Andrew Zapata and Philip Maldari rarely saw the field for Poly Prep last spring. Freshmen at the time, the two spent much of the year listening, observing and learning from standout seniors J.J. Franco and Richie Carbone.
“They taught us during practice every day,” Maldari, a sophomore now, said. “They were a model for us.”
So far, the four-time Ivy Prep League champs haven’t missed a beat without Carbone (Amherst) and Franco (Brown). Zapata and Maldari deserve some of the credit.
On April 5, Zapata tossed a complete-game three-hitter in a shutout of Catholic favorite Xaverian. It was Maldari’s turn the next day, as the sophomore delivered five high-pressure innings of one-run ball, and added two RBIs in the Blue Demons’ 12-1 rout of Dalton in the two teams’ Ivy Prep League opener. Not to be forgotten, Zapata had two hits and two RBIs of his own.
“We’ve always had players like Richie and J.J. that can pitch and also hit,” senior center fielder Marley Randazzo said. “It’s great to see we’re back there.”
The Blue Devils (5-1, 1-0 Ivy Prep League) blew the game open late, striking for seven runs in five innings off Tigers (0-1, 0-1) ace Josh Jacobvitz — two in the first, one in the fourth and five in the fifth. The final score was somewhat misleading in that Dalton had so many chances over the contest’s first four frames to go ahead.
Maldari, though, turned each rally into a personal opportunity to show his mettle in rainy and windy conditions. Like clockwork, he would get ahead early in the count with his fastball and put hitters away with his hammer of a hook.
His best work came in the first. He yielded singles to the first three Tigers batters – Adam Dunn, Cal Barnett and Jacobvitz – only to fan cleanup man Michael Salik on a late-breaking curveball. Dexter Zimet appeared to bounce into a 2-2-3 double play. Poly Prep shuffled into its dugout and Dalton took the field. Moments later, the umpires met and reversed the call. Unfazed, Maldari trotted back to the mound, fanned Zimet on a riding fastball and retired Isaac Shapiro on a groundout.
Randazzo gave Maldari all the support he would need in the first, drilling a 3-2 fastball up the right-center-field gap for a two-run homer. It was the first of eight opposite-field hits for Poly Prep, which had 15 hits in all and scored in five of seven innings.
“We work on that,” Poly Prep coach Matt Roventini said. “We really try to drive the ball the other way, look for gaps the other way.”
Nevertheless, the story of Poly Prep’s season up to this point, Roventini said, are his young hurlers. He lost two four-year stars in Carbone and Franco last spring, two of the best players he’s coached in 10 years at Poly Prep. Yet the Blue Devils seem to have a pair to match their production – on the mound and at the plate – at least at this early point in the season.
“It’s a real luxury to have that kind of talent, especially young,” Randazzo said. “They are gonna go very, very far.”
As for which one is more advanced, Randazzo declined to answer – the two youngsters were within earshot. Roventini needs more time to evaluate.
“To be determined,” he said, smiling. “Ask me that question in three weeks.”