Combined, they were 55-14 last year, produced three of the top four seeds in the Section One, Class AA baseball playoffs, and the eventual champion.
Roy C. Ketcham, John Jay and Arlington high schools are separated by just 18 miles of Dutchess County roads, with RCK smack in the middle. Collectively, they are the three best baseball programs in the Hudson Valley – certainly the three best playing in the same league and, perhaps, the three best programs in all of Section 1.
“I think it’s all cyclical but, yeah, we have good baseball up here. Very good baseball,” said Arlington coach Al Hammell, himself a graduate of another Dutchess County program – Our Lady of Lourdes – who played professionally with the New York Mets organization for six years.
“Obviously when you have your neighbors competing at a high level, you want to be like your neighbor,” said Ketcham coach Pat Mealy. “Whenever you see a real good team, it pushes you. I think there’s a lot of teams like that but it’s a credit to where we are. I think Dutchess County has the best baseball in the state, quite frankly. There’s a lot of talent to choose from. I don’t think there’s any love lost between the schools and I think that’s actually positive. Everybody wants to compete and beat the guy next door.”
All three schools will be in the mix again this season as MSG Varsity takes a look at the Indians, the Patriots and the Admirals.
Here is who Ketcham lost from last year’s Section One, Class AA championship team – Dan Rokitowski (All-League, All-Section), Kevin Lawrence (All-League), Corey Gallinari (All-League), Jon Savas (All-League), Steve Bizzaro (All-League) and Joe Credendino (All-League).
That’s a six-pack that not many programs can survive losing.
Now meet the one player who will keep RCK in every game with his bat, glove and arm – Seth Lamando.
Lamando was third-team All-State last year in leading the Indians to a 21-4 mark. He pitches (winning nine games on the mound in 2012), plays a solid third base, and anchors the lineup (.445 batting average, 7 home runs, 33 RBI last year). A prodigy who comes from a long line of baseball-playing Lamandos, he is headed to Coastal Carolina University next year.
“There’s no kid that has more pressure on him than that kid to perform every day. He goes into games every single day and he’s got a major X on his back all the time,” Mealy said. “When he steps on the hill, everybody wants to get a swing at Seth Lamando. When he’s at-bat, everybody wants to strike out Seth Lamando. He’s going to have to be his best at all times, and that’s a lot to ask. But, you know what? I think this year he’ll be even better.”
Mealy’s main goal with an early-season trip to Florida is to solidify his lineup. The biggest key will be to find somebody who can hit behind Lamando in the order and protect the area’s best player, allowing him to have as many quality at-bats as he can see.
“We have a lot of question marks right now,” Mealy said, “but I can tell you this – this is already one of the most favorite groups I’ve coached.”
If Ketcham has the best player, the Indians have the best double-play combination in the area in shortstop Mike Laffin and second baseman Jonny Repetto.
But even though the Patriots return six regular players, coach Tom O’Hare says “none of them are guaranteed their starting jobs” other than Laffin and Repetto. Jay is coming off a 15-4 season in which it earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs but was upset in its opening round game by Ossining.
“We kept 21 guys this year, which is the most I’ve ever kept,” O’Hare said. “This could be one of the deepest teams I’ve had. It would be hard for me right now to say it’s one of the best, but our 21st guy is a good baseball player.”
Jay has a solid core of eight seniors who have come through the program, but O’Hare said one of the reasons why he kept 21 players is a particularly strong junior class.
“We didn’t want to cut anybody loose from that class and send them back to jayvee,” he said. “I think our depth is going to really help us this year, and we’ll use all 21, too.”
The only thing that prevented Arlington from going further last year was one player – Ketcham’s Seth Lamando. The Admirals went 19-4 and three of the four losses, including a sectional semifinal game, were to RCK and Lamando, who pitched all 21 innings against Arlington in the three games.
Mark the Admirals down as this season’s preseason favorite to win the league and the section, and it all has to do with the returning pitchers and those coming up from jayvee.
“We have a ton of arms,” Hammell said. “We’ll be in really good shape on the mound and we’ll play defense again, and that’s our strengths as a program.”
Pitchers Tyler Bruno, Matt Horton and Richie Boscarino are all back, and Tyler Dearden, sophomore Kyle Ackley, Brian Brocker and Dan Mahoney will also take the ball to the hill for the Admirals. Power-hitting first-baseman Joe Bruno (.482, 5 home runs, 13 doubles, 24 RBI) leads the offense, which also features fellow returners catcher Robbie Camastro and third baseman Drew Lugbauer, who started as a freshman last year.
“We have a pretty high ceiling this year,” said Hammell. “We just couldn’t get by Ketcham last year and hopefully that changes this year. But there are great programs everywhere, with Mamaroneck and Fox Lane, and you just never know. You have to look at it as who gets hot and when.”