Baseball: Preview – Veteran cores, new coaches abound in Central League

The Central League breaks pretty cleanly across a few lines in 2015: There are two teams coming off berths in PIAA championship games, a handful of teams with strong returning nuclei and a trio at the bottom of the league rebuilding under the direction of new coaches.

The first two are easy to discuss, since those teams hail from the three non-Delco squads. Harriton was in the Class AAA title game last year, dropping a 4-2 decision to Pope John Paul II. Much of that success was due to a special senior class, and while many of the Rams’ key contributors have graduated, the significance of a run like theirs last spring sticks with a program.

Conestoga, which lost 4-2 in eight innings to La Salle in the AAAA title game, is back at it, led by North Carolina commit Brendon Little, who could be one of the best players to come out of Southeastern Pennsylvania in a long time. Their drop off is likely to be slight, as the Pioneers always hit their stride late in the season.

Back among the Delco contingent, Penncrest is one of those trying to unseat Conestoga from atop the Central League heap. With eight returning starters, including pitchers Rob Brown, Tyler Kight and All-Delco Matt Briner, they have a chance at raising the first banner in program history.

The defending Central League champion Garnet Valley has plenty of firepower back in the lineup, led by Lehigh commit Jeff Shanfeldt behind the plate for a fourth straight season and La Salle commit Ben Faso, both of whom were All-Delcos last season. Steve Palis and David Elison also return varsity experience, but the Jaguars’ challenge will be to replace their top three pitchers, plus the contributions of Maryland signee and 2014 MLB Draftee Andrew Bechtold.

Another team with a sizeable returning core is Strath Haven; the last time they had this many names back, the roared through a perfect regular season.

The crux of their strength this season will be pitching: Ashton Raines and Will Carey fronted the staff last season, and Raines is in his third varsity season. It’s not just those two, though. Tyler Lashley closed last spring, Matt Eiel provided several strong starts after beginning the season injured while David Moore impressed in the Carpenter Cup.

Replacing reigning Daily Times Player of the Year Kevin Mohollen (Delaware) will not be easy, though new catcher David Shore logged a handful of games last season while Mohollen’s balky shoulder had him shelved. Infielders Mike and Brian Dougherty are among seven returning starters, while Casey Rosier, James Kantner and Corey Ziring comprise one of the county’s best outfields.

Fresh of its first Class AAAA playoff win in program history, Radnor is poised to continue its incremental growth in each of Mark Jordan’s three previous season. Leading that effort is All-Delco pitcher/infielder Sean Corelli, who along with Garrett McGurl gives the Raiders a daunting 1-2 pitching punch. There’s strength up the middle thanks to Pat McDermott, Mike Lanzone and talented center fielder Connor Wilson, who’s still just a junior. John Lord will also bolster the lineup, while the search continues to pitchers on the back end of the rotation, with Justin DiCarlo, Will Hoysgaard and Charlie Connolly among the candidates.

Part of Steve Smith’s job at Marple Newtown is easy: He’ll pencil in Neumann commit Grant Wallace as his staff ace and Ricky Collings (still just a junior) as his main offensive threat. Filling in the supporting cast is a little more labor intensive.

Among those who played last year are Jack Shevlin, Scott Hahn and Cameron Mathes, the latter two of whom have been at the forefront of the Broomall-Newtown Babe Ruth success, including a national championship this summer.

Haverford hopes to rebound from a 5-14 campaign thanks to a group of young players that Paul Bogosian hopes will step up, particularly on the mound. Among the returnees are Tom Leonard and Kevin Maloney.

The other three teams are under the stewardship of new coaches. Upper Darby, fresh off a winless campaign, has turned to a youthful alumnus in former Bloomsburg player Grant Kernaghan, a 2006 grad of Upper Darby. He faces a daunting challenge as the third manager in four seasons with precious little in the way of varsity experience to bank on. A.J. Lerro returns for his senior season, while Nate Rimel got experience as a freshman last spring, but the majority of the lineup will be new.

There’s more talent waiting for new Springfield manager Brian Francis, who takes over for longtime skipper Jeff Smith. The majority of last year’s 5-14 team returns with the experience of last year’s growing pains in hand.

Nick O’Shea, Jeff Reardon, Jared Morris and Charlie Carbin will anchor a staff with good left-right balance. The outfield will be patrolled by Jared Kilgallen, Brian McCloskey and Tom Quinn, while Brett Sheeran and Nick Gorman provided valuable experience in the infield.

Ridley will be under the leadership of Kevin Scott, who takes over for Dan Najmola.

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