The Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Red Devils won their second Section III baseball title last season.
Now, the Red Devils hope returning to the tough Tri Valley League will help them in their quest of a Class A repeat. VVS will get to compete against perennial Class AA contenders in Rome Free Academy and Proctor, as well as other top Class A squads in Whitesboro, Oneida, Camden and New Hartford.
“The TVL always has some of the top Class A schools in the section,” said Chad Hodkinson, who is in his seventh season as head coach at VVS. “Of the teams we played last year, I know Oneida, New Hartford, CVA and Whitesboro had some players that performed well in our games that are returning. We didn’t play Notre Dame, so I am not sure what they have coming back.”
The Red Devils, who defeated top-seeded Christian Brothers Academy 11-3 in last year’s Class A final, will have to make up for the losses of Zack Durant and Ryan McNamara, who were all-state selections. VVS does return six key members, but also have some injury concerns among them.
Outfielder Mitch DeBarr is currently injured and pitcher Devin Long was injured the majority of last season. Matt Nell, Ryan Palmer, Connor VanDreason and Davey Moffett also will be counted on if the Red Devils want to achieve their lofty goals.
DeBarr hit .4411 last year and scored 16 runs, so getting him back into the lineup would be a huge boost for the Red Devils. Moffett (OF/1B) was an All-CNY selection, batting .418, scoring 17 runs, hitting four home runs and driving home 28 runs.
Palmer (Infielder, P) scored 26 runs, stole seven bases and hit .347. VanDreason is another arm that will be counted on more this season. Last season, VanDreason went 4-0 with 29 strikeouts and a 1.70 earned run average.
Despite high expectations that come with winning a sectional title, Hodkinson isn’t putting any undue expectations on his team. He just requires hard work from his players and hopes that’s enough to get them deep into the postseason.
“I am not sure (expectations) will be any influence at all on us because we have such a young team,” Hodkinson said. “We will not change how we prepare for the season or how we play the game. We will definitely try to use the momentum that last year’s team created but it really is an entirely different team. The kids in our program know they are expected to play the game the right way, to the last out, and if we do that we should be competitive with the other programs. We want to be competing for a league championship each year and make a solid playoff push.”
RFA outlasted Proctor and Whitesboro for the TVL East title last season and Evan Howard’s team returns a strong corps of players. The Black Knights have two quality returning starting pitchers in Colin Shunk and Tyler Schoff, as well as strong position players in Derrick Miller, Mark Minicozzi, Ryan Samuels and Gino DeBlasiis.
“We have a very experienced and determined group,” Howard said. “Our top two starting pitchers are going to keep us in a lot of games. This group is poised to make a playoff run.”
The Raiders have three first-team all-stars returning in junior Myles Felton and sophomores Vito Castronovo and TVL Rookie of the Year Vincenzo Castronovo. Proctor, who returns eight starters, also has a pair of second-teamers as senior Ben Kilian and junior Brent Jones add to a very talented lineup.
Felton hit .467 last season and Vincenzo Castronovo batted .452.
While the Raiders should have a potent offense, they will have to find arms to replace their top two pitchers from a season ago. Gone are aces Mike Alesandro and Jack Santacroce, who were workhorses last season.
“It really depends on our young pitching staff,” Proctor head coach Dave Guido said. “If they can mature quickly we can be a good club.”
Whitesboro battled the Raiders and Black Knights for the league title until the final game last season. The Warriors lost seven seniors, including Kevin Flynn, who, arguably, was the team’s best pitcher, fielder and hitter. However, the Warriors, who lost 7-3 to VVS in the Class A quarterfinals last season, have a nice mix of returning all-star performers and talented first-year players.
Ryan McAndrew (IF, P), Ryan Humphrey (IF), Cody Fowler (OF), Jimmy Bushey (IF) and junior catcher Matt Parkinson give the Warriors a group of experienced performers. McAndrew, who will be asked to be a bigger factor on the mound, was a first-team all-league last season. Joining McAndrew as a first-teamer was Parkinson, who is one of the better catchers in the area. The Warriors also have talented options on the mound with junior Pat Galer and senior Ryan Lamanque.
“Our whole division is tough,” Whitesboro head coach Tom Maggiolino said. “Proctor is loaded, they are the team to beat. They are tough, as is RFA … and VVS is the Section 3 Class A champion. If our pitching comes through, and we get some timely hitting and good defense, we can contend.”
Camden won the TVL West last season and advanced as the No. 5 seed all the way to the sectional semifinals before losing 5-2 to CBA. The Blue Devils lost several key pieces, but have first-team all-star Nick Melchiore and second-teamer Billy Witzigman returning.
New Hartford lost a Division I player in Zach Kesterson, who was TVL Player of the Year. The Spartans do have senior first-teamer Noah German back and second-team all-stars Ryan Faro, Cooper Deck and junior Sean McGlynn returning.
Also factoring in the mix is Oneida, Notre Dame and Central Valley Academy which have the talent to knock off anybody in the league this season.