Baseball Season preview
In his past seven seasons as a baseball coach, Rich Bielski has won six state titles, including the past four years in a row at Archbishop McCarthy.
Keeping that streak alive will be extra challenging this year because McCarthy has moved down from Class 6A to 5A, where the Mavericks will join a district that includes 2012 state champion Plantation American Heritage.
Writer Nathan Rode, a national expert on high school baseball, said the McCarthy-Heritage rivalry will be big.
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“I would liken it to the Red Sox versus Yankees in the early 2000s,” said Rode, who serves as the national supervisor for the Prep Baseball Report. “It’s going to be tough for anyone else to break through in that district. I don’t think anyone else has a prayer for the foreseeable future.”
For the record, the other schools in District 16-5A are Cardinal Gibbons, Coconut Creek, Dillard and Pompano Beach.
McCarthy and Heritage are not only strong in Florida — these are national programs.
Last year, for example, McCarthy finished the season ranked 18th in the nation, according to perfectgame.org. Heritage, despite losing to Estero 3-2 in the regional finals, was 19th.
No other South Florida team was in the top 100.
Bruce Aven, Heritage’s third-year coach, has an experienced team that starts six seniors and three juniors.
His top Major League Baseball prospect is shortstop Milton Ramos, a Florida Atlantic recruit who could get drafted in the first three rounds.
“He has above-average speed, a solid arm and great hands,” Aven said. “His range is unbelievable. What determines how high he goes in the draft is his bat.”
Other top Heritage seniors include outfielder Brandon Vicens, who also has committed to FAU, third baseman Alec Acosta (Davidson) and pitcher Louis Beck (Villanova).
Aven said this Heritage team doesn’t have the “big names” he has had the past two years.
“Last year, we had a murderer’s row batting one through five in our lineup,” Aven said. “Every one of them could kill you.
“This year, we’re more balanced.”
Heritage has played McCarthy the past couple of years, but those were exhibition games when each team used multiple pitchers.
This year, the stakes will be higher — not that Aven is scared.
“I like our chances — I’m a confident person,” said Aven, a former major-league outfielder. “And I don’t think my kids will be looking across the field and being intimidated by anyone.”
He’s probably right, but that’s not to say McCarthy isn’t impressive.
Bielski, who also won two state titles at Hialeah, returns all his top pitchers from last season, including seniors Brian Gonzalez (Miami recruit), Andres Nunez (FIU) and Aaron Soto (Tennessee).
Gonzalez, who went 11-0 last season with a 1.04 ERA, is the ace, and he is followed in the rotation by Nunez.
Soto could be the third starter or the closer, depending on the need.
McCarthy also returns seven of its top nine hitters, including shortstop Eddie Silva, who is an FIU recruit. Gonzalez and Soto are also strong hitters, and center fielder Michael Gigliotti, a Lipscomb recruit, ignites the offense as the leadoff batter.
So who will advance further — Heritage or McCarthy?
Fans can’t start to formulate opinions when these two titans finally battle in a real game. Heritage visits McCarthy on March 7. And McCarthy travels to Heritage on March 21.
The teams could meet twice more in the playoffs — district finals and regional semifinals.
“It’s a very big deal when you have a team of Heritage’s caliber in your district,” Bielski said.
“This will be our biggest challenge yet.”
Feb. 10-14: Adidas Tournament; Feb. 10-14: Flanagan Tournament; March 24-29: Spring break tournaments; April 21-25: Districts; April 30-May 1: Regional quarterfinals; May 6: Regional semifinals; May 9 and 13: Regional finals; May 14-17, 19-22: State tournament in Fort Myers
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 8A: Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley; 7A: Venice; 6A: Archbishop McCarthy; 5A: Ponte Vedra; 4A: Pensacola Catholic; 3A: Melbourne Central Catholic; 2A: Westwood Christian; 1A: Trenton.
AMERICAN HERITAGE: Coach: Bruce Aven (3rd year); Last year: 25-3, lost in 5A regional final 3-2 to Estero; Top players: Milton Ramos (Sr. SS); Brandon Vicens (Sr. OF); Dallas Perez (Sr. OF); Noteworthy: Vicens and Ramos have committed to FAU, 3B Alec Acosta to Davidson and RHP Louis Beck to Villanova.
