Baseball Preview: Staples Is Favorite, But League Talent Runs Deep

Chad Knight is the top arm on a deep Staples pitching staff. (Mark Conrad)

Perhaps no FCIAC sport has greater balance than baseball. Fifteen of the 17 schools qualified for the state playoffs last year; seven were within two games of .500. That is because teams rarely dominate during the regular season. Staples and Ridgefield tied for first place at 11-5. After that eight schools were separated by just three games.

Staples looks like a clear preseason favorite, but there are several schools with veteran lineups. And there are always two or three preseason unknowns that end up emerging from a deep pack.

The Favorite

Staples. The Wreckers get the nod to open the year based on the quality of their returning starters and tremendous pitching depth. And their new catcher. That is Chad Knight, who when not pitching will be 60 and a half-feet away at the only position he has yet to try. Staples coach Jack McFarland is hoping to tap Knight’s leadership and arm — he was 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA last season, when he also batted .420.

Knight and Harry Azadian (6-1, 1.25 ERA) give the Wreckers a formidable 1-2 punch, and there are three more solid starting candidates behind them.

Also back are second baseman Drew Rogers (.345, five home runs), shortstop Andrew Moy and outfielders Kevin Rabacs and Adam Petro (.368).

Staples lost to Darien in the FCIAC championship and to eventual champion Cheshire in the Class LL quarterfinals. This is a hungry and driven veteran team.

Pitcher Matt DeLuca is back for state runner-up Ridgefield. (Matt Dewkett)

The Contenders

St. Joseph. The Cadets doubled their win total to 16 a year ago in a run that ended in the Class M semifinals. The Cadets will have one of the league’s most potent attacks, featuring third baseman Charlie Pagliarini (.338, five home runs, 29 RBIs), outfielder Stephen Paolini (.353, four home runs, 20 RBIs, 40 runs scored), first baseman Jimmy Evans (.421, 25 RBIs) and catcher Aaron Kirby (.319, 22 RBIs).

Hadyn Gourley and Al Paolozzi will head a rotation that should not have to worry often about offensive support. Pitching and defense may carry the keys to just how good a season this is for St. Joseph.

Trumbull. The Eagles suffered losses at the top of their starting rotation, beginning with ace Ben Fero. Ryan Gomes (3-1, 2.36 ERA) will take over the lead role, but for now the staff is a question mark.

More certain are two other key positions, with a couple of All-FCIAC players. Catcher Kevin Bruggeman batted .397, while shortstop Chris Brown hit .378. They are headed next year to Hofstra and UConn, respectively.

The Eagles should be strong defensively. This is a program where unknowns in March are usually known commodities in May.

Fairfield Ludlowe. The Falcons rebounded from an 0-4 start to finish .500 and earn an FCIAC playoff berth by crushing the ball. During a five-game winning streak they scored 69 runs. In the game after it was ended, they crossed the plate 19 times.

Unfortunately, Ludlowe also gave up seven or more runs eight times. That will have to change for the Falcons to realize their high goals.

Scoring again will not be a problem, with an attack featuring utility player Vince Camera (.405, five home runs, 23 RBIs), centerfielder Derek Tallman (.390) and Jamie Flink (21 RBIs). Chris Benton had 23 strikeouts in 22 innings and a 1.88 earned run average.

This is a veteran team that again should be among the most entertaining.

Henry Williams had a lot to celebrate in helping Darien win the FCIAC title. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

The Sleepers

Ridgefield, Danbury. The Tigers were hit hard by graduation losses after tying Staples for the best regular-season record and advancing to the Class LL title game. Matt DeLuca is one of the state’s best pitchers. The Hatters are dangerous, led by pitcher Justin Solimine and infielder Javon Hernandez. And in a deep league, teams like Brien McMahon, Fairfield Warde, Greenwich, Wilton and Westhill could make leaps after finishing around the .500 mark.


