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Black Hats Sports

2009 Season Preview

Posted Friday, February 27, 2009 by Walter Murphy

The Rye Neck boys’ baseball team enjoyed great success a year ago, and soon, they will begin training for this upcoming season. Skipper Tyler Slater will be entering his second season at the helm, where he will be able to bring back most of the Panthers’ talent from last season. However, the team does have some tough questions to answer, as they will try and replace four key seniors that have graduated.

Kevin McQuade, Mike Anderson, Bennett Pisanniello, and Alex Doong were the only four seniors on the team to graduate last year, but they leave some big shoes to fill. McQuade, a pitcher/infielder, was the Panther’s ace, leading the team in strikeouts, as well as one of their best hitters, batting regularly in the number three spot. Anderson was a valuable asset to the team not only as an outfielder and good number five hitter, but also as a shut-down relief pitcher and occasional spot-starter. Pisanniello was used primarily as an infielder and solid middle of the lineup bat, but also pitched last year, as part of a rotation that loses most of its experience for next season. Doong was a great defensive shortstop and second baseman, and the team benefited from his experience and quick thinking on defense.

Luckily for Coach Slater and Rye Neck, the team has a lot of players more than ready to step and fill the void. Probably the best all-around player that the team brings back for 2009 is star pitcher and first baseman Ryan Pennell. Pennell, a junior, enjoyed success not only as the team’s cleanup hitter, but also as a fantastic defensive first baseman and as the number two starter behind McQuade. Pennell was a strikeout machine in ’08, and the team relied on him time and time again to pull out much needed victories. As he continues to develop as a pitcher, Pennell will have an even easier time overpowering hitters with his scorching fastball, as well as confusing them with his sweeping slider and 12-6 curveball.

The Panthers also bring back Jack Newton, who will hope to build on his stellar season last year. Newton, who hit leadoff for Rye Neck last year, turned out to be probably the team’s best overall hitter, as he turned out an un-human 6 for 6 performance with 9 RBI’s, a triple, two doubles, two singles, and a home run in one game. He also led the team in home runs for the 2008 season. With the departure of Rye Neck’s seniors from ’08, particularly McQuade and Anderson, expect to see Newton move from leadoff to the middle of the order, probably number three, in order to make up for the holes in the middle of the lineup. He has certainly proven on many occasions that he is a big-time player, and that he will be one of the most potent and powerful bats in Coach Slater’s lineup in 2009.

The task of stepping into Newton’s leadoff role will probably fall to Frank Pisco. A speedy outfielder as well as a solid contact-hitter, Pisco appears to be the right man for the job. He can be a dangerous threat to run on the base paths. Rye Neck was not particularly known for stealing bases a year ago, but with Pisco at the top of the order, this could change.

Another player who the Panthers are extremely happy to have back this year is Joe Saputo. The tough-as-nails backstop caught every pitch of every inning for Rye Neck in 2008, and also managed the games quite nicely from behind the plate. Saputo never wanted to sit out a game, even if it meant spending plenty of time in Mr. Cotter’s office before every single game. He led by example on and off the field, and will probably make even more of an impact this season as a senior. He was also a regular in the number two hole in the order, and maintained a strong batting average and on base percentage throughout the season as a very patient hitter. Probably the best example of this was in Rye Neck’s first playoff game, when Saputo stood at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning of a tie game. He continued to watch each pitch go by until the count was full and he had the pitcher rattled, which was when Saputo drew a walk-off walk to send Rye Neck to the second round.

There are also a few other key returning players for the upcoming season. After a spot opened up in the order as designated hitter early in the season, Dylan Brown stepped in and wowed everyone. He was able to bat at an over .400 clip for most of the year, and he should also be a major presence in the middle of the lineup again this season. Mike McCarty contributed to the team in a major way as a sophomore, mostly as a stellar defensive third baseman. McCarty also pitched, and it looks as though he will be the top option for Rye Neck to step up and become a regular starting pitcher in 2009 along with Pennell. Kyle McWilton will be another player the Panthers will bring back for this coming season. McWilton is a hard working, speedy player who has a great glove at second base. He will most certainly see more action this season, and will probably be the everyday starter at second. Another returing senior with McWilton will be Nicky Carelli. He boasts not only blazing speed on the base paths, but also great play in the outfield.  Coach Slater trusted Carelli’s glove many times in 2008, and he proved to have the ability to catch virtually any ball. Jeff Colangelo saw some playing time in the outfield last season, and he will be looked to more this season after showing that he can do a solid job at the plate. Anthony Alba is probably the most motivated and hard working player on the team, and he will return as a senior outfielder for 2009. Alba was used in crucial situations as a pinch-runner last season due to his great speed, and he also has a very good glove in the outfield.

The Panthers will definitely also have room in their lineup for two new-comers who joined the team late in the season and for the playoffs from JV. Tom Gisin is a very versatile player, and Rye Neck will probably take advantage of his ability to play the outfield as well as play Catcher in 2009. Gisin also had success for JV last season as a starting pitcher, so he could obviously be very useful for the team. The other player called up from JV late in 2008 is Matt Monaco. Monaco will be a junior infielder this season, and his speed makes him a good option for the team during the course of a tight game. He also has experience as a pitcher, which could prove valuable in the course of a long season.

Coach Slater will bring his multitude of baseball experience back to the bench this season. Slater was once a starting catcher in college, where he actually played a season alongside Rye Neck’s athletic director, Chris McCarthy, who was also a powerful catcher. When Slater was a freshman, he was backing up McCarthy, who was a senior and received all-sectional honors. After graduation from college, Slater started his career in teaching and continued his baseball career as Rye Neck’s JV coach. After serving in this role for a few years, Slater became the “heir-apparent” to the “throne” of varsity manager Joe Carlucci, who ended his illustrious career as a manager to become the director of modified athletics for Rye Neck. In his first season as varsity head coach, Slater’s team won 14 games and made it to the second round of the playoffs. He looks to build on this success in 2009, with many of his top players returning.  The coming year will certainly be very exciting for Rye Neck baseball.

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