From top to bottom, the Westhampton Beach baseball team has a completely new look this season.
Starting with its new head coach, Asa Grunenwald, who has taken over the team for Tom Hoare, who coached the team the past five years.
Hoare was responsible for bringing the program back from obscurity, help leading the team to its first league win in over two years during his first season with the team in 2013, then ended what was a lengthy playoff drought the following season.
Reaching the postseason then became the new norm for the Hurricanes in the years to follow, until they got hit hard with graduation the past two seasons and haven’t made the playoffs since.
With almost an entirely new cast, the school simply wanted to go in a new direction. Grunenwald is in his first year in the district as a middle school teacher, and brings a ton of baseball experience to the program. After playing for St. John’s University as a catcher from 2000-2003, Grunenwald was an assistant coach at Hofstra University and then an assistant for Bayport/Blue Point’s varsity team, when the team won two state championships.
Now 37, Grunenwald hasn’t been coaching for the past four years, while he was a teacher in Nassau County. But he’s excited to get back into it and help start another successful run—after the team won only three games last year.
“There are definitely some new faces here for sure,” he said. “I told them, good or bad, we’re starting over and it’s time to blaze our own path. What happened last year happened, let’s put it in the past and let’s try and make it a new beginning this year.”
Three seniors are returning for the Canes this season, led by outfielder and pitcher Jason Floegel, who should be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Ryan Davis will also pitch and play first base, while Riley MacDonald will continue to play center field and bat leadoff. Andy Wilcenski, a 6-foot-5-inch righthanded pitcher, will play first base on days he doesn’t pitch. Senior Evan D’Alessandro will get some time at second base.
Sophomores Jack Halloran and Ryan Miller are both up from junior varsity. Halloran already has a solid bat, Grunenwald said, and is improving every day defensively. Miller is a switch hitter, and Grunenwald said he will make an impact right away. Freshman Frankie Nodo has a strong lefty bat, and will play third base and left field.
Last season’s Class A county finalists—champion Rocky Point and Sayville—both play in League VI along with Westhampton Beach and will be the two teams to beat this season, not just in league play but in the county as well. East Hampton, Harborfields and Islip make up the rest of the league.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us, for sure, but our goal this year is just to compete on a daily basis, every game,” Grunenwald said. “I think we’ll have a team that will be competitive, where that puts us record-wise at the end of the season remains to be seen, but as long as we make the plays in the big spot we’ll be fine.”
Westhampton Beach opens the season with a non-league game at Southampton this Friday, March 22, at 4 p.m. and after multiple scrimmages and non-league games, the Canes finally open the league season on April 9 at East Hampton.