By Nick Curcuru
---- — Taking a look around the Gloucester baseball team’s starting lineup, it’s easy to see why head coach Joe Orlando is confident in his team’s capabilities.
The Fishermen, who are looking for their tenth straight state tournament berth this spring, have talent at every corner of the diamond, but Orlando says his team’s biggest strength has nothing to do with talent.
“It’s senior leadership,” the Fishermen head coach said.
Gloucester has seven senior starters returning from last year’s team and according to Orlando, every one of them has been called upon to lead.
Everywhere you look around Gloucester’s roster there is a captain from another sport. Mike Muniz and Jason Vizena are team captains this spring, and both have leadership experience as captains of the hockey and basketball teams this winter respectively. Add Mark Horgan (football), Santo Parisi (football), Alex Webb (hockey) and Sean Gillon (soccer) to the fold and it’s clear that senior leadership is a huge strength for the Fishermen this season.
“They all bring leadership to the table and they all bring it in different ways,” Orlando said. “That’s what I like about this bunch. They’re experienced and they know what needs to be done.”
On the field, Gloucester will be led by a stellar pitching staff with its entire 2012 rotation returning in 2013. Vizena, an all star on the mound last spring, will re-assume his role at the top of Gloucester’s rotation. The crafty lefty is one of the most reliable pitchers in the entire Northeastern Conference.
Vizena has plenty of help behind him as Lenny Taormina and Gillon both return to the starting rotation this spring and each picked up key wins for Gloucester last spring. Taormina and Gillon, a lefty and righty respectively, also have big game experience pitching in the deep NEC.
“It’s a real plus having all three of them back,” Orlando said. “We’ve all seen what they can do last year and they all came back this season even better.”
The Fishermen boast one of the more balanced teams in the NEC as its defense and offense are just as reliable as their pitching.
Vizena and Alex Webb power the middle of the Gloucester batting order while Santo Parisi returns to the middle infield and the top of the lineup, Mark Horgan returns to the outfield, Muniz re-assumes his spot at first base, and Jordan Pallazola returns behind the plate. Gloucester opens up the season on the road Wednesday at Winthrop.
“I really like what we have,” Orlando said. “Our first goal is to win the NEC and get into the tournament. We have the big game experience and I like the way we have started in our scrimmages.”
Itching to get started
The Rockport baseball team has anxiously waited for the regular season to start ever since tryouts opened up in the middle of March.
The Vikings were left with a bad taste in their mouth at the conclusion of last season in the form of a first round tournament loss to Mystic Valley. That loss is still fresh in Rockport’s mind entering the 2013 season and as a result, a veteran Vikings squad will come into the season a hungry team.
“We are hungry because of the bad taste in our mouths from last year’s loss to Mystic Valley,” Vikings head coach John Parisi said. “We want to get this thing started. This is a veteran team and they came into the preseason ready to play.”
Parisi will have a wealth of talent at his disposal this spring in the once again re-aligned Cape Ann League, which has turned back to a two tier league after switching to a three tier league two seasons ago. The Vikings will set up shop in the Cape Ann League Small this spring with Manchester Essex, Georgetown, Amesbury, Ipswich and Lynnfield.
It all starts with pitching, and Rockport has its entire staff back from the 2012 season as well as starting catcher Caleb Tanson. Senior captain Tucker Meredith, an All Cape Ann League player in 2012, returns as the staff ace for a third straight season.
“It’s a luxury,” Parisi said. “All our pitching is back including an all league pitcher and an experienced catcher. I think we stack up with most teams in the Cape Ann League this year. I like our chances every night, it’s just a matter of coming ready to play.”
Rockport’s pitching staff isn’t the only area with a veteran presence. Senior captain Mike Tupper and Nick Scatterday return to the middle infield and form a reliable double-play combination at shortstop and second base respectively. Senior captain Conor Douglass moves to the outfield along with junior Adam Balzarini, a starter last spring while Conor Kuykendall returns to the Vikings infield.
“Things are going well so far, the veterans have been doing a great job leading,” Parisi said. “I think we are ready to go. We know what we need to improve upon from last season and we are hungry. I like the way the team is shaping up.”
Looking for a return trip
The Manchester Essex baseball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time in two decades last season and is looking to make it two in a row this spring.
That may be a tall task as the Hornets graduated nine seniors from last year’s team and return just four players who got regular playing time last season. Still, the experience from last year and a strong start to the preseason has the Hornets heading into the season with optimism.
“We were hit hard by graduation,” Hornets head coach Bob Garrett said. “But things are going well. The attitude and work ethic have been great, and with this being my third year they all know the system well. There are no surprises anymore and they now know what it takes to have a successful season.”
