John Buonamano is in a position most coaches would envy.
He’s got a roster full of young players, each of whom have the potential to produce, along with a few returning standouts. It’s not a stretch to suggest the Highland High School baseball team is in good shape for the upcoming season.
“Honestly, it’s difficult to say who’s going to be next,” said Buonamano, Highland’s coach, of his younger group. “I look forward to seeing those guys compete. They’re all out there with a passion for the game, and they want to contribute.”
The Huskies will also be relying on seniors Anthony Hegedus, Isiah Daubon and Frank Alfonso, as well as junior Kevin Brennie.
“I think we have a positive attitude right now,” Alfonso said. “Our chemistry is really good, we know where we can get to.”
Two years ago, Highland got far. The Huskies won their first Section 9 Class B title since 1998, and in the process ended Spackenkill’s streak of four consecutive section championships. Buonamano insisted pitching and defense are going to be the keys to returning to championship glory — adding that the new, nation-wide pitch count regulation won’t impact his team, as he had already been using pitch counts on his own volition.
Brennie will likely be the Huskies’ No. 1 starter, with Daubon patrolling center field. Hegedus can pitch and play the outfield, while Alfonso will catch and play first base.
“I believe every one of them has leadership qualities they can bring to the team,” Buonamano said of his upper classmen. “From the top of the depth chart to the bottom, we have players who can put us in a position to win ballgames.”
Last year the Huskies were ousted in in section quarterfinals by Spackenkill, 3-2. The year before, they defeated the Spartans in the finals, 10-0, nearly no-hitting Spackenkill in the process. Highland went on to lose to Albertus Magnus in the New York State regional semifinals.
Buonamano attributed Highland’s recent string of success to pitching and defense.
“That’s been our strong suit these past two years,” the coach said. “I pay a lot of attention to that. We have a lot of solid defenders and good pitching always beats good hitting.”
Highland is slated to open the year on Thursday against visiting Marlboro. The Iron Dukes won the New York State Class B title last year.
“We want to go into every game with the mindset that you’re there to win,” Alfonso said. “I think that’s important. We played Marlboro tough last year. Obviously they won a state championship, but (when we played them last year) we weren’t over matched.”
Based on the trend of injuries among young pitchers, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced last July it was mandating each state to come up with its own guidelines to limit the amount of pitches a high school pitcher can throw in a game.
On Jan. 27, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association approved pitch count regulations at an Executive Committee meeting. The rules are in effect for the upcoming season.
Varsity pitchers in New York are permitted to throw a maximum of 105 pitches in one day. If he throws between 96 and 105 pitches, he must observe four nights of rest. Should he throw between 66 and 95 pitches in a single game, he must observe three nights of rest. Two nights’ rest are required if a pitcher throws between 31 and 65 pitches, and one night of rest is required if a pitcher throws 30 pitches.
The maximum amount of allowed pitches in a playoff game is 125.
If a pitcher reaches the limit during an at-bat, he will be allowed to finish pitching to the hitter. Both coaches must track the pitch count and confirm the numbers with each other after every half inning. At the end of the game, the coaches also must sign a form, indicating which pitchers are available for future games.
Buonamano voluntarily limited his pitchers before the rule was implemented. He was one of several area coaches who was already using pitch counts.
Thus, he said, the new rule won’t impact his team.
“It’s nothing different for me,” Buonamano said. “It’s pretty much what I’ve done. The only difference is, I have to share the information with the other coaches. Injuries are a part of sports, period. They’re going to happen. But (the new rule) is trying to limit them as much as possible.”
A.J. Martelli: email@example.com, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports