Local baseball teams ready for season

A look at the prospects of local teams as baseball season begins.

Jason Keen returns to lead the Archbishop Ryan pitching staff. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Last year was a great one for local baseball teams.

Frankford High School mowed through the Public League and then went on to win the city championship and a game in the state playoffs. And while the Pioneers were impressive, the Archbishop Ryan team was almost as good, advancing to the semifinals of the Catholic League playoffs.

This year could be even better. The Public League has a few contenders from Northeast Philadelphia, while Father Judge and Ryan both eye solid campaigns..

Here is a look at the local teams prospects.

CATHOLIC LEAGUE

Archbishop Ryan

The rebuilding season went better than expected last year as the Raiders won eight games during Catholic League play and then won two playoff games en route to the semifinals.

Even better news for the Raiders is that many of last year’s team returns. Senior pitcher Jason Keen will lead a talented pitching staff that also includes Christian Kustra, Anthony Giordano, Pat Hasson and Brennan Hatala, who will likely pitch in relief.

The offense will be led by Adam Estrada, who led the PCL in hitting a season ago. Also in the infield will be Rob McWilliams, Nick Glebocki and Pat Kajder, who will also see time behind the plate.

The outfield will be led by Hakim Abdus-Salaam, as well as Andrew Costello and Dominic Young.

With talent and experience, second-year skipper Nick Chichilitti has plenty of hope heading into the season.

“We are very deep and experienced as far as our pitching staff is concerned,” Chichilitti said. “We also play good defense.

“We are returning six starters and one transfer starter in the field with eight or nine arms, so if we play up to our potential, we have a chance of competing with the top teams in the always-tough PCL.”

Father Judge

Father Judge baseball coach Mike Metzger’s biggest problem this season may be finding enough playing time for his roster of talented players. That’s a good problem to have, as Metzger begins his first season as the Crusaders’ head coach. He takes over a team that went 7–5 in PCL play.

Depth is one of Judge’s biggest strengths, with six returning starters. After fielding a starting lineup, the Crusaders boast a half-dozen reserves who could seamlessly step into a starting role.

The team will be led by All-Catholic hurler Chuck Kelley, who will also play first base. Shane Hughes will also see time on the mound.

Catcher Andrew Sicinski will be a team leader, as will infielders Matt Speatch and Jim Forsythe, and outfielders Bill Dougar and Billy Kelly.

Other players who will contribute are Nieko Conti, Matt Konan, Sean Moran, Pat Carroll, Justin Muraski, Bernie McGuire, Tim McLaughlin, Brian Egolf, Nick Conway and Steve Leopold.

Metzger is optimistic the Crusaders will compete.

“I have a bunch of kids who love to play baseball and expect to win,” Metzger said. “We just have to take one game at a time and believe in each other.

“Pitching and defense is what wins and we try to stress that every day.”

PUBLIC LEAGUE

Abraham Lincoln

The Railsplitters have had a pretty remarkable year in terms of athletics, and baseball could continue that theme.

Leading the team will be four-year starter Ken Brough, who will play everywhere, including pitcher. The other top pitcher on the team is Nick D’Agostino. Other pitchers include Damian Cruz-Lyles, Josh Brazoban and Nick Kaewell.

Shortstop Victor Mejia, catcher Rich Hernandez and third baseman/outfielder Aidan Crean are also expected to play huge rules.

Coach John Larsen always has the Railsplitters ready to play and despite the tough schedule, his team is ready.

“Our goals are pretty basic, play solid defense, have pitchers throw strikes and hitters have quality at-bats,” Larsen said. “We always try to instill a mindset in all of our players where they compete on a pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning basis, day in and day out.

“I expect us to be in the middle of things when the season winds down.”

Frankford

The Pioneers shocked a lot of people when they knocked off St. Joe’s Prep in the city championship, but they didn’t surprise each other. This year, once again, the Pioneers are talented, but they aren’t as experienced as they were a season ago.

Luis Ramos gives them one of the top pitchers in the area. He’ll work with centerfielder Rico Lugo and utility players Dioanny Mejia and Jason Dejesus.

Juan Namnun, the coach, always has his troops ready, and because of that, they typically overachieve. Another strong season shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“Having a pitcher like Luis Ramos, I feel like we can compete with anybody,” Namnun said. “The key is finding a complementary staff around him to make us more complete.

“I hope this young team learns the work ethic that helped the previous Frankford teams achieve high levels.”

Franklin Towne Charter

The Warriors won five games a season ago, but they gave teams a lot of trouble because they played so hard for coach Chris Lauber. This year, that same effort could mean more wins.

The team will be led by catcher Brandon Hasher, as well as outfielders Vincent Rdnesinski and Jose Burgos.

Like just about every Public League team, the Warriors are thin at pitching, but if that comes around, they could be a force down the stretch.