Manchester Essex will be led by its three senior captains in Max Nesbit, Cory Burnham and Jake Fitzgerald.
Nesbit, the team’s staff ace over the last two springs, will not be seeing time on the mound early in the season due to offseason shoulder surgery. He will, however, start at first base and brings a consistent offensive bat to the middle of the Hornets lineup.
Burnham may be the best athlete on the team and because of that he can play a wide variety of positions and a reliable bat at the top of the batting order. Fitzgerald is a returning starter in the outfield that also brings a solid bat and athleticism to the table.
“They are our leaders and they have done a great job leading the team so far,” Garrett said. “I had the three of them sit the team down on the first day of practice to tell the younger guys what it’s going to take to have a successful season. The attitude and hustle have been great and it all starts with the team leaders.”
Sophomore catcher Dominic Cerrone is the Hornets other returning starter as he solidified the position as a freshman last season. Garrett will also call upon freshman Brandon Bartlett to pitch while newcomers Craig Carter and Corey McCollum will also factor into the team’s success this season.
Manchester Essex will be thrown right into the fire as it’s season opens Thursday against CAL rival Georgetown, the defending Division 4 North champions.
“Our goal is to get back to the tournament,” Garrett said. “But we can’t think that we’re going to start at that level, we have to work our way up to a successful season. We have some momentum that we hope to continue and so far I really like the work the team has put in.”
Gloucester :Head Coach: Joe Orlando (9th season) Last Year's Record: 11-11 (Lost to Beverly in Division 2 North Quarterfinals) Captains: Mike Muniz, Sr.; Jason Vizena Sr. Key Returning Players: Sean Gillon, Sr.; Mark Horgan, Sr.; Santo Parisi, Sr.; Lenny Taormina, Sr.; Alex Webb, Sr.; Peter Clark, Jr.; Jordan Pallazola, Jr. Key Newcomers: Tyler Favalora, Jr.; Curtis Quinn, Jr.; Drew Shairs, Jr. Strengths: Senior leadership and pitching. Gloucester has a wealth of experienced seniors who have not only taken on a leadership role on the baseball diamond but in other sports as well. The Fishermen are also returning their entire starting rotation from 2012. Concerns: The Fishermen are always looking to improve fundamentals. Defensively Gloucester has been very good but the team is never satisfied in that area and always looking to get better. Coach's Outlook: "I really like what we have. We are very experienced with a lot of seniors and all of them have been leaders. Our first goal is winning the Northeastern Conference and getting into the tournament, it always starts there." Season Opener: Wednesday at Winthrop (4:30 p.m.) Rockport :Head Coach: John Parisi (17th season) Last Year's Record: 7-12 (Lost to Mystic Valley in Division 4 North First Round) Captains: Conor Douglass, Sr.; Tucker Meredith, Sr.; Mike Tupper, Sr. Key Returning Players: Julian Flavin, Sr.; Nick Scatterday, Sr.; Caleb Tanson, Sr.; Adam Balzarini, Jr.; Conor Kuykendall, Sr.; Kyle Nelson, Soph.; Steven Ryan, Soph. Key Newcomers: Danny Ryan, 8th grade. Strengths: Hunger. The Vikings still have a bad taste in their mouth after a disappointing finish to the 2012 season in the form of a first round playoff loss to Mystic Valley. This season Rockport knows it has the talent and is itching to get the season underway. :Concerns: Overall consistency. Rockport was very good in the first half of the 2012 season but took a dip in the second half of the year. The Vikings are looking to keep that consistency from the first half of 2012 going for a full season this spring. :Coach's Outlook: "The team is ready to go. It's a veteran team and I think it stacks up against any team in the Cape Ann League. It's been a long preseason and the team is hungry after the way last season ended." Season Opener: Thursday vs. Amesbury (3:45 p.m.) Manchester Essex :Head Coach: Bob Garrett (3rd Season) Last Year's Record: 10-11 (Lost to Northeast Regional in Division 4 North Quarterfinals) Captains: Cory Burnham, Sr.; Jake Fitzgerald, Sr.; Max Nesbit, Sr. Key Returning Players: Dominic Cerrone, Soph. Key Newcomers: Corey McCollum, Sr.; Craig Carter, Soph.; Brandon Bartlett, Fresh. Strengths: Attitude and hustle. The Hornets have been focused this preseason and are hungry for a return trip to the state tournament. Garrett's squad also has a nice mix of experienced players and athletic newcomers. Concerns: The key to the Hornets success this season will be an improved offense. Coach's Outlook: "The team is hungry and has a good core of veterans that have postseason experience. We have a lot of new faces graduating nine seniors from last year's team but the focus and attitude has been great and the team knows what it's going to take to have a successful season." Season Opener: Thursday at Georgetown (3:45 p.m.)