Rocco Rotondi is not the nostalgic type.
The Bryant baseball coach looks forward, not back. He’s proud of last year’s accomplishments — the second-place finish in the prestigious Monroe Tournament, the Queens A West title it shared with rival John Adams and its run to the PSAL Class A quarterfinals — but he’s made a point of moving past those feats.
“He always says what’s in the past,” senior Nick Alvarez said, “is in the past.”
Rotondi doesn’t want his players to forget about what they did last year, but to understand it has nothing to do with this spring. After arguably Rotondi’s most successful season, hopes have increased — within the program and from the outside as well.
“Anytime you have expectations you have to back up those expectations,” Rotondi said. “It’s always a little harder when you’re not flying under the radar. We have to earn every win.”
He added, “We don’t want to overlook anybody. We want to take it one game at a time, try to improve each and every game out.”
Aside from first baseman Joseph Cox and shortstop Kenny Linero, Bryant returns its entire team. It includes co-aces Alvarez, Darlyn Valdez and Adonis Lao. The trio combined to win 12 games last year. Valdez and Lao throw in the mid-80s with solid off-speed stuff, while Alvarez has the most diverse assortment of pitches.
“They’re all battling for that ace position,” the ninth-year coach said. “They all have good qualities, bring something different to the table.”
The lineup, which was one of the city’s best, routinely scoring in double figures, could be improved with so much continuity and returning players who are now upperclassmen. Lao, second baseman Chris Alvarez (Nick’s brother) and Nick Alvarez will make up the 3-4-5 spots.
The lone departures, Linero and Cox, will be replaced by Christian Aubry, last year’s starting second baseman, and Sean O’Brien. Rotondi expects teams to pitch to Bryant differently and wants to bunt more, move runners over and hit the ball to the opposite field on a consistent basis.
“It’s a balanced lineup,” Rotondi said. “We’re not going to just rely on the top four or five guys. We don’t want to be top-heavy.”
The Owls are hungry to test themselves against the area’s best after coming five outs shy of upsetting eventual city champion George Washington in the quarterfinals, a game they felt got away. It’s a loss that has stayed with Bryant.
“We definitely learned from that game,” said Nick Alvarez, who scored 17 runs and drove in 12 a year ago. “If we’re in that situation again this year, we’ll be better prepared.”
Rotondi had built a top-notch program before last year; Bryant just tended to fade late. That was hardly the case last May as the Owls won four of their last six regular-season games to finish tied with John Adams atop Queens A West. Now instead of division titles and a playoff win or two, their hopes are far higher.
“We want to bring home a championship for our school,” Chris Alvarez said. “We want to make a name for ourselves, to bust out.”
©2012 Community News Group
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