Three senior starters for the Riverhead High varsity baseball team are all eager to achieve their biggest ambition. After missing the Suffolk County playoffs the last two seasons, the Blue Waves know what they want.
Their 2011 schedule starts Tuesday afternoon with a non-league game at Kings Park. "We definitely have the potential to do better and make the playoffs," said first baseman Jordan Demchuk.
Second baseman Jon Tucci and catcher James Porco join Demchuk as the returning starters from the 2010 squad, which finished with a 9-11 overall record. Second-year coach Rob Maccone leads a roster of 16 players, including nine newcomers.
The starting lineup for the season opener is solid for the first six spots in the batting order: Gabe Rice (pitcher or shortstop), Tucci, Demchuk, Robert Pisano (third base or designated hitter), Porco and right fielder Matt Crohan.
Maccone said he is still evaluating the other starting positions. Tim Clement, Jamie Fox and Mike Ruisi are candidates in the outfield. Glenn Patriss can pitch or play third base. Joe Prete and Mike Hinchy are also being considered.
The top four pitchers are Rice, Crohan, Cochran, Patriss and Fox. Rice returns to the diamond after sparkling for the Riverhead wrestling team. All the current RHS pitchers have little varsity experience. None threw more than 10 innings during the 2010 season.
"We have quality arms, but they are not innings tested," said Maccone. "My expectations are to make the playoffs. We are under-rated. The coaches (in Suffolk League IV) picked us to finish sixth (among seven teams)."
The Blue Waves, who need 10 victories to qualify for the 2011 playoffs, finished 7-11 in league results last season. The three top pitchers last season averaged five to six innings a game on the mound.
Maccone said his team will need to repeatedly execute "small ball."
"I think all 16 of my guys will get a decent amount of playing time,” said the 28-year-old coach, who spent five seasons coaching the Riverhead JV team. "We are not a power team, and team-speed-wise, we are not fast. Last year, the gloves hurt us a little bit on defense, but I think we will be better."
Tucci, who made the 2010 all-league team with a team-high .323 batting average, has recovered from shoulder surgery last August. He said his team will show more savvy.
"We have guys who know the game," said Tucci. "We are more used to the coach. He emphasizes . . . bunting, base running, moving a guy over, getting a runner home from third with less than two outs and not making mental mistakes."
The Blue Waves are also making a sustained effort to upgrade their team bonding.
"Last year, we didn't have great chemistry," said Porco. "This year, we want to improve on it. That's a big emphasis. We try to hang out on and off the field just to get to know each other better. What (opposing) teams don't know is we have a lot of seniors who are all leaders."
Maccone's roster includes eight seniors, seven juniors and Crohan, a sophomore. Other young men on the team are Connor Carroll, Jake Maccagli, Tyler Carroll and Nick Prete. Ken Marelli works as the assistant coach and Todd Van Scoy is a volunteer assistant coach.
The Blue Waves play their home opener on April 6, hosting West Babylon. Tucci said he and his teammates will have a friendly rivalry with the RHS boys' lacrosse team this spring.
"We and the lacrosse guys go back and forth about who is going to be better," said Tucci.