The Watch List

Harry Azadian, Staples
Stephen Bennett, Greenwich
Chris Benton, Fairfield Ludlowe
Chris Brown, Trumbull
Kevin Bruggeman, Trumbull
Vince Camera, Fairfield Ludlowe
David Callozo, Stamford
Ian Colalucci, Greenwich
Matt DeLuca, Ridgefield
Jim Evans, St. Joseph
Jamie Flink, Fairfield Ludlowe
Kyle Gordon, Norwalk
Christian Hardiman, Fairfield Warde
Javon Hernandez, Danbury
Gavin Kee, Norwalk
Chad Knight, Staples
Peter Meyerson, Brien McMahon
Korey Morton, Brien McMahon
Charlie Pagliarini, St. Joseph
Stephen Paoloni, St. Joseph
Adam Petro, Staples
Drew Phillips, Wilton
Kyle Phillips, Wilton
Frank Ramppen, New Canaan
Drew Rogers, Staples
Chris Saladin, Fairfield Warde
Ben Sarda, New Canaan
Montana Semmel, Westhill
Justin Solimine, Danbury
Derek Tallman, Fairfield Ludlowe
Henry Williams, Darien
Bobby Zmarzlak, Westhill

The Lineups

Danbury: C Jake Matson; 1B/P Justin Solomine, 1B Richard Wegekle, 1B Chris Marmalejos, 1B Jarod Rodriquez; 2B/P Justin Hope, 2B Dan Villalona; SS Javon Hernandez; 3B/P Andrew Philbin; LF Thai-ler Sestokis; CF Spencer Barnett; RF/P Matt Sabene, RF Frank Strazza, P Richard Wekerle.

Darien: P/SS Henry Williams, P/SS/3B Mac McLean, P James Louis, UTL Devyn Kipphut, OF Glen Fay, UTL Nicky Briganti, C Ben Olson, 2B Alec Stephens, 1B/P Liam McLaughlin.

Fairfield Ludlowe:  C/ 3B, DH Vince Camera, CF Derek Tallman, P/OF Chris Benton, SS Jamie Flink, P Matt Micinilio, P Liam Rosengren, 1B/DH Tom Stasko, 2B Brian Howell, 3B Greg Calabrese, 3B/P James Delmiche. OF/P Jake Schwartzstein, OF/INF Brian Kiremidjian, P Ryan Lilly, OF Trey Hensel, INF Jack Vogel, OF/P Connor O’Neill, P CJ Monteiro.

Fairfield Warde: P Chris Saladin, P Phil Hogan, P Anthony Espinoza, P/3B Mason McKay, P Harry Graney Green, OF Christian Hardiman, INF Matt Raab, C Finn Mobley, UTL Sam Vincent, OF Austin Stewart, OF Declan O’Hara.

Greenwich: P/1B Ian Colalucci, P Alex Roath, Jake Monschein, P Miles Laghorne, 3B/OF Sean Pratley, Christopher Genaro, 2B Stephen Bennett, 1B/C Cristian Perez, 1B/C Hunter Gruenstrass; 1B/DH Ben Nash, RF Jackson Blanchard, CF Jake Monschein, LF/CF Henry Jonokuchi, P Luc Thibeault, P Zac Karson, P Mitch Grimes, P Zack Alza.

Brien McMahon: C Peter Meyerson, 2B Cooper Grillo, SS/P James Stefanowicz, SS Jack Fitzpatrick, 3B Jack Fitzpatrick, 3B Pierce Hingtgen, OF Korey Morton, Shane Popkins, P Frankie Greco (12) 4 wins as a junior, James Stefanowicz, P Max Pomponi.

New Canaan: 1B/P Jack DeFrancesco, 1B Jack O’Donnell, 2B/P Ben Sarda, 2B/P Andrew Jordan, 2B/P Clete Wheeler, Colbey Gardiner, SS/P Ryan McAleer, SS/3B/C Zack Ramppen, SS/3B Jack Lisecky, 3B/P Jack Lisecky, 3B AJ Rakoczy, LF Dan Shullman, LF/P Andrew Rashad, CF/P Frankie Ramppen, CF Cortland Parrott, Matt Benevento, RF Bobby Naughton, C/RF Henry Cannon, C Tim Hardy, P Julian Tonghini, P Jack Jordan.

