NYC preseason baseball: No. 10 Bryant
Following its spectacular run last year, Bryant is coming into this season in an unfamiliar position – with a target on its back.
"Last season was huge and I feel like now, we’re no longer flying under the radar,” said Bryant head coach Rocco Rotondi. “We have to expect everybody's A-plus game this year. So we have to go out there and play your A-plus-plus game because of that target on our backs."
The Owls are coming off a season where they placed second in the Monroe tournament, shared the Queens A West title with John Adams, and made it to the quarterfinals of the PSAL Class A playoffs, bowing out to eventual champion George Washington.
"It was hard for us last season to fall short to GW,” said senior pitcher and co-captain Nicholas Alvarez. “We know as a team though that what's in the past is in the past, we can't go back and change it. This year we're going to learn from that experience."
"It was bittersweet because we felt we lost an opportunity to do something special," Rotondi said. "At the same time, it was a learning experience. If we do things right this year, when we get to that point we'll be better prepared, both mentally and physically."
It shouldn’t be hard for Bryant to build off of its experience last season, having only lost two players from its quarterfinal run. Shortstop Kenny Linero and first baseman Joseph Cox will be replaced by juniors Christian Aubrey and Sean O’Brien in the lineup. A lineup that Rotondi has increasingly become comfortable with as the preseason has progressed.
“We’ve started off a little inconsistent, but I think things are starting to click in the early goings,” Rotondi said. “I've always been a coach who takes pride in team defense because there are always going to be those games where you're just not going to hit. We don't have any lights-out, strikeout pitchers right now, so we have to play good defense. And I see that with these guys.”
Rotondi knows that for his team to build off of last season’s success, several of his players are going to have to jump to the next level.
"I definitely think Adonis [Lao] is going to going to make a jump. And my catcher [Brian Esposito] is a senior this year and I knew last season that he was one of those missing pieces,” said the ninth-year coach. “I feel like if you're going to play with the big boys in the big moments, you have to have a solid defensive catcher. In my opinion, he's the tops in the city."
A top-notch offensive team last year, the Owls averaged 12 runs a game last season with a lineup of big hitters.
"Our team’s strength is definitely our offense,” said senior short stop Chris Alvarez, another Bryant co-captain, “It has been there all the time and its something that teams always have to worry about because we can hit the ball.”
One of the keys for the Owls this season will surely be their continuity and their camaraderie, qualities Rotondi has been encouraging since the end of last season.
"During the offseason, we decided to all workout as a team since Christmas,” said Chris Alvarez. “It definitely made us a lot closer and stronger as a team. We all hung out for a few hours after school, lifted weights, and talked baseball. We got to learn each other a lot more."
While last season’s modest expectations eventually gave way to surprising success, neither Rotondi nor his players expect anything less than last season’s run.
"We're going for it, that's without a doubt," Rotondi said. "We're taking it game by game, but we're playing to win the whole thing. We're going to scratch and crawl and fight and put all our chips in."
"We feel like a championship team this season, but we're going to have to play 10 times better than all the other teams,” Chris Alvarez said. “We have the talent and the chemistry to get it done. I really think we can do it, it's just a matter of time in my eyes."