By Gavin Menu
There’s a banner hanging in the Pierson High School Gym that honors championship baseball teams from years past. It filled up last spring as the Whalers fell just two wins shy of a New York State Class C Championship, and if this year’s roster of returning players lives up to its potential, then the time to order a new banner has arrived.
“This group is as developed as a team that we’ve had,” head coach Jon Tortorella said before practice on Saturday. “And obviously we’d love to go back there, we’d love to win our league, win the county, win our Long Island titles.
“But we also talk a lot about the process,” he continued. “It’s nice to have those goals, but the biggest thing is focusing on what we’re all about—being the toughest team out there, working hard and making each other better. And just building up from there.”
As practice began last week, snow still dotted the school grounds and the infield at Mashashimuet Park was not ready for consistent play, so talk of a deep playoff run into June seemed far off for a team regrouping from the loss of three key seniors.
The team’s top two pitchers from last season, Colman Vila and Jake Bennett, graduated along with third-baseman Joe Faraguna. Vila, who is now a redshirt freshman at the University of Delaware, was a Newsday All-Long Island selection and posted a state record 0.00 ERA for the entire season. He, along with Bennett and Faraguna, had their decorated careers end with a 1-0 loss to Seton Catholic in the state semifinal on a single unearned run.
“Obviously you can’t replace those three guys,” Tortorella said. “Colman’s dominance on the mound was key, Joe brought a lot of leadership and character and Jake helped us on the mound as well. You don’t really replace them with one individual. You do it collectively. We’ve got a lot of leaders on this team and we have the numbers.”
Senior catcher Aaron Schiavoni returns as captain after an All-County season as a junior. He will help guide a deep pitching staff while also anchoring the offensive attack as a dangerous power hitter in the middle of the lineup.
Three senior pitchers are expected to lead the staff, with Forrest Loesch, another All-County player from last year, Nick Kruel and Tim Markowski all expected to compete for starting rolls at the top of the rotation.
“Nick put a lot of time in, he throws that knuckleball,” Tortorella said. “Forrest and Tim as well, they’re all bigger and stronger, a year older. These guys have all gotten better.”
Complementing the three seniors is a deep line-up of position players who may also see time on the mound. Kyle Sturmann, the team’s returning senior second baseman, can pitch as can returning starting centerfielder Jack Fitzpatrick, who batted leadoff as a sophomore last year.
The outfield will be anchored by Fitzpatrick, with the remaining two spots to be filled by a combination of Ulysses Poulmentis and Henry Kotz, both seniors, and juniors Theo Gray and Dylan Willngham.
When not on the mound, Loesch will return as the team’s starting shortstop, while Kruel will play first base. Markowski can play almost any position, Tortorella said, including catcher when Schiavoni is on the mound.
James Sherry, a freshman who plays third base and shortstop, will compete for time in the infield along with juniors Charles Canavan and Johnny Chisholm and sophomore Ryan Chisholm.
The Whalers will begin the season with a series of non-league games against mostly local rivals, with the opener played at Mashashimuet Park against Southampton on Monday, March 17 at 4 p.m. That will be followed by three straight road games against Mercy on March 21, Westhampton on March 24 and East Hampton on March 28.
The League IX season will begin at Smithtown Christian, which was the only team to beat Pierson during the regular season last year, on Monday, March 31.