedule just to prepare for its Queens A-I slate with Grand Street Campus, one of the top programs in the city, and Bushwick, a perennial favorite. First-year coach Greg Reo leads a young Richmond Hill team and Jim Curcio is back at Franklin K. Lane, who will use the 2001 season to rebuild. Beach Channel rounds out the division.

In Queens A-II, Aviation again looks poised to repeat its division championship from a year ago. The Flyers were 12-5 overall, 11-4 in the league before falling to Grand Street Campus in the second round of the PSAL playoffs.

Senior Fadul Bambino leads the charge for Mike Fischer’s Flyers. Bambino, who according to Fischer already has a 1,000 on the SAT and has the tools to play in college, will be the team's No. 1 starter. Senior Vincent Lindner will also see quality innings on the mound on staff Fischer considers to be one of the deepest in the division. Jose Carrion can also pitch but should see most of his action in the outfield.

“I’m pleased with these guys,” Fischer said. “We’ve raised the bar a bit because we’d like to win every game in the division. We want to repeat [as division champs].”

While Aviation might have some of the best arms in the division, Grover Cleveland has assembled a lethal lineup at the plate.

Senior shortstop Al DiCanio — who can also pitch — batted .480 last year and led the team with seven home runs, 28 runs scored and 35 runs batted in. Senior catcher Deurin Calcano can also hit the long ball, as he also belted seven home runs and drove in 34 RBIs while batting .420 last season for the Indians, who finished third in Queens A-II with a 10-5 league mark, 18-11 overall. Cleveland fell to Tottenville in the first round of the playoffs.

“This could be best hitting group one through nine since 1993-94,” Cleveland coach Jack Ciano said. “We’ll be able to put the ball in play. If we get quality pitching, we will always keep close in games.”

Neil Rosenblatt begins his first full season at Newtown after taking over for longtime coach Warren Albert, who retired after 26 years midway through a 6-8-1 season.

Instead of placing easy non-conference games on the schedule to give his young team confidence going into the division, Rosenblatt has taken a page out of Beyer’s book at Adams and actively sought some of the toughest competition around, including games against George Washington, Lehman, Cardozo, Bushwick and the Monroe tournament.

“I’m hoping we can keep up the strong Newtown tradition,” he said. “If we fare well in the Monroe tournament, we’ll have a good idea of how we’ll do in our division.”

Returnees Jeff Tavares, a senior pitcher, senior catcher Juan Juena, junior shortstop Edwin Tolentino, junior second baseman Ray Gutierrez and sophomore third baseman Miguel Maria, who Rosenblatt calls “the future of the team” are expected to lead a defensively sound young group.

After losing three all-stars in pitcher Ricky Cruz, infielder Alexis Cadiz and catcher Mark Garcia, Harley Watstein thinks the future looks bright at Long Island City

.

“Of my five years as coach at Long Island City, this is the most talented group of younger players I’ve had,” he said. “There are freshman on this team challenging seniors for starting spots.”

Pitching and defense appear to be the strong suits for the Bulldogs, who finished last season second in Queens A-II with a 10-5 record. Brian O’Lenick, a 6-foot-4 righty and freshman Luis Tavares, head a talented group of pitchers, who allowed just three runs in two exhibition games. Sophomore rightfielder Jason Lopez, sophomore outfielder Csaba Rojas, freshman first baseman John Zervoulakos and senior centerfielder Josh Rodriguez are some of LIC's key players in the field.

John Bowne went 9-6 last season and fell to New Utrecht, 3-2, in the first round of the PSAL playoffs. Unfortunately for second-year coach Ed Brown, the Wildcats graduated its top player, pitcher Chris Jee (Stony Brook). Junior Anthony Guttierrez will have the ball in his left hand as the team’s top starter. Other key contributors to a young team are juniors Saul Sanchez, a pitcher/shortstop, and Jeffrey Dela Choncha, a catcher who can also pitch.

“It’s hard to tell how good a team this could be,” Brown said. “There is some potential, but they are more of a team. I’m hoping for good things.”

Howie Coval has had some top notch teams in his 34 years as Bryant coach, but following a 2-13 season which featured 11 losses shortened by the mercy rule, Coval requested a move down to the ‘B’ division. The move was denied and the Owls are expected to again struggle.

