Practice stop: John Jay

Every once in awhile as a reporter who covers high school athletes, you have a guy who just feels like he’s been around forever. Whether it’s an exceptional player or someone whose maturity makes them seem older than they actually are, these are the types who offer some familiarity in the constant cycle of talent.

John Jay’s Jack Weiller falls into that category, and the first thing that I said to him on Monday was, “Wow, you’re finally a senior.”

“It’s a little surreal,” Weiller responded. “I went through it with basketball, and it was really, really weird. But we’re just taking it one day at a time. Me, Ronnie (Corelli), Carter (Henry) and the other seniors really have a love for the game, so we’re just taking it one day at a time, one practice at a time. Even though we’re in the gym, we’re valuing and using our time as best as we can – dominating the fundamentals in here.”

Weiller’s ascension to the starting shortstop role has coincided with two memorable years for the Indians.

They won a Class A title in 2013 and lost a one-run game to eventual champ Rye last season in the semis. And with Weiller, Corelli, Henry and a notable cast of returners back in 2015, expectations are once again high.

But, for now, the focus of these seniors is on enjoying the ride and not looking too far ahead.

“Eventually, come playoff time, we will be,” Corelli said. “It’s going to take a lot of work. Right now, we’re not where we need to be, but neither is any team right now. I think by playoff time, we’ll be very good.”

• At this time last year, with John Jay coming off of a sectional championship, much of the preseason chatter was about pitching. Quality arms had carried the Indians to that title in ’13, but pretty much every experienced varsity pitcher graduated following that season. Coach Geoff Curtis had to rely on some unproven guys, but the results were encouraging. Even more encouraging is that many of them are back, led by right-handed ace Henry (pictured above). “It is definitely a strength,” Henry said. “We’ve been working really hard. We even have a few younger kids – some freshmen that we’ve been working with. … Chase (Borowitz), his arm has really matured. He’s a lot stronger and he’s throwing the ball pretty hard. We didn’t lose that much as far as pitching goes, so hopefully we’ll come back pretty strong.”

• Henry became John Jay’s go-to guy in big games, including holding Rye to two runs on three hits over six innings in the semis. He told me that he added a circle change in the offseason and now has four pitches that he’s comfortable using in games — fastball, slider, split-finger and the circle change. He also added some strength, which he thinks will result in increased velocity. Henry has earned the “ace” label and comes into his senior season with a lot of confidence. “I was really happy with how last season turned out for me,” he said. “Obviously, I was developing throughout (the season) and I’ve been working out since then in the offseason. Hopefully, I can continue that success this year.”

• Who else should we look out for on the mound for the Indians? “Definitely Carl Albert, Chase, Alex Rajovic, who’s been working hard and also gained quite a bit of velocity, Ryan Reinke,” Henry rattled off. “The arms are looking very strong.”

• The lineup will be built around Weiller (pictured to the left), who is committed to Virginia and some would call the best shortstop in Section. He’ll likely hit third, but isn’t putting too much pressure on himself to carry the offense. “Really, I don’t have any expectations,” he said. “I expect to do well, but then again, my main expectation is just going out there and leaving it all on the field – especially in my senior year.”

• Hitting behind Weiller could very well be two non-seniors whose names came up a few times on Monday. Justin Drpich moved up in the order as the season went on last year and should be one of John Jay’s top bats. Justin’s older brother Joe Drpich, who is now playing at Siena, provided great protection for Weiller in ’14. “He’s been working really hard and his swing is looking really good, and CJ McCarthy also,” Corelli said. “He’s been working really hard and his swing looks good right now. He’s gotten stronger and bigger, so I think CJ, as well, could be a big bat.”

• Corelli is one of the smallest guys on the team, but as Curtis will tell you, he’s got one of the biggest hearts. He’ll be a three-year starter at second base, which means that the Indians will have the same double play combo for the third straight year. That’s very rare at this level. “I love having Jack with me in the middle,” he said. “We’ve built good chemistry and then we’ve got Justin Drpich probably over at third base, so we’re building as good of an infield as we’ve ever had. We’re excited about that.”

• Corelli (pictured to the right) will likely leadoff for John Jay, which he also sounded excited about. “Traditionally, I’ve either been the leadoff guy or the last guy as a second leadoff,” he said. “I love to be a leadoff guy. I just love to be a spark for my team, but wherever I am in the lineup, it doesn’t really matter.”

• Reinke and Mike Labriola are two others who got plenty of at-bats last year and should be penciled in as starters. The guys sounded excited about the potential of their offense. “We’ve been working all winter – the last couple of months – going up to Game on 13 (in Elmsford) once a week and doing hitting,” Corelli said. “We’ve also been doing hitting sessions here a couple of times a week, so we’ve been working really hard on our hitting. I think we’ll be even better offensively than we’ve been in the past.”

• Weiller was more excited to talk about the defense. “We’re looking forward to playing strong defense,” he said. “As long as our pitchers throw strikes, we’re going to make the plays behind them. That’s one of our staples here at John Jay – strong defense, strong pitching, and the runs will come.”

• Having several players with ample playing time in the postseason could be another asset for the Indians. They certainly have a few things going for them. “The experience in the last couple of years has been great,” Corelli said. “I think with me and Jack having been on the team for three years now, I think that experience is only going to help us for the future and make us better leaders in the playoff games.”

• Final word goes to Henry, who spoke about why he likes this year’s team so much. In my mind, John Jay looks like one of the top three or four contenders in Class A — with the potential to win it. “We have great team chemistry,” he said. “Everyone is really one team. There’s no fragmentation with the players. Everyone is one.”

Photos by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News 

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