Coach: Pat Boulger, first year
Last season: 10-10, lost in W. Mass. D-II quarterfinals
Returners: Tyler Briggs, Sr., P/OF; Tyler Cote, Sr., P/Util; Joe Liporace, Sr., DH/Util; Thane Preite, Jr., 2B; Logan Rumbolt, So., SS; Schuyler Robinson, Jr., P/3B; Jake Tatro, Jr., 3B/P/OF; Kirby Bryce, Jr., OF.
Boulger -- a coach in the program for 15 years who was asked to step in as head coach three weeks before season started while last year's coach, Al Marceau, deals with health problems -- said Briggs and Cote will get the tough starts on the mound for the Blue Devils this year. Both are three-year starters, and that gives Boulger confidence in them.
"They've always been that stopper you've needed," he said. "If you have a little bit of a rut, it's always good to hand the ball to those guys."
The coach intends to maximize speed through the order, with Robinson and Liporace expected to be the big bats and Rumbolt the table-setter at the top of the order.
"Overall, I'm very happy with the lineup we have so far," Boulger said. "We're being aggressive with the bats, and we're putting the ball in play and putting ourselves in situations to win ballgames."
Crosier will start behind the plate as a sophomore, and the coach sees good things coming from him, junior Shane Garvey and freshman left-handed hitter Thaylen Harrison. Hoosac Valley
Coach: Bob Rivard, 21st year
Last season: 10-11, lost in W. Mass.
Returners: Nate Tomkiewicz, Jr., 1B; Sean Ryan-Kut, Sr., 2B; Matt Koperniak, So., SS; Joey Buonemani, Sr., 3B; Jake Swistak, So., C; Justin Nichols, Sr., P/OF; John Lewis, Jr., OF; Matt Braman, Sr., OF/P; Brandon Tworig, Sr., OF; Ty Clark, Sr., P
The Hurricanes have plenty of experience, gained in an up-and-down 2013 season that, ultimately, led to a Western Mass. tournament qualification.
That was the goal last season, and it hasn't changed.
"I think they learned they can play with teams that are in the tournament," Rivard said. "Coming down the stretch, we beat Monument [last year], and they were a tournament team. I think they've got the idea."
Koperniak, Lewis and Tomkiewicz are the heart of the batting order again, with Braman and Ryan-Kut at the top. Rivard said Koperniak is both the big bat and "a natural" in the middle of the order.
"He was our leading hitter last year as a freshman," the coach added. "Matt Braman's a three-year starter and John Lewis has been stroking the ball real well."
Both Swistak and Buonemani can catch, but in order to get Buonemani a chance to play every day, Rivard will use him at the hot corner.
The rotation returns experience and some early-season success, as Nichols shut down Mount Greylock for six shutout innings in the season's first week.
"Nichols and Braman were the main two guys [last year], but Ty Clark won a couple of big games for us coming down the stretch," Rivard said. "Even Scooter Tworig pitched a couple of games last season."
Coach: Kevin Downer, ninth year
Last season: 3-17
Returners: Trevor Hathaway, Jr., 2B; Mike Downer, Fr., C; Dillon Benham, Jr., CF; Jake Jourdain, Sr., SS; Cam Sibley, Sr., 1B/DH; Trey McNinch, Jr., OF; Jack Ellrodt, So., 1B; Kevin Coakley, So., 3B; Ben Ramondetta, Sr., OF/1B; Patrick Colvin, So., P/IF; Casey Potts, Jr., 2B; Tyler Coon, So., P/OF; Zack Levesque, Jr., OF/DH
The Millionaires have depth in the pitching rotation, but not much experience. Colvin, Coon and Ellrodt should start, and Downer said freshman Connor Hanson -- a floater between the varsity and JV squads -- could see a few innings, along with Hathaway. Benham is set as the closer.
"There's not much experience pitching-wise, but they can all throw strikes, and for underclassmen, they can do all right," Downer said.
Jourdain, Sibley and Ramondetta are Lenox's tri-captains.
The coach is most confident in his batting order. Benham will lead off, followed by Mike Downer (the coach's son) and Jourdain, with Sibley often batting cleanup.
"Dillon is selective at the plate," the coach said. "He's a quick kid, and could steal some bases for us. Mike hits a lot of line drives and can get down a sac bunt if need be. Dillon and Jake hit the snot out of the ball. Sibley came along at the end of the year last year and brought his batting average up 40 or 50 points.
"I think, hitting-wise, we're going to be a much better team than we were last year."
Kevin Downer added that sophomores Joe Bouvier and Ralf Bruno will also float between varsity and JV this season.
Coach: Chip Cummings, fourth year
Last season: 8-13, lost in W. Mass. D-III first round
Returners: Heamon Williams, Sr., C; J.T. Brown, Sr., P; John Graziano, Sr., SS; Paul Boutiette, Sr., CF; Nick Pow, Jr., LF; Jake Simon, Sr., 1B/P; Matt Consolati, Sr., 2B/P.
