THIELLS – The North Rockland baseball team got two close looks at eventual Class AA state champ Mamaroneck last season. And while the Red Raiders came up short on both occasions — a 3-2 loss in the regular season and a 5-3 loss in the Section 1 quarterfinals — it was clear that there wasn’t all that much separating them from the best team in the state.
“We definitely have the talent,” North Rockland coach Joe Sottile said. “Obviously, a lot of work goes in with that, so we’ve kind of made a plan this year. We want to go up against the best. That’s our goal. We’re playing Mamaroneck again, we’re playing a couple of the Dutchess County schools that are good every year. We’re playing a really tough schedule to prepare us for the postseason. Things can happen and break certain ways, but I believe that we have the talent to go right up there against them.”
Mamaroneck remains the team to beat until proven otherwise, but there is no doubt that North Rockland is returning more firepower.
The Tigers graduated six of nine from their starting lineup, while the Red Raiders return six — and a total of 13 who were on the varsity roster last season. On the pitching side, Mamaroneck graduated two of its top three, including ace Kumar Nambiar (who was the winning pitcher in both head-to-head meetings). North Rockland also lost its ace, Dan Wirchansky, but it should have a new one waiting in the wings.
Senior left-hander Eric Sandusky, who emerged as the Red Raiders’ No. 1 pitcher when he was a sophomore, missed the majority of the 2015 season while recovering from a partial tear in his UCL. He returned for the playoffs, getting the start in the quarterfinals against Mamaroneck, but he wasn’t quite himself.
“I had a couple of rough outings,” Sandusky said. “It was just hard. I struggled the whole year. You can feel it in your arm when you don’t have the velocity that you usually do.”
Sandusky was able to go through his normal offseason routine and proclaimed, “My arm is feeling great. I’m definitely ready to go.” He’ll have plenty of support from Chris Dodrill and Jason Salva, who will form a rare 1-2-3 punch of southpaws at the top of the rotation.
“We have three or four lefties that can throw above 80 mph,” said Sandusky, who will pitch at SUNY Cortland next season along with Dodrill. “That’s dangerous in high school baseball.”
Sottile called the pitching staff “our strong point,” but the lineup should be potent as well, led by seniors Billy Rotella and Brian Bohlander — North Rockland’s Nos. 3 and 4 hitters from last season.
“From the middle to the end, we have everybody coming back,” said the Pace-bound Bohlander, who led the team with 21 RBI last season and struck out only four times. “I think it’s three out of our first four guys are back, so that helps a lot. We should produce a lot of hits, runs, a lot of guys on base, we have speed — everything is looking good.”
As Sottile is stressing to his players, looking good on paper at this time of year doesn’t guarantee anything, and there is still much work to be done. But it’s human nature to look ahead and forecast what could be, and the Red Raiders look to have odds as good as any team in Section 1.
“We kind of go in every season where we want to have that as a goal. A sectional title is definitely something that is on our minds,” Sottile said. “It hasn’t happened since 2010, but these guys are very hungry and it’s definitely something that they have worked hard for and want.”