After graduating five key players from last year’s League V champion squad, one would assume that the Eastport South Manor baseball team would return to rebuilding mode this season.
Well, think again.
The Sharks, who fell in the Suffolk County Class AA semifinals to both Sachem North and Commack last spring, lost their top two starting pitchers from last season, Joe Palmeri and Brandon O’Sullivan, along with their third starting pitcher and first baseman Joe Gonzalez. All three are now playing at the collegiate level.
Longtime center fielder Ryan McCormick also graduated along with last season’s hero, Dave Griffths, who had clutch hits down the stretch for the Sharks. With reserve Andrew Wysocki also graduating, ESM has a number of holes on the field and in the batting order.
But that shouldn’t prove to be a problem for the Sharks.
Both Annunziata brothers—senior Anthony and sophomore Mat—are returning and will look to build upon their very successful 2011 campaigns. Anthony, a switch-hitting second baseman, earned All-County honors last season after batting .431 with 22 runs scored and 21 RBIs. Mat, the Sharks’ starting third baseman, was one of just two freshmen to earn All-State honors after batting .438 with six home runs and 27 RBIs.
Also returning will be 6-foot-5-inch, 255-pound senior Billy Goncalves, who earned All-League honors last season. This spring, Goncalves will be the team’s number two starting pitcher when he’s not playing first base or designated hitter. He hit four home runs last season and provides a lot of power in the Sharks’ lineup.
Seniors Sean Doyle, Logan Frati, Dalton McCarthy, Ryan Gili, Ryan Malvin and Mike Griffths are also returning, as are juniors Mike Flynn and Andrew Karkota. Doyle will continue to be the Sharks starting catcher while Frati will move into the starting rotation this season after being mostly a reliever last year. He is considered the team’s number one starter heading into the spring campaign. Gili, when he’s not patrolling center field, will be the Sharks’ third starting pitcher.
McCarthy missed practically all of last season after breaking his thumb in the first league game. He’s expected to have a big impact this season after being named All-League in 2010, even though he played only half a season after being called up from junior varsity. McCarthy will play first base/DH and also pitch in relief.
Malvin and Flynn are mainstays at left field and shortstop, respectively, while Karkota’s ability to play multiple positions will make him the team’s utility player. Griffths will back up Anthony Annunziata at second base and be a relief pitcher.
“We have 10 guys back from last year’s team and we made a great run last year, obviously, but we’d like to win the league and get deep into the playoffs,” said ESM head coach and League V Coach of the Year Todd Skala. “Our goal is to get to that county championship. The playoffs are crazy—anything can happen with pitching matchups and it being a double-elimination tournament. So, as long as our pitchers continue to improve the way we think they will throughout the season, we should do well.”
Call-ups from the junior varsity squad, which won its league title last season, include catcher Niko Bedell, outfielder Connor McCormick, outfielder Bryan Foley and Pat Gallagher, all juniors. Gallagher was the JV’s number one starting pitcher last season and should find himself on the mound quite a bit on the varsity team this spring.
“All are going to see some time,” Skala said. “We’re pretty solid at all of our positions, but Niko is a great bat off the bench. Connor is pretty quick and is good defensively. Really, any of these kids could be starters on any varsity team.”
There were sweeping changes across Section XI, or Suffolk County, baseball this season, the most noticeable being that there are now nine leagues instead of eight. Skala explained that the realignment was to make sure that most leagues do not have mixed classifications.
ESM is once again in League V and, as in past years, the Sharks would be one of maybe two Class AA teams in a league of mostly Class A schools. Thanks to the realignment, Leagues I through V are all Class AA teams while Leagues VI and VII feature Class A schools. League VIII carries all Class B schools while the new League IX contains the county’s Class C and D schools.
The changes affect the schedules as well. There will be no non-league games. Instead, teams will play a number of scrimmages before starting their league schedules. Additionally, teams will start off by playing each team in their league once and then start three-game series play.