Troy Davern hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon
Troy Davern hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Despite being the League I champion from last year, Ward Melville has some unfinished business on the baseball diamond as the Patriots look to avenge their Suffolk County title loss from last spring. Losing six seniors to graduation, the squad has some pretty big shoes to fill, but is confident that returning starters will be able to do just that.

Between the varsity and junior varsity team, the Patriots are 58 players strong, which is a testament to the baseball culture that permeates all who wear the green and gold — due in part to its famous 2009 graduate, Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz. The lefty pitching sensation doesn’t stray far from the Ward Melville campus, and has become a galvanizing force for the Patriot players.

“Our pitching staff is going to be one of our strong points again at Ward Melville, and that’s been a standard for the last seven years,” Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci said. “Steven Matz put baseball on the map here at Ward Melville. We’ve had tremendous success here. The kids look up to Steven. Steven comes back here and works with the pitchers; it’s exciting for the school, the community, Long Island and baseball fans in general.”

Tom Hudzik winds up to toss the ball across the gym. Photo by Bill Landon
Tom Hudzik winds up to toss the ball across the gym. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville finished last year with an impressive 24-4 record, but fell in the County Championship to Connetquot, 1-5, 4-3, 0-6.

Senior first basemen Dominic Lamonica said despite losing seven seniors, his team has worked hard in the offseason to offset the loss.

“Losing Joe Flynn, one of the best players Suffolk County has seen in years, definitely hurts us, but we have a bunch of talented guys and we’ve been waiting for this to come,” Lamonica said. “We want revenge, because losing in the county [finals] was a horrible feeling.”

Petrucci said he likes the look of his pitching staff, adding that he expects big things from Ben Brown, a junior who went 7-1 last season.

“We lost those seniors who were very vocal in our dugout,” Brown said. “But I think we have the players here that can step in and fill that void.”

Petrucci said the team is going to rely heavily on Troy Davern, Alex Betz and Frank Merlino, and added that Max Neilsen, a ninth-grader, is challenging for a starting role.

Senior shortstop Nick Vitale agreed with Brown that last year’s seniors were the core of the offensive lineup, but is feeling optimistic about his team’s chances this season.

“We have pretty big shoes to fill, but most of last year’s starters are still here this season,” he said. “Losing those starters is big, but I think we’ll be fine.”

Joe Rosselli makes contact with the ball during an indoor practice. Photo by Bill Landon
Joe Rosselli makes contact with the ball during an indoor practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Lamonica said he thinks Commack has a lot of good arms, and sees Longwood and Sachem East as being possible League I threats, but said you never know what will happen.

The Patriots scrimmaged six times before their season opener against Commack on Tuesday, where Ward Melville shut out its opponent 4-0. Although Wednesday’s game results were unavailable by press time, the team travels to Commack today, at 4:15 p.m., for the final game of the series.

In the win, senior Pat Morelli made his first varsity start and drove in two runs to lead his team. He had an RBI single at the bottom of the third to make the score 3-0. Brandon Lee and Lamonica each went 2-for-2, and Davern tossed two scoreless innings to earn the save.

“We just have to stay within ourselves,” Lamonica said. “We’ve got a bunch of talented guys here and a bunch of returning starters, so if we all play within ourselves and play as clean as we can, I think we’ll be good to go this year.”