Baseball is back in central Connecticut, and seven local teams are getting set to open the season as early as this weekend, and all seven squads begin with a clean slate and plenty of playoff incentive to fight for.
Each area team reached the state tournament last season, and all will look to make a return this year. While all teams qualified for the tournament, six were able to win a postseason game at the state level, and with most groups returning a wealth of talent, more of the same should be expected this spring.
Here is a closer look at each of the local teams:
Head coach: Roberto Mercado (9th season)
Last year: 14-8, lost in second round of Class LL state tournament
Key losses: William Homar (P), Guillermo Burgos (1B), Joshua Garcia (OF), Francisco Alvarado (CF), Jordan Quinn (OF), Kevin Rodriguez (P/OF)
Key returnees: Danniel Rivera (senior, SS), Rufino Santiago (senior, P), Melvin Rodriguez (senior, OF), Michael Gajda (junior, C), Justin Adorno (junior, 2B)
Newcomers to watch: Yan Hernandez (sophomore, OF), Chris Gibbs (sophomore, INF/P), Daniel Costa (junior, INF/P), Nigel Crundwell (sophomore, INF/C)
Outlook: The Hurricanes put together another winning season in 2018, and improved upon their 2017 performance by securing a win in the 2018 Class LL state tournament with a close 4-3 win over No. 18 Enfield. New Britain lost to eventual semifinalist Amity in the second round, but returns a number of key starters, including senior shortstop Danniel Rivera, that can lead the Hurricanes back to the state tournament this season. Of course, New Britain will have to replace some key pieces, most notably, ace Will Homar. But overall, expect the Hurricanes to be in contention for a deep tournament run as always.
Head coach: Leo Veleas (33rd season)
Last year: 13 -9, lost in second round of Class L state tournament
Key returnees: Adam Bilinsky (senior, P), Vince Dastoli (senior, 1B), Gianni Fanelli (senior, OF), Ryan Hyde (senior, C), Jeff Kuzoian (senior, INF), Holden Murphy (senior, OF), Daniel Veleas (senior, INF), Cam Murphy (junior, P)
Newcomers to watch: Nick Accarpio (junior, P/OF), Mark Addamo (junior, P/OF), Paul D'Amore (junior, INF), Chris Gendron (junior, C), Nick Melville (junior, OF/P), Giancarlo Tufano (senior, OF), Justin Piskorski (sophomore, INF).
Outlook: The Redcoats enjoyed a solid season in 2018 that ended with an upset win over No. 15 Bethel in the first round of the state tournament before falling to No. 2 North Haven in the second round. The team returns a large core of that group, including seven seniors. One of those seniors is star outfielder Gianni Fanelli, who earned all-conference honors last season and has committed to play at Assumption College next year. Ryan Hyde will also be key to Berlin’s success with his experience behind the plate.
Head coach: Ben Alaimo (10th season, 100-97)
Last year: 15-7, lost in second round of Class LL state tournament
Key losses: Josh LeClair, Joe Zawisza, Spencer Couillard
Key returnees: Ethan Errera (senior, OF), Jack Kelley (senior, P), Mike Sobolewski (senior, P/SS), Gunnar Johnson (junior, C), Zack Nakonechny (sophomore, P/INF)
Outlook: The Indians lost a fair share of talent, saying goodbye to five starters from last season. However, plenty of talent remains, including upperclassmen Errera, Kelley, Sobolewski and Johnson, all of whom have committed to play at the collegiate level after graduation. Alaimo will look for a big year on the mound from Kelley, who posted a 5-1 record last year with 41 strikeouts over 36 innings. The senior will be a major factor for Newington, which lost the majority of its pitching staff to graduation last June.
Should the pitching falter, look for UMass-Boston commit Errera to keep the Indians in ballgames with his bat, as the senior raked in 2018 in the form of a .518 OBP with 17 steals.