Norwalk: P Vance Ward, P Myles Andriopolis, P Javier Gomez, P David Chuba, C Ryan D’Amico, C Jayden Etcevarria, 1B Evan Platt, 2B Michael Boyion, SS Brandon Evardsen, 3B Jack Arnold, LF Gavin Key, CF Kyle Gordon, RF Jake Dumas, OF Tyler LaFranco.

Ridgefield: P Matt DeLuca, 1B Nick Cullinan, RF Joe Pastore, LF Matt Restivo, 2B Matt Lavorgna, SS Colin Lacoille, 3B Tom Gioffre, C Sean Livingstone, UTL/DH Cole Blackewell, CF John Briody, P Matt Colucci, P Keenan Briggs, P Luke Barrientos.

St. Joseph: 3B Charlie Pagliarini, C Aaron Kirby, OF Stephen Paolini, P/1B/OF Al Paolozzi, 1B/P Jimmy Evans (1B/LHP), P Ben Talbot, OF Luke Kirby, P/DH/1B Hadyn Gourley, SS Carter Courbron, 2B Jack Wallace, P Trent Price, P Michael Chaves, P Ryan Novitzki, P Jesse Bike, P Sean Yankocy, OF Will Diamantis, UTL Jake Murphy.

Stamford: P/OF Nick Otis, P Matt Tiplady, SS David Collazo, P/1B Jay Lockwood, 3B/P Jack Palmer, 2B/SS Ross Green, 2B/OF Jon Oliveri, OF Jaden Dawkins.

Staples: P/C Chad Knight, P/1B Harry Azadian, P Russ Krauss, P Sam Robin, P Alex Deutsch, SS Andrew Moy, 2B Drew Rogers, OF Kevin Rabacs, CF Adam Petro, OF Zach Zobel.

Trinity Catholic: C Matt Claps, 1B Anthony Possidento, 2B Rodd Salvatore, 3B Mike Tamburri, 3B Billy Schaner, SS Nico Morse, OF Rocco Cuscuna, OF Emmett Donaghue, OF Sam Pensiero, P Jordy Vazquez.

Trumbull: C Kevin Bruggeman, SS/P Chris Brown, P Ryan Gomes, 2B Brian Hance, INF/P Ben Micinilio, INF Dante Digirolamo, INF Brandon Buda, INF/P Ryan Teixeira, OF Devin DiCocco, OF Tim Lojko, OF Chris Briganti, OF/P Luke Masiuk, OF Ray Leonzi, C/DH Robert Goldsmith, P Ryan Vawter, P Justin Nyarady, P Greg Kaufmann.

Westhill: CF Bobby Zmarzlak, 2B Noah Skaug, SS TJ Wainwright, 1B Joey Gambino, P/UTL Montana Semmel, 3B Shane Hackett, OF Sammy Spingola, OF George Psicopaidas, P Evan Campbell, P Craig Ottaviano, P Joey Kopec, P James Gerard, P Matt Hallinan, P Eitan Taub, P Jake Benner, P Matt Mogrovejo, P Joey Belmonte.

Wilton: 2B Drew Phillips, P Ethan Leinberger, P Lucas Uriarte, LF Parker Ward, CF Michael Tienken, RF Will Holmquist, UTL Kyle Phillips, C Cole Judelson, INF Andrew Travers, C Regan Kahal, P/1B John Walsh, P Eric Lebeck, OF/C Sam Strazza, P/INF John McMahon, INF Luca Wentzel, P/INF Brian Cipri, INF Ryan van Hyst, P Michael Angerame, P Nick Sheehan, P Chris Drummond.

(Teams not listed did not respond to requests for information)