ARCHBISHOP McCARTHY: Coach: Rich Bielski (16th year overall, 6th year at McCarthy); Last year; 26-5, won 6A state title, beating Mosley 5-2; Top players: Brian Gonzalez (Sr. P); Andres Nunez (Sr. P); Aaron Soto (Sr. P); Noteworthy: McCarthy is seeking its fifth consecutive state title.
BOYD ANDERSON: Coach: Johnny L. Bryant (1st year); Last year: 0-10: Top players: Bob Brooks (P/SS); Trevon Atwell (Sr. LF); Jahshimo Hanley (Fr. 1B); Noteworthy: Team rebuilds with a new coach.
CALVARY CHRISTIAN: Coach: Greg Mucerino (11th year overall, 6th year Calvary); Last year: 10-12-1; Top players: Andrew Gottfried (Jr. OF/P); Connor Rowland (Sr. OF/P); Alec Berizzi (Sr. P); Noteworthy: Six starters return, including Gottfried, who has committed to FAU. Team has deep pitching.
CARDINAL GIBBONS: Coach: Jason Hamilton: Last year: 11-13; Top players: Chris Williams (Sr. P); Mark Nowatnik (Sr. P); Nick Ferngren (Sr. P/INF); Noteworthy: Gibbons has endured two losing seasons in a row. Hamilton, who had coached the team for a decade until leaving after the 2010 season, returns for a second stint at the school, and he has a strong pitching staff.
COCONUT CREEK: Coach: Pete Perez (1st year here); Last year: 4-17; Top players: Dalton Kazmarik (So. 3B); Juan Fermaint (Sr. C); Noteworthy: For the first time in a decade, the school has a JV program. Perez, who coached previously at Coral Gables and Ransom Everglades, appears to have energized the team.
COOPER CITY: Coach: Wayne Stofsky (4th year overall, 2nd year Cooper City); Last year: 9-12; Top players: Hunter Kelly (Sr. C/3B); Nicholas Saltare (Sr. INF/P); Johnny Haney (Sr. P/1B); Noteworthy: Freshman P Israel Cordero will be relied on to start games. Saltare could be used as the closer. Junior Steve DiPuglia, a transfer from American, helps as a middle infielder.
CORAL GLADES: Coach: Jorge Miranda (7th year); Last year: 13-9, lost 4-3 to Flanagan in 8A regional quarterfinals; Top players: Christian Dominguez (Sr. P); T.J. Williams (Jr. P); Nick Diaz (Sr. SS); Alex Lara (So. 3B); Noteworthy: Diaz and Lara hit over .400, and the team picked up three transfers from Zion Lutheran. Dominguez went 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA.
CORAL SPRINGS: Coach: Frank Bumbales (25th year); Last year: 14-9; Top players: Michael Montalvo (Jr. INF/P); Ryan Uber (Jr. OF); Mason Stage (Jr. 1B); Noteworthy: Much will depend on senior pitchers Tyler Horn and Matt Messina.
CORAL SPRINGS CHARTER: Coach: George Mianowski (1st year); Last year: 22-8, lost in 4A lost 10-4 to Monsignor Pace in regional semifinals; Top players: Joe McChrystal (Sr. C/1B); Brent Kessinger (Sr. LHP/1B); Brandon Laboy (Sr. OF/C); Noteworthy: Mianowski, a long-time assistant, gets his first shot at head coach and has some strong pitching.
CORAL SPRINGS CHRISTIAN: Coach: Matt Cleveland (12th year); Last year: 22-7, lost in 3A regional finals 13-12 to Florida Christian; Top players: Touki Toussaint (Sr. RHP/1B); Jeremiah Muhammad (Sr. RHP); Benito Santiago (Sr. C); Noteworthy: Toussaint is a potential first-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft. Muhammad transferred from New Jersey.
CYPRESS BAY: Coach: Michael White; Last year: 14-7, lost 7-0 to Douglas in 8A regional quarterfinals;
DEERFIELD BEACH: Coach: Angelo Trento (1st year); Last year: NA; Top players: Johnny Grassi (Sr. P); Aaron Johnson (Sr. INF); Austin Soeder (Sr. INF); Noteworthy: There’s a new coach and just one senior hitter. Grassi is a team leader.