Head coach: Charlie Lembo (9th season)
Last year: 13-9, lost in second round of Class LL state tournament
Key losses: Jeremy Mercier (P/1B), Brandon Kohl (OF), Daniel Topper (2B), Josh Panarella (C), Justin Verrilli (P), Dylan Chiaro
Key returnees: Nico Gaudio (senior, P), Ryan Henderson (senior, P), Brendan Kavanaugh (senior, P/1B), Jason Krar (senior, P), Kyle Leifert (senior, INF), Jared Martin (senior, OF), Jake Romano (senior, OF), Tyler Strong (senior, OF), Bryce Worth (senior, INF), Jake Meade (junior, OF), Jake Newman (junior, P/INF), Andrew Paradis (junior, OF)
Newcomers to watch: Billy Carr (junior, OF), Jake DelMonte (junior, C), Bryce Fournier (junior, INF/P), Joe Gaudio (junior, INF/C), Mickey Gurzenda (junior, P), Jared Kelly (junior, OF), Ethan McDonough (junior, INF), Kevin McIntyre (junior, P/INF), Vincent Spizzoucco (junior, P)
Outlook: Opening Day is less than a week away for the Blue Knights and Lembo is still working through many candidates that could be a part of his starting lineup. That’s a good problem to have, as Southington returns a big haul of players with varsity experience, so expect Lembo to carry more pitchers as he sifts through his best possible arms. The Blue Knights will look to use their wealth of experience to get back to the state tournament, where they held a late lead against top-seeded Fairfield Prep last year before falling 4-1.
Head coach: Lou Mandeville (8th season)
Last season: 8-14, lost in second round of Class M state tournament
Key losses: Nate Michalek (P/1B), Jordan Bishop (P/SS), Dylan Morrell (P/2B), Ricky Freitas (C), Matt Bialko (OF)
Key returnees: Juan Camacho (senior, C), Tyler St. Onge (senior, INF), Brady Callahan (senior, OF), Tyler Davis (senior, 2B), Tyler Mandeville (junior, P/1B), Wyatt Lacombe (junior, OF/1B), Alec Couture (sophomore, SS/P)
Outlook: Mandeville is looking for defense and timely hitting to be the keys to the Blue Devils’ success this season. The team scored a huge upset in the Class M tournament after a lackluster regular season, shocking No. 4 Plainfield in a 1-0 thriller where Plainville came in as the No. 29 seed. The Blue Devils were bounced in the next round in a 7-0 loss to East Catholic, but hope to carry the momentum from their unexpected tournament win into this season. Plainville looks like it has the ability to do so. The Blue Devils lost some big pieces to graduation, but return a number of key contributors from a year ago.
Head coach: Joe Granja (22nd season, 186-226)
Last year: 12-11, lost in second round of Class M state tournament to Bacon Academy
Key losses: Tommy Hughes (all-conference), Paul Prior (all-conference), Chris Ryan (P), Matt Anderson (C)
Key Returnees: Ryan Johnson (senior, P/SS), Chris Martinez (senior, P/CF), Diajeh McCall (senior, P/1B)
Newcomers to watch: John Higginbotham (sophomore, 3B/P), AJ Williams (junior, OF/P), Edgardo Oscacio (freshman, SS/P), Mike Lukaszewski (freshman, C)
Outlook: If the Gladiators want to make it back to the state tournament this season, they will need to replace a lot of production, as six starters graduated last spring. Two of them, included all-conference members Prior and Hughes, who are now competing at the collegiate level. Granja estimates starting three freshmen this year, including shortstop Edgardo Oscacio. Granja has been in this spot before and kept his team above the .500 mark, as his group has made the state tournament in 12 of the last 13 years, including last season when the Gladiators upset No. 11 University in the first round.
Head coach: Ryan Anderson (1st season, former head coach at Two Rivers)
Last year: 6-10, lost in the first round of Class S State tournament
Key returnees: Steven Hicks (junior), Melvin Saylor (senior, P/OF), Brennen Kievman (senior, P)
Newcomers to watch: Yonathan Ramos (freshman, C)
Outlook: The Ravens have a new head coach at the helm, but not an unfamiliar one, as Anderson is the former head coach of Two Rivers High School, which merged with Innovation back in 2017. Anderson will look to get the program back over the .500 mark with the help of Hicks, who led the team in hits, RBI and home runs in each of the past two seasons. Behind Hicks, the Ravens reached the state tournament but lost to Coventry in the first round, which wound up reaching the tournament final.