As Archbishop Carroll watched the carousel turn, over and over again May 13, the problem this season became evident. As player after player crossed the plate, often in a trot, in Father Judge’s 11-4 dismantling of the Patriots in a Catholic League play-in game, the limiting factor of the season was clear.
Sure, the Patriots (12-8, 7-5) could outslug their Catholic League opposition from time to time. But in the claustrophobic confines of Alumni Field, that wouldn’t prove to be a sustainable solution. As was proven by a hot-hitting Archbishop Wood team the year before and reinforced by the Crusaders in a four-homer performance that Monday, the bats could only do so much.
Indeed, the Patriots managed to send two homers flying from Alumni Field that day and boast the county home run leader in Evan Harvey (seven) this season. But in a season where the bats only got them to fifth place in the Catholic League Blue Division, graduation provides a chance to test the offense vs. defense philosophy next season.
The 2014 Patriots’ lineup will look drastically different. Lead-off man Dan Bier is gone. The double-play tandem of Eric McGough and Steve Dengler, the latter of whom was limited by injuries to 22 plate appearances albeit a .600 average this season, also departs along with Harvey. It’s not exactly stripped down to the foundation, but a major renovation is required.
The hurlers are in much better shape. Two of the anticipated major contributors when the season began, Joe Sparacino (1-2, 5.13 ERA) and McGough (2-2, 9.55) depart after disappointing senior campaigns on the hill. Despite getting roughed up by Judge, junior Matt Lafferty (3-4, 4.75 ERA) has gotten used to the role of staff ace. The other arms in the rotation – Richard Funchion (2-0, 2.33), Brian Chesky (2-0, 2.82) and J.J. Cicala (2-0, 1.75) – weren’t harshly tested in their first varsity seasons (Cicala is just a sophomore) but posted impressive seasons nonetheless. Chesky, a lanky 6-4, is a particularly exciting specimen.
That staff will have an experienced batterymate in JT Evangelist, one of the revelations of the season as the full-time catcher as a sophomore. The outfield may have a leg up on the infield, thanks to the returns of Matt Maerz and Joe DiWilliams.
They may not light up the scoreboard as they did this season, but the effect on the standings may be quite different.