Xaverian is back.
Not that the Clippers ever went away, but there is a greater understanding between coaches Lou Piccola and Frank Del George in Year Two than there was when they took over the perennial powerhouse last year.
“The transition to the coaching staff has been terrific,” Piccola said. “They had a great offseason. They did exactly what we wanted them to do. I think we’re more ready now because we’ve had a full year. Last year we didn’t know much of the personnel or their strengths and weaknesses.”
The Clippers have plenty of strengths, from a deep pitching staff to a solid defensive unit to a lineup that has scored 62 runs in eight preseason games. Piccola assembled an incredibly difficult preseason schedule. And the Clippers have responded, going 7-1, including a 6-0 win against George Washington last Wednesday.
“I don’t believe we have a weakness.” Piccola said. “We’re hitting the ball very well, scoring a lot of runs. I think we’re more ready than most teams right now.”
Leading the returning players is Pittsburgh-bound catcher Elvin Soto, a switch-hitting senior who spent part of the summer with the United States 18U squad that won the IBAF ‘AAA’ Junior World Championship in July.
Junior Kevin Martir will start at first base, replacing Skyler Ortiz, who transferred to Bayside HS, senior Domingo Sosa will start at second, while senior Antonio Nunez, who will play at St. Thomas Aquinas, returns at short and junior Eric Kalman started at third last year.
Switch-hitting Gabe Hernandez will start in center for J.T. Torres, who is a freshman at Iona College, while Ray Vega will likely start in left and Victor Bautista should be in right.
Ian Younge, Bobby McKenna, Keith Moore and John DeAngelis provide depth in the outfield, while Pace-bound Tommy Midolo will back up Soto behind the plate and will DH.
“Defensively we’re solid, our pitching is deep and we have a terrific catcher,” Piccola said.
“Having them a whole year and laying out the groundwork for their winter workouts, I think starting from the get go we’re better prepared.”
There might not be an established ace on the pitching staff, but Piccola believes he has a solid staff that is 11 deep.
“We feel the key is the pitching,” Piccola said. “We don’t have that one shutdown guy, but … our emphasis is throwing strikes. We can catch the ball.”
Brothers Steven and Anthony Pastrana anchor the staff along with Frank Scuderio, Blaise Scerbo, John Pena and Frank Kaplan.
Against George Washington, the Pastranas each threw three innings and Pena closed out the shutout. Through eight preseason games, the Clippers have less than a 1.00 earned run average.
“We don’t have an ace right now,” Piccola said. “You’d think it would be [Steven] Pastrana coming back from last year, but we’ve had kids who have pitched just as good or better.”
After a transition year under Piccola and Del George, the Clippers are again a favorite to win the CHSAA Class AA intersectional title. That is the ultimate goal and a strong possibility.
“We want a city championship,” Piccola said. “That’s the bottom line. We came up short last year and I just think we’re a little bit deeper with a whole lot more experience.”