A lot of the Wildcats' veterans are no strangers to big games. Williams, Graziano, Pow, etc. -- they've been counted on for big days in fall and winter sports just as much as they will be this spring. For that reason, Cummings believes Lee will build off last year's sectional tournament appearance.
"That experience is going to come in handy again," the coach said. "From where we started four years ago, and the road they've paved to get to where they are now ... now they want to win as much as they want to go out and play. The mindset has changed quite a bit."
Boutiette and Graziano should be table-setters for Williams, Brown, Simon and Pow.
On the mound, Brown and Simon will be Lee's top starters. Simon, a lefty, mixes his pitches well, according to his coach.
"J.T. Brown comes with some pretty good fastballs, and he's got a mix of change-ups and curveballs," Cummings added. "His control's pretty good."
Coach: Pat Ryan, second year
Last season: 9-11
Returners: Joe Gwozdz, Jr., IF; Sean Davis, Jr. IF/P; Justin Racine, Sr., DH; Charlie Bohl, So., C; Dillon Carr, Sr., IF/C; Justin Schneider, Sr., IF/P; Dalton Nicholas, Sr., 1B.
Sophomore Austin Miller could challenge for a starting pitching spot in the Hornets' rotation. Gwozdz is No. 2 right now, and Miller could be the No. 3 starter.
Davis, however, is the top gun.
"He throws a hard ball and has a consistent curveball," Ryan said. "He's probably the strongest pitcher we have right now."
McCann's season-opening loss to Mount Everett was the first time the Hornets had been outside all season. Ryan expects that, once the team gets acclimated to its surroundings, the first five to six spots in the batting order will be solid.
And after coming a win short last year, he knows his Hornets have Western Mass. on their minds.
"I think what I got into them this year is that it's a mental game," Ryan said. "They're going to have to want it. After [the first win], they showed we're capable of getting there."
Coach: Tom Hankey, 15th year
Last season: 15-6, lost in W. Mass. D-II quarterfinals
Returners: Bobby Kinne, Sr., SS; T.J. Shumsky, Sr., C; Peter Oggiani, Sr., P/IF; Trevor McFarland, Jr., OF; James Allentuck, Jr., P; Dominic DeFelice, So., IF/P.
Hankey looks for consistency and improvement throughout the year from the Spartans, while expecting his pitching staff to reduce walks.
Oggiani, Allentuck and Callahan will be his three-man rotation, in that order.
"Peter's a good leader. James and Christian both have good things to offer," Hankey said. "I expect big things from [Christian]. He's worked too hard not to have a big year for us."
The Spartans have a diverse order, with the top three hitters -- McFarland, DeFelice and Kinne -- able to work the count and reach base regularly.
"[McFarland] knows the strike zone. He's fast," Hankey said. "He's a hard-nosed kid and he'll do everything I ask him to do. Dominic hitting No. 2 handles the bat really well. He's a switch-hitter. He can use the whole field. Bobby hitting three and Peter hitting four, you don't do much better than those two. T.J. hitting fifth; he's really worked hard on his swing. And the bottom of the order is just going to get better, too."
Coach: Jesse Carpenter, 11th year
Last season: 8-11
Returners: Jon Ovitt, Sr., 1B/OF; Zack Fife, Sr., P/3B; Alec Blume, Sr., C; Sage Angell, Jr., CF/P; Bradley Lupiani, Jr., SS/P; Nick Tomich, So., IF.
There's plenty of experience back in Sheffield -- both Ovitt and Angell took the field for the Eagles in the 2012 state championship loss to North Reading -- but a few questions have yet to be answered at this early point in the season.
Carpenter expects Angell and Fife to pitch quite a few innings.
"One of those two will probably get the bulk of the starts," Carpenter said, "and we'll pitch Bradley [Lupiani] and Nick Tomich as we see fit in relief, and they might start some games."
That isn't what the coach sees as the real challenge, though. That comes on offense. Carpenter's trying to get a good look at a lot of guys in his lineup, but those players are, by and large, freshmen and sophomores.
No matter. Mount Everett is perfectly capable of playing small ball.
"It's not like we've had a lot of teams in the years I've coached that have hit the cover off the ball," Carpenter said. "We've had a lot of winning years getting five, six or seven hits a game and finding a way to manufacture runs.
"Ultimately, we have a couple of those guys who are veterans and got a lot of at-bats. We've got guys who are going to know what to do in certain situations."
Coach: Steve Messina, 23rd year
Last season: 18-4, lost in W. Mass. D-II final
Returners: Jack Thistle, Sr., OF; Nick DiSanti, Sr., C; Robby Buffis, Sr., P/3B; Ian Brink, Jr., P/3B; Ryan Wadsworth, Sr., SS
The Mounties have plenty of juniors and seniors -- but, because of all the seniors that played on last year's Western Mass. finalist, Greylock doesn't necessarily have a lot of experience.
