Matt Roventini vividly remembers the pain he felt when last season ended. He remembers the shock and disappointment etched across his players’ faces after falling to Berkeley Carroll, 4-1, in the NSYAISAA title game at Columbia University.
There is one positive that came away from that heartbreaking loss.
“It’s gonna make us hungry, knowing we have unfinished business,” he said. “No matter how good we think we are, we have to show everybody how good we are. It’s the first time these guys have come back without [a title]. It will keep us hungry the whole way.”
Roventini, the Poly coach, was mostly referring to his seniors, guys like JJ Franco and Richie Carbone, his top two starting pitchers. They have only known winning at Poly Prep – three undefeated league seasons, 49 straight wins against Ivy League competition, and two state crowns before last June’s humbling loss to Berkeley Carroll.
The offense, which hit a snag late in the year, is deep and built on speed, particularly at the top. That’s where Franco, the son of former New York Mets closer John Franco, resides. He will be followed by Regis transfer James Friel, a senior Roventini called a prototypical second-place hitter because of his patience and ability to put the ball in play. Franco’s speed will open up a hole between first and second for the lefty-swinging Friel.
“We’re gonna put a lot of pressure on people if we get them on and they do what they can do,” Roventini said. “That’s how we can generate a lot of runs.”
Friel left Regis, he said, not because he was unhappy at the Manhattan school, but because he yearned to be back in Bay Ridge, where he developed friendships at in middle school. He attended several Poly Prep games over the years, but it wasn’t until the Raiders scrimmages the Blue Devils, he had to make the move.
“There was something about being on the other side of the field that didn’t feel comfortable,” the Trinity College-bound left fielder said. “They were a loud team, into it all the time and they hate to lose. … At Regis, I didn’t feel happy there. I love the coach and the kids. You want to graduate somewhere you’re really proud of and want to come back to. For me, that’s Poly Prep.
Carbone, a first baseman when he isn’t on the mound, will bat third, in front of junior third baseman Joe Calabrese, sophomore right fielder Matt Coposio and junior catcher Marcus Hernandez.
Franco and Carbone are the two big arms Roventini will rely upon. Franco, a slick-fielding shortstop headed for Brown in September, throws in the mid 80’s to go with a late-breaking curveball. Soft-tossing, control specialist Chesley Ratliff, Calabrese and freshmen Phil Malderi and Andrew Zapata will also be given an opportunity to contribute.
“Our strength is we have depth in pitching and depth in our lineup and we should be good defensively,” Roventini said. “We don’t have mashers that will take over games. Everybody hits the ball well. We have no holes in the lineup and with pitching, we have a lot of guys we can throw at people.”
“Obviously, we went to get back what we deserve,” Carbone said. “We’re obviously gonna have a chip on our shoulder. We won’t accept anything less than winning it all.”