Vol. LXI, No. 24
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
After 17 seasons at the helm of the Princeton Post 218 baseball team, manager Tommy Parker has yet to lead his team to the Mercer County American Legion League (MCALL) playoffs.
But Parker has never let this fact temper his optimism for Post 218 before and this year is no different. Coming off of an 11-11 season in which the team finished only two games out of the playoff picture, Parker is as confident as ever that his squad will get over the hump and end its streak of futility this season.
"I know I say this every year, but I believe if everyone plays up to their ability, we should win more games than we lose," said Parker. "We have experienced young players and the talent is there to have a good shot at the playoffs."
Just like many Post 218 teams in recent years, this year's squad is composed of athletes from three different high schools: Princeton High, the Hun School, and Princeton Day School.
The one common thread among the players, however, is the important combination of youth and experience. In fact, 13 of the 18 players on the roster played for Parker last year, including a majority of the team's best performers in 2006.
The strength of the team is its deep pitching staff, led by Hun product Mike Russo. "This year's pitching is going to put us over the top," Parker said.
Russo was the ace of the Hun pitching staff this past year as a junior, leading the Raiders to the state Prep A title with a fastball in the upper 80's and several off-speed offerings.
"Mike Russo is a bona fide pitching prospect; he's the real deal," Parker said. "He's got real good command of his fastball and challenges hitters. He also has a good changeup and a curve."
Other players who will also make an impact on the staff include Russo's former Hun teammate Matt Welsh as well as Princeton High's Colin Sarafin and Dan Etherton.
At one point during the high school season, Sarafin pitched PHS to wins over powerhouses Hamilton and Nottingham in consecutive games.
"He's an excellent pitcher who throws hard and is very smart," Parker said. "He's also one of the few pitchers I have who I don't have to pinch hit for because he's got a great stick."
Parker is also very excited about the composition of his lineup. "I would say seven out of our nine starters on any given day are really good batters," he said. "They know how to look for their pitches and are just great contact hitters up and down the lineup."
One such hitter is PDS star middle infielder Clint O'Brien, who is in his third season with the team and is one of its four captains.
"O'Brien is a very smart batter and brings leadership and experience to the table this year," Parker said. "He is definitely one of the catalysts for our offense and seems to step up his game when we're in a bind."
The other captains of the team are catcher Sean Pucciarelli, Etherton, and infielder Andy Baxter.
Pucciarelli is not an average battery mate, however, as he plays virtually all positions and leads off for Post 218. "Sean is one of the senior leaders on the team and can play anywhere on the field. He's kind of like Pudge Rodriguez when he first came up, a fast and slim leadoff guy."
Etherton, in addition to his pitching duties, is a first baseman and outfielder who is coming off a productive season for Princeton High. "Last year he was one of the best hitters in the county," added Parker, referring to the lanky Etherton.
Finally, Baxter is a Hun product who is a solid middle infielder and a pesky middle-of-the-order hitter. "He's the kind of kid you want up there in a clutch situation, he always makes something happen," Parker said.
With a deep pitching staff headlined by Russo and a solid top-to-bottom batting order, Parker thinks the pieces are in place for Post 218 to make a run at unfamiliar territory. The only real question mark heading into the season, according to Parker, is the squad's defense.
"Our defense is a huge factor, we really need to catch the ball," added Parker, whose team fell 6-5 to North Trenton Post 458 last Monday to move to 1-3 on the season. "If we play smart and support our good pitching, we will have a good shot at finally making it this year."
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