Varsity Baseball Looks to Return to Greatness
What’s not to like about a .611 winning percentage, a Young Division Title, and a Western New England Playoff appearance? Nothing at all. Most programs would regard the Salisbury Knights’ 2017 campaign, which achieved all three distinctions, as a great success. Like the New York Yankees, however, Salisbury baseball is not like “most programs.” Like the Yankees, there is a legacy. And the recent legacy of championships and Major League draft picks has helped establish the Knights as one of the preeminent programs in New England, if not in the entire country. Expectations, accordingly and perhaps unfairly, are nothing short of the Next Championship.
“The entire league is very strong,” head coach Kevin Huber cautions, including a Suffield nine that knocked Salisbury out of the playoffs last May in the opening round. But the second-year pilot has good reason to feel that his Knights will be right in the thick of things. “With a solid mix of newcomers and returners,” Huber asserts, “the team will feature more depth this year, most notably on the mound. A large chunk of last year’s offense graduated,” he laments, “but the current roster is primed to be a formidable team in the Western New England Prep Baseball League."
Indeed. Huber’s optimism seems well-founded in consideration of a pitching rotation headed by last season’s Western New England Prep Pitcher of the Year in the Young Division, sixth former Theo McDowell, who will also serve as one of the Knights’ captains. A University of West Virginia-commit, the rangy right-hander has attracted serious attention from MLB scouts and will likely have to weigh the allure of signing with a professional team in June against starting college in the fall, if his prospects for the upcoming Major League Draft pan out as anticipated.
Alongside McDowell is another formidable righty in Emmet Sheehan, an All-Western New England Prep Baseball first team selection in 2017. “Emmett has added speed to his fastball since last season,” Huber notes, “and he’s catching the eye of scouts.” Sheehan is set to play this summer for Connecticut’s Bristol Blues in the Futures Collegiate League and will don the Eagles jersey for Boston College next year – pending MLB draft interest this June.
In more heavily scheduled weeks, Huber will have to look past this duo, where he will find veteran righty Dylan Sanchez, a second team Western New England selection as an infielder last spring and the Knights’ other captain; lefty Zach Banks (3.50 e.r.a.); Chris Chapin (1.31 e.r.a.); Curtis Fournier (7 strikeouts in 9.2 innings); and newcomers Mike Cipriano, Troy Dunnam, Mitch McQuate, and Brendan Quigley. Quigley, whose next stop will be Siena College, is an imposing lefty and gives Huber a weapon he did not have in his pitching arsenal last year. “Brendan has command of three pitches and can get the strikeout when necessary,” states Huber.
Newcomers Cipriano, Dunnam, and McQuate will all see action in the field as well as on the mound. Cipriano, who bats left and pitches right, was part of a Holy Cross High team that won the Connecticut State Championship last year. Dunnam’s unimposing build belies the quickness of his arm and the variety of his pitches. Though he has yet to commit to a college, he has had an array of offers. A Northeastern recruit, McQuate will play a key role, according to Huber.
On paper, then, the coach has plenty of arms to pick from, though Quigley and Banks are the only leftys. “We are definitely going to be more pitching-and-defense oriented this spring,” says Huber, “after losing the heart of our offense in Cam Meyer and Liam Hibbets.” [Ed. note: Both of these former Knight sluggers have hit the ground running as freshmen at, respectively, Holy Cross and Virginia Commonwealth. “They are seeing the lion’s share of playing time at their positions,” Huber reports with warranted pride. “They are off to great starts.”]
While the offense, as Huber has noted, will need rebuilding, two other solid pieces are in place in addition to Sanchez. Centerfielder Dylan Castaneda was a first-team all-star last year as a sophomore and is coming off an impressive series of showcase performances last summer and this past winter. In addition, returning infielder Adam Colangelo joined Sanchez on the Western New England second all-star team in his junior year. Sanchez will return to shortstop this spring for the first time since third form. For the past two years, he covered second base.
Fifth former Kyle Dwyer and PG Bryan McGrath are two more intriguing newcomers who will join the starting line-up. Dwyer is a defensively talented outfielder with an impressive throwing arm. McGrath, who tended goal this past winter for varsity hockey, brings the team ineffable leadership qualities and is a reliable corner infielder with a strong arm. Huber expects him to be an important contributor, both in the locker room and on the field.
Huber also has returning outfielder and designated hitter Dan Anderson, who fought nagging injuries last season and struggled to establish consistency at the plate. Anderson can hit for power and, despite his injury woes, did finish with a .269 batting average. Huber was impressed by the healthy Anderson he saw in Florida during the team’s annual spring training trip. Other veterans expected to make contributions are catcher/utility man Sean Langan (9 runs scored in 2017) and d.h./utility man Bennett Psyhogeos (.250 average).
Nathan Lachaine and Bayron Canales Lopez are the other returners from last year’s squad. “Bayron played summer ball,” adds Huber of the fourth former, who spent most of his first varsity season on the bench. “He shows marked improvement in his game,” Huber continued, “and he’s going to be an important part of things this spring.”
Third formers James Patrick and Carlos Pena round out the roster.