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PSAL: Leader has yet to emerge from the pack

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There is no favorite in Queens this year. Bayside, the last team standing the previous three years, graduated virtually everyone each of the past two springs. Francis Lewis, which, under first-year Coach Ian Millman, won Queens A East a season ago, lost seven of nine starters.

Parity is here. That, however, should only make the upcoming season more interesting.

For Bayside, the time to rebuild is now

The Commodores made a name for themselves with a group of talented yet humble stars. They made the quarterfinals twice and second round once. But there is virtually no trace of that team this spring. After graduating Anthony Velazquez and Eric Strauss in 2007, Bayside lost even more after last season, losing everyday players Kevin Brown, Michael Fermin, Tony Koulotouros and Jorge Ynoa.

They’ve been replaced by what Coach Pat Torney likes to call his Greek Connection: sophomore first baseman Holy Cross transfer J.P. Koulotouros; Tony’s younger brother, junior ace/infielder/outfielder Alex Pangourelias; and senior catcher Mike Halkiadakis. Right-hander Jonathan D’Angelo and shortstop Carey Morales, two experienced seniors, also return.

“We have a lot to learn yet. A lot of our guys are a little gun shy,” Torney said.

As an example, the Commodores were two-hit in their season opener yet rebounded to beat Francis Lewis 9-0 two days later. Torney is hopeful. He sees a little of Velazquez in Pangourelias, a hard thrower who missed his entire sophomore season due to a stress fracture in his back. Plus, D’Angelo thrived last year, picking up five wins as a junior.

“Hopefully, our guys will gain experience early,” the coach said. “I think we’ll be in the hunt. If we can do that with this young team, I’ll be happy.”

New coach brings new look to ’Dozo

Ron Gorecki has coached all over the tri-state area at elite summer league programs and top-level high schools. But being at Cardozo is still a thrill.

“I’m like the 61-year-old rookie,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life.”

The talent he inherited should help make his first go-around that much more enjoyable. Gorecki raved about No. 1 starter George Theodoropoulos, who can throw all three of his pitchers for strikes at any moment.

“He’s really something special,” Gorecki said. “A few colleges really better come down and take a look at this kid.”

Matthew Lynn and Steven Joy follow Theodoropoulos in the rotation, but sophomore Chris Estrada, a Martin Van Buren transfer, and his 80 mph fastball will be mixed in as well. Gorecki is also counting on catcher Jamal Vargas, second baseman Derek Errigo and utility man Ryan Jones.

It wasn’t an easy exhibition season for the Judges. Gorecki had them face some of Long Island’s best squads, such as St. Mary’s and Kellenberg. He has also scheduled scrimmages against CHSAA powers St. Francis Prep, Archbishop Molloy and Holy Cross.

“I’m a firm believer in playing against the best talent, so that we can be better prepared for the playoffs,” he said. “I want to play against teams that are smart, that play more of a college brand of ball. That’s where I’m trying to take these kids.”

Defending division title will be a challenge for Lewis

When Ian Millman landed at Francis Lewis, he was blessed with an experienced team and a senior stud in Ethan Liederman. The Patriots shocked the city by winning Queens A East and beating John Adams in the opening round of the Class A playoffs. Matching that type of success will be difficult in Millman’s second season. Losing seven of nine starters is a tough hurdle to conquer.

He does have a true ace in junior Jonathan Bobea, a hard-thrower who can spot a mid-to-upper 80s fastball and registered a 1.13 ERA as a sophomore. So far, he has struck out 16 batters, walked one and allowed two hits.

Behind Bobea is where the questions lie. Millman is hoping to ride the arms of seniors Adam Alcamo, Jesse Galarza and Sean Hidalgo, none of whom were used much last spring. Bobea will play all three outfield positions when he isn’t on the mound. Junior outfielder Javier Crisandry and junior second baseman Cesar Murillas are also important to the everyday lineup.

“I think we’ll be able to compete as long as we work hard,” Millman said. “We’re learning how to play.”

New outfielder adds to Newtown’s fortunes

Neil Rosenblatt doesn’t consider his team the Queens A Mid-West favorite. He just wants to contend for the postseason. When told several consider the Pioneers the class of Queens, he demanded to know the sources. That’s part of the dilemma Rosenblatt faces. There are expectations this year, which, even for an experienced team that added a potent bat and dynamic outfielder in John F. Kennedy transfer Chris Vasquez, is unnecessary pressure.

“You gotta play the games,” he said.

Rosenblatt, though, is plenty optimistic, buoyed by Vasquez, a 6-foot-3 senior that only landed at Newtown because he moved to Jamaica from the Bronx, and senior catcher and captain Rodney Fernandez, a four-year contributor. The speedy Vasquez, Rosenblatt said, can spray line drives to all fields and leg out infield hits.

“Sometimes you got to get a little lucky,” the coach said. “… He’s the best outfielder I’ve ever seen, and that includes summers. I’ve seen some high-end stuff.”

Perhaps even more importantly, the Pioneers have a deep pitching staff, led by 6-foot-3 left-hander Mario Valdez, seniors Franklyn Ramirez and Bryan Abreu and sophomore Jorge Perez.

“I don’t have the one superior arm; I don’t have a shutdown kid like [Christian] Cardenas or [Bobea],” Rosenblatt said. “What I have is a staff. I have about 10 solid arms.”

Said Millman: “Newtown will be the biggest surprise out of Queens and one of the best teams in the city.”

Adams and Bryant should contend, too

Cardenas, a senior flame-thrower, has electric stuff. The key for John Adams is finding others to complement the dynamic righty.

So far, so good. In the season-opening 14-4 win over Transit Tech, Rafael Gutierrez delivered six solid innings of work. Senior catcher Hailyn Salcedo has already driven in four runs. Junior shortstop Rudy Burdier is being counted on to serve as the Spartans’ spark atop the lineup. He has registered two stolen bases so far.

“Until proven otherwise, Adams is the team to beat,” Rosenblatt said.

As for Bryant, there is no secret to Coach Rocco Rotondi’s recipe for success — the Owls are going to look to pound the opposition into submission. By returning core hitters Jose Rosado, Mostafa Ghonim and John Ntzelves, Bryant will run out a threatening lineup day in and day out.

Rosado, a senior second baseman, has already driven in seven runs, homered once and is batting .625.

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