The TVL may have been the best league in Section 3 during the 2017 season.
Whitesboro (Class A) and Oneida (Class B) won sectional titles. The Rome Free Academy Black Knights lost 1-0 in the Class AA final, while Notre Dame made a run to the ‘B’ semis.
Last year’s success fuels excitement and high expectations for the top teams as well as other challengers. Both the Tri Valley League’s Colonial and Pioneer Divisions are deep with talented, experienced squads and the competition within the league helps these rival programs become battle-tested for postseason play.
In the Colonial Division, Whitesboro is the defending league champions. The Warriors edged out RFA by one game and then went on to claim a sectional championship and made a run all the way to the state semifinals.
While they have lost some top performers, the Warriors have a strong, versatile core and plenty of pitching depth to make another charge at league and section titles.
“(It’s a) new year, new team, new pieces of the puzzle,” Whitesboro head coach Tom Maggiolino said. “First off, we have to replace some key players to graduation in Matt Parkinson, Pat Galer and Zach Wessinger. The main positives are that our returners are a super group to work with. They love the game and have a lot of fun with the process of getting better. They bring leadership and talent to the park every day.”
Among those top returners is junior pitcher/1st basemen Avery Cook, a Division 1 recruit committed to St. John’s. Also back are starters Joe Ruggiero (OF), Cam Hunter (catcher) and shortstop Joey Panuccio. Seniors Doug Rando, Jake Montrose and Dom Fasolo also are experienced returners, who will have to take on bigger roles if the Warriors hope to repeat.
“The experience they gained with the final four run last year is so beneficial when guiding our younger players,” Maggiolino said. “This group shows up to work every day and are always ready to go. That is the first step in the process of 2018 season.”
The Black Knights have four returning starters and 11 new players off a 12-3 junior varsity squad.
Aaron Simons (Jr, 3rd base), Owen Hetherington (Sr, 1st base) and Alex Sticca (Sr, CF) are the top returning players and will have to lead the team as the younger talent grows into their roles and adapt to varsity competition.
“(We have) lots of depth at every position,” RFA head coach Evan Howard said. “This has created a great amount of competition in practice. The 11 new players were very successful at JV last year. How quickly they can contribute to varsity level will determine how successful we can be.”
The Proctor Raiders and New Hartford Spartans hope to bounce back from disappointing 2017 seasons. Proctor finished just 7-10, while the very young Spartans were 6-13.
The Spartans return a quartet of seniors with plenty of experience. Kevin Green’s squad figures to be improved over last season and will be led by Andrew Circelli (3B/P), Dean Langman (P/Utility); Joe Murray (P/C/OF) and Danny Owen (P/OF).
The Raiders could make a quick turnaround as Dave Guido’s squad has eight returners with starting experience and have added two strong transfers.
The pitching staff could be a strength as Reilly Fischer, Chris Godlewski, Felix De Asa De La Cruz and Brandon Treen join Whitesboro transfer Manny Cooper in what should be a reliable group.
Supporting the pitching will be position players Vincenzo Castronovo (OF), Anthony Giglio (3B), Josh Raymer (SS), Rob Conley (Catcher) and New Hartford transfer Dave Antone (Infield).
In the Pioneer Division, Vernon-Verona-Sherrill has been the dominant team over the past few seasons. VVS has lost just two league games over that stretch in rolling to division titles. However, the Red Devils, who won a sectional title in 2015, have been upset early in sectional play the past two seasons.
The positive side is the Red Devils return nearly their entire roster from last season and the group, most who have been part of the disappointing finishes the past two seasons, should be highly motivated to make a long run this season.
VVS has 11 returners from last season and all have contributed. Seniors Dewey Roden, Davey Moffett and Nate Palmer lead the way for the Red Devils. Roden was named the TVL’s Most Valuable Player last season, while Moffett and Palmer were first-team all-stars.
AJ Farina, Zach Nell and Tyler Rotach are also back after earning second-team all-star honors. Joining them is Blake VanDreason, Brennan Miller, TJ Horodnick, Alec Musacchio and Jake Engler.
Head coach Chad Hodkinson has high hopes but knows the season is a process.
“I really think we need to focus on what we do and not worry about anything else,” Hodkinson said. “If we do what we need to then we will be fine with the results. We need to go one game at a time.
“We are looking to remain competitive in one of the toughest leagues in our section. We continue to stress playing the game the right way and hope to improve throughout the season. Our approach to this season is the same as it is every year…we want to put ourselves in position to contend in the league as well as the postseason.”
The Red Devils have a formidable lineup as Palmer, one of the better leadoff hitters in the area, sets the table for Roden (UMass-Lowell) and Moffett (Manhattan), who have both committed to play Division 1 baseball.
Roden is also the ace of a deep, talented pitching rotation.
“We are a veteran team with some nice additions from last year’s JV team that I hope can add to our lineup,” Hodkinson said. “We always stress pitching and I think we should have a solid staff again this year.”
Taking full advantage of VVS’ early sectional exit to Notre Dame were the Oneida Indians, who rolled through the field all the way to a sectional title as the No. 8 seed.
Head coach Ryan Kramer has a talented group featuring 11 returning players. Leading the way are Henry Froass (Sr, shortstop), Lukas Albro (Jr, 2B), Jordan Barlow (Jr, catcher) and Ryan Chevier (Jr, pitcher/1B).
“Our biggest strength is the type of baseball players we have,” Kramer said. “With 11 guys returning, we have guys who want to win, are learning how to win, and are willing to put in the work to win. A work ethic added to confidence and pride leads to solid high school baseball.
“Our biggest weaknesses are to find depth in our pitching rotation and figuring out what this year’s team’s identity will be. Last year we had great leadership and really came together as a team. This year’s bunch has played a lot of baseball together, but must find the ways to make all the pieces work as a successful one. … Winning a sectional title was great for the players, school, and community and the goal is to get back there.”
The team that ended VVS’ season last year was the Notre Dame Jugglers. Head coach Dan Bougourd’s squad could be a true contender in the division after finishing third in 2017.
The Jugglers return two-thirds of its starters as seniors Nick Courto (1B) and Connor Grey (3B/P) join juniors Zack Brush (SS/P), Eli Neth (OF/P) and Deondre Linder (2B/P) in what should be a tough lineup.
Camden and Central Valley Academy had tough seasons last year, but aim to put together competitive teams. The Blue Devils hope to make a quick turnaround with seven experienced returning players.
Atop that list is senior Wyatt Palmer, a three-year varsity player who pitches and can play each of the corner infield spots. Dan Scott (3B/P); Nigel Meagher (OF) and Shane Critelli (1B) are also back for their senior seasons, while juniors Colin Stace (SS), John Mitchell (P/1B/3B) and Connor O’Hara (C/P/UT) should also play prominent roles for head coach Jake Bates.
CVA has seven returning players and five newcomers for new head coach Anthony Bonvino, who aims at building the program from the modified level all the way up to varsity.
The Thunder are captained by seniors Matt Everson and Colin Dawley. Other top returners are veterans Brady Hoffman and Lucas Kleban, while sophomore Adam Rotondi is a newcomer to watch.