Bay Ridge's Blue Devils Pitching Their Way Toward Third Straight State Crown
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It was exactly one year ago that the Poly Prep Blue Devils' varsity baseball team was shaking out of a middling start to what would ultimately become its second straight New York State Independent Schools Championship season.
And just as it did last spring, the Bay Ridge powerhouse, bolstered by the best pitching staff in the city, if not the entire state, is beginning to put its season-opening 3-3 slate in the rear-view mirror.
Blue Devils hurlers Morgan Gray and Andrew Zapata made history over the weekend, pitching back-to-back no-hitters against Ivy League rival Horace Mann and defending Public School Athletic League champion Grand Street, respectively.
The double no-nos boosted Poly's record to 6-3 and put coach Matt Roventini's dynastic unit back on track for an unprecendented third consecutive NYSAISS title later this spring.
“One no-hitter is very rare. However, back-to-back no-hitters by the same team on consecutive days is something I doubt I will see again in my time here,” Roventini said on the school's website following the 4-0 win over Horace Mann on Saturday and Sunday's 6-1 triumph over Grand Street.
Zapata, who is bound for the University of Connecticut in the fall following his senior campaign, has been on the hill for each of the Blue Devils' last two state championship game victories.
With southpaw Gray, Phil Maldari and Weber Lawrence rounding out the intimidating rotation, it's hard to believe Poly was unable to get off to a better start in non-league play.
But then again, Roventini's crew had experienced a similar "slump", if you can call it that, just a year ago.
“We had a bump in the road, similar to what we had last year," Roventini told the Eagle on Wednesday from his office at the Bay Ridge Country Day School. "We were 3-3 last year at one point. The important thing is how we finish the season.
“I don’t know if we become reliant on the pitching. Hitting comes and goes every day," Roventini added. "You need a hit in a big spot. As long as we’re in every game, that’s what our poitchers and defense can do. We didn’t hit at times, I expect us to get better offensively as the season goes on.”
The Poly bats were put to sleep in a 1-0 loss to Park Slope rival Berkeley Carroll two weeks ago in Bay Ridge, despite a sparkling effort from Maldari, who was ultimately outdueled by Lions right-hander Ian Miller.
But Roventini isn't fretting the early lack of scoring punch, especially since his team has rebounded with three straight big wins, including last week's triumph over Dalton at Randall's Island that began his team's current modest win streak.
"Hitting goes and comes," insisted Roventini, who has cleanup batter and catcher Rob Calabrese anchoring a solid lineup that also features budding freshman shortstop and leadoff batter Anthony Prato, not to mention his three star hurlers when they're not on the hill.
"We feel comfortable every day putting someone on the mound that gives us a chance (to win).”
While the state title is always the ultimate goal for a team that has captured four of the last six NYSAISS championships, grabbing a seventh straight Ivy League crown is the initial focus.
The Blue Devils, who are off to a 4-0 start against Ivy foes, know full well that they are the marquee matchup on virtually every opponent's schedule, but have grown used to being the perennial "team to beat" on the local varsity baseball scene.
“We’re used to it," Roventini admitted. "We’ve won our league six times in a row. We’ve been in the title game for six straight years, which in itself is tough. Everyone’s going to gun for you. The other option is, nobody cares. Are we going to get everyone’s A-game? Absolutely. But we’ll be battle-tested. We feel confident."
Buoyed by their impressive win over the Blue Devils, the undefeated BCS Lions (8-0) continued to roar through the early season portion of their schedule.
Senior Anthony Spina spun a near no-hitter in a 2-0 victory against the Athletic Conference of Independent Schools rival from Staten Island at Brooklyn's Parade Grounds last week.
Spina, a strong-armed outfielder who is headed to Amherst in the fall, yielded a questionable sixth-inning single to Connor Stapleton that could have been ruled an error.
On Monday, the Lions made sure there would be no question regarding the authenticity of another fabulous feat on the mound as Miller, fresh off his brilliant effort against Poly, completed a no-hit masterpiece with 10 strikeouts against St. Ann's in a rematch of last year's ACIS title game.
In local varsity softball action, the Blue Pride of Brooklyn Friends edged Bay Ridge Prep, 11-10, on Monday at Van Voorhies Field to improve to 2-0 in the Independent School Athletic League.
Juniors Chloe Burton and Julia Greenwald keyed a six-run first-inning outburst with a pair of extra-base hits and Greenwald was on the mound for the game-ending double play as BFS held on for the wild win.
Also of interest, USTA Eastern and City Parks Foundation are teaming up to present The Battle of the Boroughs Tennis Challenge, a new adult recreational tournament to be held in May and June in New York City parks.
The tournament will feature the best of team competition and neighborhood pride, and support CityParks Tennis, which provides free tennis lessons and activities for children at 40 parks citywide.
“We are so excited about the Battle of the Boroughs Tennis Challenge,” said Jenny Schnitzer, Assistant Executive Director of USTA Eastern. “The event will showcase some of the best adult tennis players in New York City’s parks, and help create opportunities for children of all ages to learn the sport of a lifetime.”
"This is a fun new opportunity for adult players in our parks to get together for a friendly competition representing their own neighborhoods and boroughs," said Mike Silverman, Director of Sports for City Parks Foundation. "We hope this will grow into an annual event that helps support CPF's free youth tennis instruction provided to over 7,000 players each year."
Adult teams of up to ten players 19 years old and up, will compete against other teams in their borough before earning a slot in the citywide championships held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens on June 15.
Registration is $20/per person, and proceeds will support City Parks Foundation's free youth tennis programs in all five boroughs.
To learn more and to register for the Battle of the Boroughs Tennis Challenge, visit http://eastern.usta.com/boroughs.