By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With all the hoopla surrounding the recently completed high school basketball season and Brooklyn sports enthusiasts locked in on the Nets' run toward their first playoff berth in six seasons, it stands to reason that the local varsity baseball campaign gets lost in the shuffle at times.
Not at Park Slope's Berkeley Carroll School, where the defending Athletic Conference of Independent Schools champions are off and running in their quest to make a serious bid for the Private School State Championship later this spring.
"Our goals are always the same: win the regular season, playoffs and be healthy and make another run [at the state championship]," longtime BCS coach Walter Paller told the Eagle on Tuesday afternoon after his team scored an impressive 8-1 victory over Bay Ridge's Xaverian High School at the Bay Parkway Narrows Complex last weekend.
“Coming into the season we felt that our formula for success was going to be strong pitching and experience and athleticism in the middle of the field from catcher to the middle of the infield to our senior center fielder. We’ve given up one run or less in each of our victories," added Paller, who guided the Lions to their first-ever NYSAISSAA baseball title in 2009 with a stunning 4-1 victory over Poly Prep.
The Blue Devils of the Bay Ridge Country Day School returned the favor by beating BCS in the 2011 title game and earned their second straight state championship last year behind the brilliant pitching of UConn-bound right-hander Andrew Zapata.
The Lions, who were ousted in the opening round of the state tournament with a tough 3-2 loss to Horace Mann last spring, are still stinging from the defeat.
But Paller insists the sudden elimination was a great learning experience for his team, which has already scored impressive victories over Danbury High School in Connecticut, Susan Wagner in Staten Island and Xaverian's Clippers since returning from its annual spring training camp in Florida.
"Last year was a bitter disappointment, but I think we learned a lot from that [loss to Horace Mann]," Paller admitted after a few misplays in the field and some baserunning blunders cost his team a shot at advancement. "We stopped hitting for the last 10 days of the season last year, but we got away with it because we limited our opponents. But we were unable to overcome it in [the state tournament]. We really thought we were set up for a matchup with Poly Prep, but we didn’t advance. Our team’s focus now is on doing all the little things and doing what needs to be done in particular situations."
Thus far, Paller admits, his team is "exceeding his expectations" in regard to tightening up its play.
Anchored by staff ace Ian Miller, the MVP of last year's ACIS Tournament, and Amherst-bound outfielder Anthony Spina, the Lions are already rounding into midseason form.
Miller and Spina combined on a no-hitter in last week's 4-0 blanking of Danbury and BCS held off a late rally to thwart Wagner, 3-1, behind 6 2/3 gritty innings from Jacob Udewitz, who helped pitch the Lions past Downtown rival St. Ann's in last year's ACIS Championship Game at MCU Park.
"Ian is probably someone that a lot of people don’t know about but they should," noted Paller. "We kind of like it that way. He’s a special kid and a special talent. He’s as refined as your going to be for a junior. Anthony is as good an offensive player as you’re going to find in the area. He drives in runs.. He’s a tremendous outfielder."
Center fielder Robert Graham, shortstop Richard Palacios, whom Paller calls the "captain of the infield", catcher and cleanup hitter Yanai Feldman and line-drive machine Chris Baumann also figure prominently in the Lions' drive for a special season.
“We’re really excited here," Paller said. "We’re trying to keep a low profile. We play most of our games on the road and that’s made us tough both mentally and physically.”
The Lions will need that toughness this week as they are about to enter an extremely challening portion of their early-season schedule before kicking off the league portion of their slate at home next week against Staten Island Academy. BCS will host Columbia Prep on Thursday and then visit Ivy League foes Hackley and Riverdale for a big doubleheader Saturday.
Looming on the schedule is Monday's showdown with powerhouse Poly Prep, a game that will serve early notice as to how the Lions shape up against what's widely considered the best non-public school team in the entire city.
"Monday we play the state champs," Paller said. "[Poly Prep coach] Matt [Roventini] and I tried to schedule the game where it was best for both of us. We're looking forward to that challenge.”
"In one game, we're as tough to beat as anyone. Because we've been there before," added Paller.
The Lions hope to "be there" again when it matters most later this spring.
Please continue reading the Eagle sports pages or log on to BrooklynEagle.com for coverage of local high school varsity baseball this spring.
On the college baseball scene, junior John Ziznewski had three hits, scored twice and stole a pair of bases, but LIU-Brooklyn suffered a 9-7 loss to Sacred Heart in Bridgeport, Conn., on Saturday afternoon.
Freshman Evan Emerich added two hits and an RBI for the Blackbirds, who fell to 1-3 in Northeast Conference play after splitting a doubleheader with the Pioneers last Friday.
Starter Evan Zerff took the loss after striking out two in 3 1/3 innings for LIU, which will kick off a four-game series against Central Connecticut State on Friday afternoon at LIU Field.
The NYU-Poly baseball team surrendered 16 hits and committed nine errors in an ugly 16-1 loss to the College of Staten Island last Thursday at CSI Baseball Complex.
Senior Anthony Finch drove home the lone run for the Jays, who slipped to 2-10 this season.
In local college softball action, NYU-Poly junior Sadie Hoeschen was named the Skyline Player of the Week and Lady Jays sophomore Lyndsey Rathburn earned the circuit's Pitcher of the Week award.
In the teams only two games last week, Hoeschen scored the game-winning run in a 3-1 victory over the Sage College and belted her first career grand slam in Game Two.
Rathburn pitched the second game against Sage, posting a 9-0, five-inning complete game one-hitter. She struck out three, while walking just one.
Back over at LIU-Brooklyn, junior hurler Cassie Vondrak pitched a two-hit shutout as the Blackbirds took the opener of a Northeast Conference doubleheader against Fairleigh Dickinson with a 4-0 victory last Friday in Hackensack, N.J.
Sophomore Nicole Archer drilled a two-run homer during a 5-2 loss in the nightcap for LIU, which will visit Quinnipiac for a Saturday afternoon doubleheader.