New mix brings high hopes to Poly Prep

Poly Prep’s mission last year was simple: Get to the New York State Association of Independent School’s Athletic Association’s title game and win. Nothing else mattered for the senior-laden club. Not a fourth straight Ivy League crown or its 56 straight league wins, which was snapped by Fieldston.

A private state crown is again the ultimate goal – it always is in Bay Ridge – but there is a different mindset for the younger Blue Devils this spring.

“We have enough seniors that there is really good senior leadership and because we have infused some youth into our team, it’s kind of a new story,” Poly Prep coach Matt Roventini said. “They understand the program’s success, they understand the reputation. We have veterans who have a chip on their shoulders, who have something to prove and we have youngsters who want to show they belong.”

Co-captains Marley Randazzo (center field), Marcus Hernandez (catcher) and Joe Calabrese (shortstop) are back to provide leadership as the only members of the team with any state title-winning experience. Four-year starters and co-aces J.J. Franco (Brown) and Richie Carbone (Amherst) are gone, playing college baseball, but Roventini thinks while the rotation lacks varsity innings, it is deeper and possibly better.

A pair of sophomores — Andrew Zapata and Phil Maldari — will get the ball first, followed by impressive freshman Morgan Gray and senior third baseman Matt Coposio is slotted as the No. 4 man. Zapata received innings as a freshman, but nothing that can compare to being the staff ace as a 10th grader. He can throw all four of his pitches – mid-80’s moving fastball, slider, changeup and cut fastball – for strikes, needed just 74 pitches to shutout Berkeley Carroll in Poly Prep’s regular-season opener last Wednesday and has the poise and mound presence of a senior.

“He’s definitely the most versatile pitcher I’ve caught at Poly,” Hernandez said. “He’s throwing four pitches for strikes that all look different and he hides the ball really well. He has a real bright future ahead of him.”

Roventini is more worried about the defense behind his young pitchers. The Blue Devils graduated three-fourths of their starting infield in Franco (shortstop), E.J. Martinez (second base) and Carbone (first base). Two-thirds of the outfield is new – Randazzo is the lone holdover – but seniors and corner outfielders Andrew and Michael Doar, a pair of standout soccer players, can “really go get it,” Roventini said.

To make up for the loss of the infielders, Calabrese, who is considering Fordham and UMass, moved over from third base to shortstop, Coposio took over at third base, Gray and fellow freshman Rob Calabrese – Joe’s brother – will split time at first while Malderi will be at second.

“We’re still making our way in the infield,” Roventini said. “We’re getting better.”

Randazzo, a three-year starter in the outfield, moves from the ninth spot in the order to No. 1. Calabrese remains at No. 2, followed by Maldari, Coposio and Hernandez return to similar spots in the order whereas Maldari wasn’t even in the everyday lineup last year, though he now has arguably the most important spot.

“He dedicated himself to baseball completely in the offseason,” Roventini said of Maldari, who was selected to play in the Arizona Freshman/Sophomore Fall Classic baseball in October. “Offensively he is gonna be a big part of our offense. He can drive the ball to all fields.”

Based on preseason results – Poly Prep went 6-1 in a trip to Tampa, Fla. – and offseason workouts, Roventini likes the mixture of his club. He thinks the younger players won’t be so worried about the losses in recent title games and instead be looking to make a name for themselves while the seniors will keep the entire club hungry to get back to that point.

“It’s a real good combination,” said Hernandez, one of those seniors.

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