Seniors Alex Marquetti, a centerfielder/pitcher and John Drew, the team’s top hurler along with juniors Jason Banzil, younger brother of former Bryant softball star Tanya Banzil, and Manny Silva, are expected to be Bryant's top players.

Can someone knock Cardozo off its perch atop Queens A-III? For the past 10 years, the answer to that question has been a resounding no. And if the Judges 3-0 exhibition mark is any indication, it appears division opponents may have another year to ponder the question.

“We have a young team, not as much experience, but we have some talent,” said Cardozo coach Pete Douglas, whose team went 14-0 in the division last year. “We have a couple of pretty composed pitchers which allows us the chance to go pretty far.”

Seniors and captains Mike Mastrogiovanni and Paul Kouba, as well as sophomore lefty Mike Lenzo, highlight a talented group of pitchers. Junior third baseman Jack Medic is one of Cardozo’s top hitters, as is junior catcher Landon Veissy, who is the first underclassman Douglas has named as one of the team’s captains. The other captains are senior rightfielder Brian Rosen and senior centerfielder Jeremy Hyatt. Sophomore Bernie Estevez, who Douglas said, “has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen at Cardozo” makes the move from third base to shortstop.

Led by pitcher Jonathan Lewis, Francis Lewis almost wrestled the crown from Cardozo last year. Lewis, the top pitcher in Queens and one of the best in the city, is back and therefore the Patriots are again a contender.

“Our entire staff is back, but we might not be as strong defensively,” said Lewis coach Randy James. “The whole left side of our infield is new.”

Lewis, who has a strong chance of being selected in the Major League Draft in June, is joined by junior Mario Santiago and sophomores Mike Guarnieri and Joe Silva on the hill. Also returning is senior first baseman Jonathan Hecko, senior Justin Roberts and senior leftfielder Eric Moglin. Chiang Yee Chang, whose father was a professional manager in Japan, is the top newcomer and will start at second base.

After a 14-12 mark, including a respectable 8-8 in the division, Pat Torney called his Bayside team, which fell in the first round of the playoffs, a “young bunch of overachievers.” With a core of 11 returnees, the Commodores again have their sites set on the postseason.

“Cardozo and Lewis are probably the favorites in the division and everyone else will battle it out for the final playoff berth,” Torney said. “I like our chances. If we don’t make the playoffs, I will consider it a disappointment.”

Senior Roger Mischel, who batted .604 in the league last year, is the team's top pitcher as well as its number one catcher and hitter. Fellow seniors Rich Henry, a pitcher/outfielder, Chaim Malka, who started at shortstop last year and will move to first base, are a couple of the team's veterans while sophomores Joe Paternoster, a lefty slap hitter who will start at shortstop, and Anthony McCarty, a 6-foot-1 pitcher who is also expected to start at third, are two of the top younger players on the team.

Edison should also make a push for the final playoff spot in Queens A-III with a core group of players who have three to four years of experience on the Inventors.

“The nucleus is very experienced,” said 17-year coach Jerry Levy. “I think we have strong pitching and defense. We’re not going to win any slugfests.”

Leading the veteran group are seniors Mark Carias and Carlos Fuentes, who will share time on the mound, catcher Jasser Valerio and first baseman Yael Polanco. Other key players include junior Joel Duran, who will split time between pitching and the outfield and sophomores Miguel Espinal at second and twin brother Angel Espinal at centerfield.

Van Buren struggled with a 4-11 record in Queens A-III last year. Second-year coach Neil Baskin believes with pitchers Michael Allen, a senior, and junior Brian Berg as well as senior outfielders Amit Patel, who is also a reliever, and Greg Thebaud joining junior shortstop Jason Pezzotti, the VeeBees should be an improved club.

“Hopefully we’re more competitive,” he said. “We’d like to win more games than last year, that’s our goal.”

Dickens Malave also believes his Hillcrest squad will be better than last year, when the team finished with a 5-15 mark. Leading a large group of talented juniors are pitcher Delvin Grullon and pitcher/outfielder Rodolfo Medrano. Sophomore pitcher/second baseman Danny Garcia is also a standout for the defensive minded Hawks.

“They’ve improved every year,” said the third-year coach. “This year it’s more promising because the team is mostly comprised of juniors who have been with me since their freshman years.”

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