DOUGLAS: Coach: Todd Fitz-Gerald (12th year overall, 3rd at Douglas); Last year: 20-5, lost 3-0 to Flanagan in 8A regional semifinals; Top players: Dominic DiCaprio (Jr. C); Jesus Luzardo (So. P); Derek Jacobs (Sr. P); Noteworthy: Team is coming off its deepest playoff run since 2007. DiCaprio committed to LSU, and P Tyler Morris transferred from Gibbons, where he went 5-0.
FLANAGAN: Coach: Ray Evans; Last year: 20-6, lost 8-1 to Jupiter in regional final; Top players: Gentry Fortuno (Jr. P); Alex Sarmiento (Sr. P); Ryan Dodge (Sr. 1B); Noteworthy: Ten seniors return on a team that needed to replace just two starters. Fortuno went 9-0 with a 1.15 ERA, and Sarmiento went 7-1 with a 1.25.
FORT LAUDERDALE: Terry Portice (17th season); Last year: NA. Top players: Matt Freeman (Sr. P); Lucas Berken (Sr. OF); Noteworthy: Team will host district playoffs for the first time since 2002.
HIGHLANDS CHRISTIAN: Coach: Bruce Charlebois; Last year: 14-11, lost 3-2 in 3A regional quarterfinals to Pope John Paul II; Top players: Kirvin Moesquit (Sr. SS); Quinsly Balantien (Sr. 2B); Mitch Carroll (Jr. RHP/3B); Noteworthy: Team is in a tough district with Coral Springs Christian, but Moesquit is a University of Miami recruit, and several international transfers will help.
HOLLYWOOD HILLS: Coach: Charlie Cardinale (5th year); Last year: 10-11; Top players: Danny Pena (Sr. CF); D’Andre Diaz (Sr. C); Jordan Hill (Sr. P); Noteworthy: Team went 8-3 at home last season and had big wins over Cooper City and McArthur.
McARTHUR: Coach: Brian Clark (3rd year): Last year: 6-14-1; Top players: Alex Schultz (Sr. P); Jorge Alvarez (Sr. P); K’Lani Martinez (Sr. SS/OF); Noteworthy: Only one position player returns from a team that graduated nine seniors.
MONARCH: Coach: Joe Franco (8th year); Last year: 11-9, lost 4-1 to Aquinas in 7A regional quarterfinals; Top players: Andy Rohloff (Sr. RF/P); Brennan Bosworth (Sr. P); Nick Alonzo (Sr. 1B/P); Noteworthy: Team’s top three pitchers have all committed to colleges: Rohloff to Barry, Bosworth to Air Force and Alonzo to Eckerd. They are the school’s first-ever baseball signees.
NORTH BROWARD PREP: Coach: Brian Campbell: Last year: 15-14, lost to Monsignor Pace 10-3 in 4A regional quarterfinals; Top players: Hernando Sierra (Sr. C/OF); Mack Nathanson (Sr. C/IB); Alex Ernestine (Sr. P); Noteworthy: Nathanson is a Wofford recruit. Team lacks depth.
NORTHEAST: Coach: Kevin Carney (3rd year); Last year: 12-10, lost 5-2 to Nova in 7A regional quarterfinals; Top players: Ralph Morel (Sr. P); Isaiah Blackwell (Jr. P/1B); Carlos Perez (Sr. P); Noteworthy: Northeast is coming off its first district title in over a decade, but eight players — including six starters — graduated.
NOVA: Coach: Pat McQuaid; Last year: 14-9, lost 8-5 to Aquinas in 7A regional semifinals; Top players: Kyle Pangallo (Sr. SS/P); Brandon McCalla (Sr. 1B); Ben Torres (Sr. OF/P); Noteworthy: McCalla signed with Bethune-Cookman, Pangallo signed with Barry, and Ben Torres signed with Bridgeport. The top pitchers are Nick Martinez, Louis Pugliese, Pangallo and Torres.
PEMBROKE PINES CHARTER: Coach: Carlos Iglesias (8th year): Last year: 11-12, lost to Mater Academy 4-3 in 6A regional quarterfinals; Top players: Derick Garcia (Sr. P/3B); Alex Monge-Rodriguez (Jr. 2B); Anthonoy Nogueiras (Jr. RF); Noteworthy: Pines Charter, with six returning starters, benefits from McCarthy leaving the district. Watch for Bethune-Cookman recruit Danny Melgarejo (Sr. RHP).
