Baseball preview: Lakeland
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Lakeland (Dennis Robinson, 41st Year)
Last Season: (16-3)
C: Nick Mariani, Sr.
1B: – Matt Wright, Sr.
2B: Corey Smith, Sr. (Ryan Arena, So.)
3B: Daniel Phillips, Sr. (John Hodges, Jr., Tom Harten, Jr.)
SS: Chris Conklin, Jr.
LF: Ray Bozek, Jr.
CF: Joseph Dizon, Sr.
RF: Andrew Martinez, Jr.
DH: Anthony Fava, So.
Top pitcher: James Kim: With Nash out, it will be up to the right-handed Kim to step up and be the ace for the early part of the season.
Coach’s outlook: “I think speed is going to be our thing and our senior leadership,” Lakeland coach Dennis Robinson said. “I’m really excited about a lot of the rookies that we have. Our whole philosophy is that you’re going to reload and we tell the kids that. We’re going to be quick and we’re going to be gritty. Our pitching will get better as the year goes on.”
Lakeland refuses to allow graduation losses to affect new season
Last season, the expectations were through the roof for Lakeland. The senior-laden Hornets were the defending Section 1 Class A champions and ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the year.
But the run came to a halt much earlier than many expected. Top-seeded Lakeland was upset by No. 16 Somers, 5-4, in the opening round of the playoffs.
On top of that, the Hornets were decimated by graduation. Ace pitcher and slugger Jonathan de Marte, a two-time NYS Gatorade Player of the Year who is now playing for Richmond, graduated along with pitcher Joe Arena (C.W. Post) and slugging first baseman David Judisky (Manhattan).
Judisky, de Marte, Arena, Brian Wallace and Zack Lenane accounted for 85 of Lakeland’s 118 RBI last year. Arena, de Marte and Nick Caruso tossed a combined 109 innings and won 15 out of 16 games.
Despite being hit hard by graduation, Lakeland does not expect to take a step back.
“There’s a lot of people thinking we’re not going to go far at all, but it’s going to be the same Lakeland team,” senior catcher Nick Mariani said.
The Hornets may be inexperienced on the hill, but they certainly have some capable arms. Mike Nash, a senior pitcher who served as a closer last year, was expected to be the ace this season but is dealing with an injury to his right throwing arm suffered while playing basketball. He may be able to return in May for the stretch run of the season, Robinson said.
“When he comes back it’s going to be a great help for the team,” Mariani said.
Stepping in as the staff ace to start the year is senior James Kim.
“James throws three pitches and is very athletic,” Robinson said. “He has good velocity, control and is just a tough kid.”
“He’s definitely picked up some velocity on his fastball and he’s always had a nasty curveball,” Mariani said. “His change-up is improving.”
Juniors Chris Conklin, Ray Bozek and Pat McKiernan have also looked strong on the hill, while sophomore left-handers Chris DiDomizio and Kevin Lynch should also see some time.
“I’m not going to be afraid to throw younger kids in there,” Robinson said. “We’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to come after you. It doesn’t matter what grade you’re in.”
Mariani caught all of last season and is the most experienced returning position player. He batted .341 last season and socked two home runs and had nine RBI.
“He’s matured and he’s hitting the ball real well,” Robinson said. “He’s right around two (seconds) throwing the ball to second base.”
Mariani feels he has improved since last season.
“Last year, at the beginning of the year I was playing a little bit nervous,” Mariani said. “Now I have a lot more experience and I’m more prepared.”
Sophomore Anthony Fava should also see some time behind the plate and provides a potent bat. Fava and Mariani will most likely rotate between the catcher and designated hitter spots.
“I’m blessed with two excellent catchers,” Robinson said. “Both Nick and Anthony have strong arms, they receive well and they understand with my younger pitchers how sensitive they have to be.”
With the new BBCOR bats being used this season, home runs are expected to decrease so teams will have to rely more on manufacturing runs. The Hornets aren’t worried with their wealth of speed.
“There are going to be a lot of low scoring games now,” Mariani said. “It’s about contact now and making the fielders field the ball.”
Lakeland’s outfield will consist of senior Joseph Dizon, Bozek and junior Andrew Martinez. Dizon and Bozek both provide plenty of speed, while Martinez has a strong bat (.400 last year).
Lanky 6-foot-3 senior Matt Wright will take over at first base. Conklin and senior Daniel Phillips are vying for the shortstop position. Phillips is also in the mix at third base with juniors John Hodges and Tom Harten. Senior Corey Smith and sophomore Ryan Arena are battling for playing time at second base.
“Everybody’s fighting, it’s very competitive,” Robinson said. “We’re going to spring training down to Florida with two teams and each kid will play a scrimmage each day (they’ll also play a game with Terry Parker, which is coached by Robinson’s son Dennis, on April 5). You want the job, take the job.”
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