BASEBALL PREVIEW: Randolph returns to season ready to defend titles

BASEBALL PREVIEW: Randolph returns to season ready to defend titles

News

BASEBALL PREVIEW: Randolph returns to season ready to defend titles

By

Can what has transpired during the last three weeks truly be called a high school baseball preseason, especially for the Morris County teams?

“I have never experienced anything like it,” said Randolph head coach Ryan Casey, who enters his fourth season as the head coach of the Rams. “Between my playing days and then coaching, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The brutal winter — snow, wind, bitter cold — that simply won’t go away has forced Casey to use different tactics, as the Rams try to defend their Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference-National Division, Morris County Tournament and NJSIAA North 1, Group IV championships.

“We’ve been going out on our (artificial) turf (multi-purpose, but not for baseball) field a few times and been able to scrimmage games on turf fields around the state,” Casey said. “We’re fortunate to have (former Randolph head coach) Oscar Zavala’s facility, In The Zone, for hitting, so at least from a hitting aspect, we’re not as bad off as we could be.”

But it’s not the Rams’ offensive attack that makes them the proverbial preseason favorites to repeat all three titles they won in 2013 — and maybe more.

On the mound, the Rams are downright loaded with talent, with two NCAA Division I prospects in last year’s All Daily Record Player of the Year David Sacco (Fairfield) and Tyler Poulin (Marist) returning.

“We’re really lucky to have those two coming back,” Casey said. “Not just because of their talent, but because of their work ethic. In terms of their offseason workouts and weight lifting, they’ve proven that they are Division I athletes. Their leadership is immeasurable. Last year, coming into the season, we didn’t know who our top end starters were going to be. This year is much different. Pitching is where we’re most confident.”

Sacco and Poulin combined to win 14 games for the Rams, who went 25-7 last season.

Not to mention, the Rams’ third pitcher from a year ago, Sean Sullivan, who won six games without a loss, also returns. Sullivan has a share of colleges from which he could choose from, so he will also pitch on the next level.

There are not a lot of teams throughout New Jersey that returns such pitching depth, never mind Morris County.

“It’s a huge bonus for us, especially when we get to the county and state tournaments,” said Sacco, who emerged as the Rams’ top hurler last year when he was named the Most Valuable Player of the Morris County Tournament. “It’s really special for us to have the quality arms that we have. It gives us a little bit of an edge above the rest.”

Sacco said that the frigid conditions have limited his ability to get ready for next Tuesday’s season opener.

“It’s definitely a lot harder to work on pitches in this weather,” Sacco said. “I’ve been lucky to have been able to get out a few times. It’s just the way the schedule worked out. We’re trying to get outside as much as we can.”

Sacco and Poulin are not the only scholarship players on the Rams’ roster. Senior Matt Iantosca will join Poulin at Marist in the fall. Iantosca moves from shortstop, where he played last year, to catcher this season. When Iantosca was on the highly successful Randolph East Little League team that won a state championship in 2007, Iantosca was the catcher.

“I’m sure he could play any position on the field with no problem whatsoever,” said Casey of Iantosca. “Catching is where we needed him this year and that’s where he’s stepped right in.”

Brian Boulineau, the starting third baseman from a year ago, also returns. Boulineau has already given a verbal commitment to play at Rutgers-Newark next year, so there’s another current member of this year’s team who will play college baseball in 2015.

Junior Nick Ferragine will become the team’s starting shortstop.

“He’s done a great job and handles the bat real well,” Casey said. “It’s all about production.”

Juniors James Bertelle and Andrew Hafner slide into outfield positions, with Bertelle in left and Hafner in center.

“James is a very athletic kid who swings the bat well,” Casey said. “He is very raw, but he’s working hard and wants to get better. I like what we’ve seen from Andrew. He has the potential to be a good one.”

Sacco knows that his role has dramatically changed from a year ago, when hardly anyone knew his name, to this season, where he’s the top returning player in one of the most talented counties in New Jersey.

“I would say that the expectations have been raised a lot,” Sacco said. “I think the rest of the team now looks up to me and I have to maintain my focus, especially if I have an off day. I can’t let it get to me. I have to keep focus on what the coaches are telling me. I can’t dwell on my problems, because I have to concentrate on the team’s success.”

And there should be a lot of success in 2014.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Sacco, who should get the ball when the Rams open the season Tuesday against West Morris. “Especially after what we accomplished last year. We want to go one step further (the overall Group IV championship). If we want that, we have to work hard for it every day. I’m sure the whole team has been looking forward to this ever since we lost (to Westfield last year in the overall Group IV semifinals). It’s been my hardest-working offseason. I know what I have to do and I want to set an example for the others.”

Casey knows that his team has all the mechanisms to be playing come the first week of June.

“The pieces are definitely there,” Casey said. “We have to stay healthy. That’s the key. We do have all the pieces, but those pieces have to stay healthy. Our goal is to win championships. Now, we have to execute.”

Besides the Rams, Roxbury should be once again one of the top local teams, especially with the pitching depth that pitching guru Joe Trotter possesses at his beckon. Lefty Timmy Pilrun and righty Nick Busby provide a solid 1-2 rotation punch and should put the Gaels right in the mix.

Morristown, with new coach Ed Collins moving over from Chatham, should be another challenge for the Rams. Delbarton lost top pitcher Brian Rapp to the IMG developmental program in Florida, but Bruce Shatel always has his Green Wave teams prepared.

Morris Catholic and Pequannock are two of the county’s smaller schools with a ton of talent returning from a year ago. Needless to say, it should be an exciting season for Morris County baseball — as long as Mother Nature cooperates and allows spring to arrive.

Latest

More USA TODAY High School Sports