PINE CREST: Coach: Ryan Shealy (1st year); Last year: 15-10-1; Top players: Zack Kone (Jr. SS); Matt Rothenberg (Sr. 3B); Alex Perez (Sr. C/1B); Noteworthy: Rothenberg is a Harvard recruit, Chris Koppenhaver and Krone are Duke recruits.
PIPER: Coach: Donovan Collins (6th year); Last year: 7-15; Top players: Chase Perry (Sr. C/3B); Eric Rath (So. P/3B); Chris Nunez (So. CF); Noteworthy: Perry is also the team’s closer.
PLANTATION: Coach: Manny Aguilar (1st year); Last year: 2-17; Top players: Matt Costa (Sr. SS); Tyler Price (Jr. OF); Connor Jones (So. P); Noteworthy: New coach inherits just one returning senior in Costa.
POMPANO BEACH: Coach: Ryan Combs; Last year: 10-13, lost in 5A regional quarterfinals 5-1 to Jensen Beach; Noteworthy: They were a playoff team last year, but, this season, the district includes recent state champs American Heritage and Archbishop McCarthy.
SAGEMONT: Coach: Wesley Morejon (2nd year); Last year: 5-14: Top players: Brynn Martinez (Sr. SS); Sean Iacono (Sr. SS); Edison Rodriguez (Jr. C/3B); Noteworthy: Speedy Martinez, who also plays soccer, is a vocal leader. Iacono is the quiet leader.
SOMERSET ACADEMY: Coach: Onel Garcia 5th year); Last year: 12-14, Top players: Anthony Molina (So. P); Christian Khawly (Sr. OF); Mike Van Degna (Jr. OF); Noteworthy: Pitching is balanced with three righties and three lefties.
SOUTH BROWARD: Coach: Joe Giummule (5th year); Last year: 14-8; Top players: Mike Cohick (Sr. P); Kenny Rasor (Sr. P); Noteworthy: Cohick and Rasor give South Broward a chance, but the team lacks hitting and power, according to coach.
SOUTH PLANTATION: Coach: Kendric Gomez (2nd year); Last year: 8-9-1); Top players: Joshua Matos (Sr. OF); Jose Fernandez (Sr. OF); Ryan Terrill (Sr. P); Noteworthy: A deep pitching staff could make up for a lack of home run power.
STRANAHAN: Coach: Marc Iannatto (1st year); Last year: 9-11; Top players: Chris Ford (Sr. INF/P); Wilfred Santiago (Jr. LF); Logan Castellano (Jr. INF/P); Noteworthy: Iannatto gets his first shot at becoming a head coach, and he inherits a young team — just two seniors – with pitching depth.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS: Coach: Troy Cameron (2nd year); Last year: 19-7, lost 2-1 to Haines City in 7A state semifinal; Top players: Teddy Meissner (Sr. C); Christian Demby (Jr. 3B/P); Rafa Amanau (Sr. LF); Noteworthy: Eleven players graduated, but talent returns, including Meisser, who is a Rollins recruit, and Demby, who can throw 92 mph.
UNIVERSITY: Coach: Dan Rovetto (2nd year overall, 1st year here); Last year: 15-7; Top players: Fred Sultan (Sr. P); Evan Klugerman (Jr. C); Brendan McKendry (Sr. 1B/OF); Noteworthy: University, which has not made the state playoffs since 1991, has a new coach who inherits three kids who have signed with colleges: Sultan (Winthrop); McKendry (Flagler) and SS Adam Sinkoe (Washington & Jefferson).
WEST BROWARD: Coach: Sergio Ambros (7th year overall, 2nd year here); Last year: 11-12; Top players: Dalton Brockman (Jr. OF/1B); Richie Garcia (Jr. IINF); Michael Schappell (Jr. P); Noteworthy: WB’s youngest team since 2008 features speed and pitching depth.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY: Coach: Nick James; Last year: 10-14-1; Top players: Sam Etter (Sr. C); Weston Clemente (Sr. LHP/1B); Noteworthy: Etter signed with Abilene Christian, and Clemente is a Florida Atlantic recruit. Team will look to challenge in 3A after graduating just three players off of last year’s roster.
ZION LUTHERAN: Coach: Ray Ayala; Last year: 13-10, lost 11-0 to Westwood Christian in 2A regional final.