“We have a lot of team speed this year and some pretty versatile athletes,” Lauber said. “There is a lot of youthful energy, so it will be fun to learn our identity as we progress.

“I expect to be in the mix come playoff time and hopefully our young arms can develop into workhorses that can carry us through the postseason.”

George Washington

The Eagles struggled a season ago, but they return a good mix of players who could help spark a turnaround. The team will be led by a returning battery of pitcher Eric Cantor and third-year catcher John Lacovara. Also returning for his third year as a starter is infielder Russell Volosov.

Newcomers include pitchers Louis Beltre and Jesus Castillo, and outfielder Tyree Sheard.

Washington won one divisional game a season ago, but that could change thanks to the deeper pitching staff.

“We have a lot of infielders and we will need some of these guys to step up and play outfield for us,” said Washington coach Ken Geiser. “We will put the strongest gloves and bats in the starting lineup. Every day will be a competition for starting positions.

“We didn’t have any scrimmages due to the weather so some of the new guys will have to show what they have in nonleague games and practice. We are excited about the season.”

Northeast

After finishing 5–7 in divisional play, the Vikings fell just short of making the Public League semifinals, The team graduated some key players but Northeast coach Tom Juhas is happy about what he’s seen thus far from his troops.

The team will be led by an infield that includes shortstop Pedro Alicea, second baseman Tyler Aron, first baseman Darlin Uceata and catcher Jose Estevez. Other guys who will see time in the infield are Steven Moreta, Gabriel Lopez, Michael Delgado and Mario Bree, while outfielders include Elijah Valentin, Luke Valentin, Jon Catala, Christian Falzado and Nate Evans. Catala will likely play catcher, too, while Davantay Green will be the designated hitter.

Pitchers include Aron, Andrew Kidder and John Wing.

Northeast has the horses and plenty of depth. The key is putting it all together.

“I’m really looking forward to the season because they work hard on and off the field,” Juhas said. “They’re all great people and they’re getting better at baseball. I’m really proud of the leadership of the team. They help each other out and all want to play together. I’m happy so far.”

Philadelphia Academy Charter

The Chargers won 10 games a season ago and advanced to the third round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual champion, Frankford.

If they hope to repeat, they’ll need a strong season from four-year starter Justin Pagan, who pitched in the Carpenter Cup a season ago.

Other key players include Donnie Hoffman, Aidan Carolan, Joe Simkins and Paul Smith.

Teams that succeed usually are strong on the mound and in the field, and that’s where the Chargers feel they’re at their best.

“Strengths for this year will be our pitching and defense,” Chargers coach John Smith said. “We can not afford to give away outs when our pitchers are dealing.

“The outlook for this team is to be better than our record from last year with a team loaded with seven seniors. Hopefully, the senior leadership will play a vital role in winning close games.”

Samuel Fels

The Panthers enjoyed a great season in 2017, and returned to the playoffs after two years of not making the cut. A repeat this year is possible, but could be tough because there are new faces all over the lineup.

Two players who will be catalysts for the team’s success are pitchers Tristan Bondurant and Cidrick Navas.

The Panthers return only four players with any experience, so replicating last year’s success could be tough. But coach George Dufner is looking forward to watching the team get better every day.

“We are in a mega rebuilding mode this year after losing seven starters from last year’s campaign,” Dufner said. “After a few practices, the picture is abundantly clear that this will be a teaching-the-game year, at least in the beginning of the season.

“I have some good athletes among the new players on the squad, but the talent is raw. Hopefully, the new players will learn quickly so we can compete in our division.

“Tristan is a wonderful pitcher and a great competitor, and he will keep us in the games he starts. The other constant, as usual, is the fact that most of the teams in our division are also going through the same change and turnover.”

PENN JERSEY LEAGUE

New Foundations Charter

Last year was a successful one for the Bulldogs. They went 10–4 overall and 7–2 in their division, but failed to win the divisional championship, something they did the previous year.

New Foundations does return a lot of talented players and should have good leadership from its returning players.

Senior catcher Christian Reyes will be the anchor of the team. He’ll handle senior pitchers Noah Lindsey and Anthony Kirby.

Other players who are counted on are Deric Hollaway, Joey Nugent and Eddie Kuhlmeier.

The leaders could bring a championship back to New Foundations.

“We are sound defensively and hit for both contact and power,” said Bulldogs coach Zak Riegler. “We make solid contact, and limit the strikeouts. Pitching is another strength. We have four solid pitchers (who) can really throw hard, but also have good breaking balls. Our biggest strength has to be in our overall fundamentals. We play the game the right way.

“”I expect us to be in the running again for the title this year, and every year. I am proud of all of the hard work and dedication our guys have put forth. With our work ethic, we have a shot to win our league every year.”