At the high school level, a coach usually considers himself lucky if he has one shutdown pitcher. Quality arms are hard to come by, but if you can round up a couple, it bodes very well for your chances.
Tappan Zee coach Mark Stanford is entering the 2013 season in the unusual — and ideal — circumstance of having three.
“I’ve never had it before,” he said. “I think the depth is what makes us on paper a pretty dangerous group. We have the potential to put a guy on the mound pretty much every day that can not only keep us in the game, but shut other team’s down.”
With Chris Monaco, Eric Casey and Mike Woulfe, the Dutchmen have what many would argue is the best starting rotation in Class A. Having a reliable pitcher to start every game has TZ thinking about a second section title in three years.
“All of our pitchers throw unbelievably well,” Monaco said. “I feel like we can match up against any other pitching staff in the county.”
Casey and Woulfe are seniors, but it’s Monaco who will serve as the Dutchmen’s ace. The junior right-hander took the section by storm last season, striking out more than a batter per inning while pitching to a 0.66 ERA. He tossed a one-hitter against Ardsley in a first-round win and is already verbally committed to Virginia Tech.
“That was the biggest game that I was able to pitch in, and I just wanted to prove to everybody that I could,” Monaco said. “This year, I think I can do even better.”
While Monaco has the potential to be the most dominant member of the trio, Casey and Woulfe each bring unique skill sets. Casey stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs 270 pounds, which makes him an intimidating presence on the mound, but Woulfe could be the difference-maker.
After emerging as TZ’s No. 1 starter on the way to a section title in 2011, Woulfe struggled last season while trying to pitch through shoulder issues. He rehabbed it all offseason and is now pain free — the only thing left on the shoulder is a chip.
“It’s nice to see him back throwing the way that he did as a sophomore,” Stanford said. “Having him back and healthy, he is sort of that forgotten guy. I know that’s something that’s motivating him.”
Assuming that all three pitchers stay healthy, the Dutchmen have the makings of a championship club, but the issue that held them back last season is once again their biggest unknown in 2013.
Scoring runs did not come easy for TZ, and it remains as the foremost concern. With more work being done in the cages and an aggressive mentality on the basepaths, the Dutchmen are hoping that they’ll be able to give their pitchers a little breathing room.
“I felt I faded during the playoffs. I want to get stronger as the year goes on,” said Casey, who led the team in walks and doubles last season. “Every day is a new day. Always be focused. Every at-bat is a new at-bat.”