The calendar says that the 2014 baseball season is about 10 days old. The weather, however, indicates that it is far younger than that. With only a handful of games having been played, I feel a little better about launching this somewhat delayed “preseason” Super 7. But then again, what hasn’t been delayed this spring? So without further ado, let’s see how the teams in Delco might stack up this season.
1. Garnet Valley
The duo of Andrew Bechtold and Sean Sarbaugh constitutes an impressive core, but they’re hardly the only ones back. Though they have to replace the workhorse contributions that came from three-time All-Delco Dalton Mayberry last year, there were plenty of underclassmen who filled in around him and gained valuable experience. For a county that has produced a number outstanding catchers in recent history, expect junior Jeff Shanfeldt’s name to be the next to enter the conversation.
2. Cardinal O’Hara
This being a preseason appraisal, I’m looking at ifs. And I see the least amount of them in O’Hara. In terms of returning pitching depth, they are flush. When the guys they hoped to toe the rubber regularly last year were hampered by injuries, seniors Will Latcham and John Banes and junior Chris Fusaro stepped up. That has prepared them for a starring role this season, and coupled with a solid lineup, they could be one of the better teams in the Catholic League.
3. Haverford School
If (there’s that word again) shortstop Chris Sukonik was healthy, the Fords would be higher on this list. But he’s not, leaving the bulk of the offensive burden on All-Delco Kevin McGowan, Steve Scornajenghi and a cast of minor contributors from last year. There’s also the question of pitching depth, with Connor Burke an unquestioned No. 1 starter in this county, but the only pitcher on staff with significant varsity experience.
Speaking of losing pitching depth – the Friars were carried last year by Dan Furman and Pat Vanderslice (both All-Delcos), plus they had this Haley guy who was decent. There are significant pieces in the lineup that return, like Richie Tecco, promising young catcher Steve Furman and Brad Scull, but the rotation is a work in progress.
To deviate briefly from the “preseason” script, there’s no denying the magnitude of Penncrest’s win over Conestoga last week. That makes my early-season valuation of them quite tentative. Penncrest’s program, in its first year under Dan Sardella, is one where underclassmen need to be really good to contribute, so returning varsity players are somewhat limited. But if Rob Brown and Tyler Kight can form the 1-2 pitching punch that has been lacking the last two years (despite churning out Division I pitchers), this Penncrest team could go far.
6. Strath Haven
With the exception of Burke at Haverford School, no pitcher may be leaned upon as heavily this season as Ashton Raines. As a closer last year as a sophomore, he showed that he’s got great stuff and a tremendous pitching mentality. This is a Strath Haven team – even with a lineup keyed by All-Delco and Delaware-bound Kevin Mohollen and Nate Engelka – that is comfortable playing lower-scoring games, and the hope is that the pitching staff can hold up its end of that bargain.
7. Episcopal Academy
I’m going out on a limb for spot seven. In the two years I’ve covered baseball, EA has traditionally underachieved. But they’ve brought in a coach in Mike Hickey whose résumé is as good as you’ll find anywhere. They’re not devoid of talent – Penn signee Russell Rhoads, Ben Burman, John Minicozzi – and you get the feeling that Hickey could get the most out of them.
Honorable mention: Marple Newtown (I don’t see offense being a problem for the Tigers. But my main question is who emerges as the No. 2 pitching option to Ciaran Cahalane. Matt Young, the most likely candidate, will go a long way in determining this team’s fate); Radnor (All eyes are on junior Sean Corelli, who’ll likely be the offensive catalyst and No. 1 pitcher. Radnor’s underclassmen learned plenty from last year’s playoff berth, and we’ll see how that experience carries over as they weather the loss of three major pieces from last year); Interboro (Interboro, led by pitcher Sean Menold, is likely the class of the Del Val for the umpteenth straight year. The question, as ever, is about getting over the districts hump.)