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Manhattan’s FaB Four

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Now Kuhner, John Maser, Nick Derba and Matt Rizzotti are looking to rename the team: The Archbishop Molloy Jaspers.The Fab Four, all former standout Stanners under Jack Curran, start for Manhattan College. Kuhner plays all three outfield positions and has seen time on the mound, Maser is the every day shortstop, Derba is behind the plate and Rizzotti is at first. "It all starts with Jack Curran," said Manhattan coach Steve Trimper, who is in his seventh year. "Any kid who goes through his program has to be a quality kid. They're all hard-working, blue collar, smart kids."It if starts with Curran, it continues with Tom Sowinski, the Jaspers pitching coach. Before he went on to a celebrated career as a pitcher at St. John's and in the minor leagues, Sowinski also played at Molloy.Sowinski told Kuhner about Manhattan, a school that interested him greatly because of their renowned engineering program. He walked on and soon found himself a jack of all trades. Hey, Phil can you pitch today? Sure, no problem. How about play left field? Maybe right?"I don't know too many baseball players who are computer engineers," Kuhner said. "It's the toughest major (at Manhattan) because of the amount of work you have to put in. A lot of the athletes don't know how to balance their time. I just think differently, I guess."Kuhner's roommate is Sly Gutierrez, who is also majoring in computer engineering. Gutierrez, though played his high school ball at St. Francis Prep and said he is tired about hearing all about the great times at Molloy."He reminds me that St. Francis Prep swept us in my junior year," said Kuhner, who is a co-captain with Derba. "That's all he has to say."John Maser is the oldest of three athletic siblings, all of whom attended Molloy. His younger brother Thomas graduated last year and is playing baseball at Queens College, while his sister Janine, a basketball standout, is a junior at the Briarwood school.Maser wasn't recruited by Manhattan out of high school and opted to play at C.W. Post. But when the program went Division II, Maser wanted to stay local and still play Division I baseball. That's when he got a phone call from Kuhner."He did factor into my decision, he made the transition a bit easier," Maser said. "He made it easier on me."If Kuhner is Mr. Versatile, then Maser is Mr. Steady at shortstop, where he's started 38 of 39 games this year. On Monday he was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Week, helping Manhattan take 2-out-of-3 from LeMoyne College."He's not going to make the superstar Derek Jeter plays," Trimper said of Maser, who is third on the Jaspers with a .331 batting average. "He always makes the routine play, he plays hard, hits .300, he's a quiet leader."It was late in his senior year at Molloy and Nick Derba was getting worried. He had no idea where he was going to go to college. Like so many other players from the Northeast, he dreamed of playing college ball in the south. But some of the coaches were playing games with Derba, who was entertaining the thought of going to a junior college when he walked into Curran's office.Curran called Trimper and three days later, Derba signed his letter of intent."I didn't want to go far from home, it was a good school, competitive baseball. It fit the mold better than I thought," Derba said. "(Trimper) was the first one to give me straight answers."Derba is one of three players to start all 42 games for Manhattan - Rizzotti and John Fitzpatrick are the other two. As was the case in high school, Derba, who studies scouting reports with Sowinski for each game, calls the pitches from behind the plate."I bet we think on the same wavelength for 97 of 100 pitches," Trimper said of Derba, who is batting .280 with 33 RBI as the No. 3 hitter.Trimper calls Derba "a fifth coach," and it's not only because of his skills behind the plate. Derba was instrumental in recruiting his best friend Rizzotti, who Trimper says is one of the top players he has ever seen in his 13 years of college coaching."There's (Detroit Tigers first baseman) Carlos Pena and (Texas Rangers right fielder) Kevin Mench," Trimper said. "He's in that realm right there." Last year Rizzotti was the most feared batter in the CHSAA and that has continued in his freshman year. He is the clear favorite to win Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors and he is 11th in the country with a .422 batting average, 15th in the country with a .714 slugging percentage and has nine home runs and 55 RBI."It's the same as last year, I'm seeing one pitch every at-bat and I just try and hit that pitch as hard as I can," Rizzotti said. "I figured I'd come in as a freshman not knowing what to expect and set my goals really high, to hit .400, hit 12 home runs. I'm getting very lucky, I guess you can say."The Fab Four though will only have this one year together. Kuhner and Maser are graduating Sunday and then it will be just Derba and Rizzotti. But Kuhner is sure that somewhere down the line they'll reunite."Maybe," he said. "We'll all end up on the same softball league somewhere in Queens."Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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