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Cardinals looking to soar on summer diamond

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Coached by Ian Millman, the team is attempting to fill the shoes of Sean O’Brien, who went on to be the only freshman selected first-team All-Big East at Virginia...

How can the Team New York Cardinals follow up its stellar 44-13 season of a year ago?

Coached by Ian Millman, the team is attempting to fill the shoes of Sean O’Brien, who went on to be the only freshman selected first-team All-Big East at Virginia Tech, and Anthony Smith, who was named Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year at George Washington.

Last year’s Cardinals team was arguably the best 18-year-old squad ever fielded by the organization. They won the prestigious Liberty Tournament title, won 15 consecutive games, torched Pirates draft pick Brad Clapp and his 94-mph fastball for nine runs at the USABF world series and defeated the Bayside Yankees Americans a remarkable five out of six times.

“We are going to have a difficult time this summer if we try to strictly measure our accomplishments to last year’s team, both as individuals and as an entire team,” Millman said. “We need to form our own identity. I feel that our pitching staff is deeper and we have a more solid defensive team.”

Charlie Foster returns from North Florida Community College to anchor the pitching staff. Foster, currently out nursing a hamstring injury, is a big game pitcher who has repeatedly won huge games in national tournaments, regionals and the world series.

A slimmer Tommy Koehler and his 94-mph fastball returns to the Cardinals twenty pounds lighter and more focused than ever. Koehler, who also has an outstanding change-up and knuckle-curve, will challenge the Team NY Cardinals’ all-time wins and strikeout records this summer.

He’s already fanned 25 batters in 17.1 innings. Alongside Koehler is righty Kenny Grassano from Valley Stream, who boasts a fastball that has topped at 93-mph and an outstanding curveball.

Quinnipiac-bound Eric Bretscher returns after cracking the Cardinals’ all-time top 5 in appearances (18), saves (4) and era (1.73) last season.

Behind Bretscher will be southpaw Michael Gionesi (Mepham HS, Stony Brook), Robinson Reyes (Grand St. Campus, Clarendon (TX) JC), William Marte (Manhattan Center), James Foti (Horace Greely HS), Thomas Curran (Mahopac HS, College of Charleston (SC), and Rafael Tejada.

Offensively, the loss of O'Brien, Smith and Frank Terzo left a gaping hole in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. But the revamped batting order provides speed at both the top and bottom and a couple of big bangers in the middle. Last year’s leadoff man, Kenny Bowers (Grand St. Campus, Garden City (KS) J.C) will bring his Cardinals-record 49 runs scored and .384 batting average back to help anchor the offense.

Keith Fier (16-for-16 stolen bases) has made it possible for Millman to move Bowers around in the order, with his tremendous speed and keen eye at the top of the lineup.

Brian Mason (Loyola (La.) University), Randy Belfiore (Great Neck South HS), and lightning-quick switch hitter Elbert Garcia (Lehman HS) should use their speed and great bat control to score runs.

The power hitting this year will come from the trio of Matthew Acevedo (Carmel HS, Young Harris (Ga.) CC), Alex Martinez (Lakeland HS) and Carlos Guzman (John Adams HS).

Acevedo already has 18 runs scored, three home runs and 22 RBIs in 17 games. He is also sporting a .423 average. Martinez has connected for seven doubles, scored 16 times and plated 20 runners while hitting .415. Guzman has turned it up after a slow start, with a .303 average and 5 doubles. He also is a 91-mph arm on the hill.

Catchers Erik Johnson (Fox Lane HS, Cortland) and Kevin Madison (Pendelton School, Bradenton Fla.) provide tremendous leadership and two experienced targets for this arm-heavy staff.

Johnson is also one of the team’s leading hitters, batting .370 with a homer and 9 RBIs in 27 at-bats.

Sweet swinging James Bartnett (Iona Prep HS, Boston College) is batting a blistering .484 with 10 runs scored and 10 RBIs. Gibran Bracamonte (Grand St. Campus HS) anchors the hot corner with soft hands and an above average arm.

The Cardinals are off to a 14-4 start, most recently beating the Bronx Highlanders 17-2, sweeping the Team NY Cardinals Red, and splitting with the Team Connecticut Bombers.

“These next two weeks are huge, this is where the team usually gells,” Millman said. “And if we are to have one of those special teams, we should take off after our return from Welland (Canada).”

After taking on the Midville Dodgers Monday at St. John’s, the Cardinals will head north to participate in the Rawlings 4th of July Classic.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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