Similar to a college coach, Kevin Del Valle immediately hit the recruiting trail when he accepted an offer to become the head baseball coach at Salesian in 2010. And while most college coaches scour the entire country for talent, Del Valle knew he had a hotbed right in Westchester’s backyard —namely, the Bronx.
Convincing families that the hassle was worth it, though, would take some salesmanship.
“Many of the boys come from the Bronx, so it’s easy for them to say I want to stay close to home or want to stick to a local public school,” Del Valle said. “Think about it: Parents need to get the boys to New Rochelle in I-95 traffic before their work day even begins. Or some of the boys need to get on the Metro-North far before some students wake up for breakfast just to get to school on time. My focus in speaking with families about Salesian was about this place being my home away from home. That message was passed on to me when I graduated in ’98 and my little brother in 2007.”
As an alumni who remembered a time when Salesian baseball was competitive in the Catholic High School Athletic Association, Del Valle’s passion for the program runs deep. And with an influx of talent and newfound commitment from the players, he knew the Eagles could make some noise.
But gaining respect around the CHSAA, where rivals such as Iona Prep, Fordham Prep and Stepinac had dominated Salesian for years, would not come easy.
“A lot of people don’t believe in us,” senior outfielder Jaison Gonzalez said. “They say we’re just a little team from New Rochelle.”
The Eagles began to open eyes in 2014, tying for a share of their first CHSAA ‘AA’ Division title in school history. They were led by a strong junior class, a group that had come up under Del Valle, which meant that Salesian would be a senior-laden team in 2015.
They’ve lived up to the hype, and then some. Sunday’s 5-3 win over McClancy put the Eagles in their first ever CHSAA ‘AA’ Championship Series, which begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Fordham University against Monsignor Farrell.
“We have been blessed to have these 12 seniors be a part of the program,” Del Valle said. “This class, in particular, has shown the entire program that baseball is a valuable outlet.”
As he put his team together, Del Valle stressed being strong up the middle. Catcher Andy Camillo, shortstop Luis Arias, second baseman Randy Tavares and center fielder Sammy Zambrana — all seniors — have been brilliant defensively, while also representing the meat of Salesian’s batting order.
But perhaps the biggest weapon for the Eagles has been ace left-hander Nicky Gennarelli. The senior is known for having one of the best curveballs in the area — a true 12-to-6 looper that generates tons of swings-and-misses — which Del Valle said, “is going to frustrate every batter.”
Gennarelli threw a one-hitter in a 2-1 walk-off win over rival Iona to begin the playoffs on June 3 and will likely get the ball against Farrell on Thursday.
“I’m very prideful,” Gennarelli said. “I love the pressure. I love the big games. That’s what I live for.”