"Jack and Nick were full-time starters last year, but Robby pitched primarily; Ian has some experience, but not like Jack and Nick," Messina said.
Thistle, DiSanti and Buffis will serve as tri-captains. Brink and Buffis will handle the majority of the starts, but neither is the No. 1 starter -- more like a 1-and-1A situation.
"We felt going in, that was our strong area, with Ian and Robby," Messina said. "We've got some other kids that can throw, too."
Aside from a 7-1 win over St. Joseph, the offense hadn't produced much in the first week of the season -- though Greylock still had a 2-1 record.
"We haven't exactly been tearing the cover off the ball, that's for sure," Messina said. "Hopefully, these guys, after they get some at-bats, they get comfortable."
Coach: Bob Moynihan, 32nd year
Last season: 12-9, lost in W. Mass. D-I first round
Returners: Dom Traversa, Sr., C; Bobby New, Sr., P/1B; Joe Gratton, Sr., P; Ryan Grande, Sr., P/OF; Kyle Shade, Sr., Util; Kevin Donati, Jr., SS; Chad Shade, Jr., CF; Anthony Jones, Jr., LF/3B; Austin O'Neill, Jr., 3B/DH/2B; Denis Cooney, Jr., P/1B/OF; Shane Tierney, So., 2B; Sam Fick, So., 3B/P/1B; Simon Nassif, So., C/OF.
The Generals bring back a lot of experience in the junior and senior classes, which Moynihan says is a good mix.
"We've got five seniors; four of them have been around for at least two years, and a couple have been around since their freshman year," Moynihan said. "Kevin [Donati] has started since his freshman year. We've got some experience. There are a few holes to fill here and there; up the middle, we're fairly experienced, and that's a nice thing."
There's no set No. 1, 2 or 3 starting pitcher, but Moynihan has three seniors -- Gratton, Grande and New -- that he likes as those starters on the hill.
"All three of them can be very good on any given day," the coach said. "As long as they can throw the ball over the plate and throw strikes, they can be very successful."
Coach: Dennis Murphy, second year
Last season: 16-7, lost in W. Mass. D-III semifinal
Returners: Pat Latini, Sr., P/SS/3B; Devon Johnston, Sr., P/1B; Brendan Wincek, Sr., 1B/DH; Jordan Kinnas, Jr., P; Matt Tobin, Jr., CF/SS; Paul Bullock, Jr., P/3B; Nate Stump, Jr., C; Brandon Peaslee, Fr., IF.
Murphy said the current crop of seniors and juniors, who replace a veteran group (Jon Bianchi, Zach Neary, Mike Carpenter, Kyle Gregory, Joe Bongini, etc.) that helped the Crusaders to last year's sectional semifinal round, will be interesting to watch in 2014.
"Last year, we had a bunch of guys who really had a chance to come out of their shells, guys who hadn't played a lot," the coach said. "Now we've got to replace those guys. ... We're replacing [them] with some up-and-comers."
Johnston, Latini and Kinnas are expected to be St. Joe's three-man starting pitching rotation, with Bullock, Peaslee, Tobin, and freshmen Jake Coyne and Kyle Crocker coming on in relief. Murphy said Kinnas, a right-hander, has worked through issues coming off surgery last year, and is now healthy.
"Devon Johnston's been around. He's a smart left-handed pitcher," the coach said. "He's played varsity for us since his freshman year. Pat Latini has also played for us since his freshman year. He's a hard thrower; a big, strong right-hander. Jordan Kinnas pitched just a little bit last year. He's really grown."
Offensively, Murphy hopes to see balance throughout the batting order.
"Latini, Stump, Devon Johnston, Peaslee, Kinnas, Tobin ... we're looking forward to having them do some things," he said. "We've got seven or eight guys back from last year, which is good."
Coach: Kevin Stannard, 22nd year
Last season: 16-6, lost in W. Mass. D-I quarterfinals
Returners: Joey Dewey, Sr., P/3B; Steven Witkowski, Sr., P/3B; Alex Carusotto, Sr., 2B/P; Mitch Clary, Sr., OF; Kevin Squires, Jr., C; Josh Berthiaume, Jr., 1B; Andrew Winston, Sr., LF.
Like every other team in Berkshire County, the Braves are dealing with an early-season cold snap -- both in the weather and in the batting order.
"Once the weather warms up a little bit, I think we'll be fine," Stannard said.
What Taconic has that some others don't have, though, is pitching depth. Stannard has a four-man rotation to start the season -- Dewey, Witkowski, Carusotto and freshman Jake McNeice.
"In Berkshire County and out east, the weather plays havoc," Stannard said. "If you don't have enough arms and you get backed up a little bit, you're hurting."
McNeice is one of four freshmen on the varsity roster, and one of two who will see regular playing time. Izaiya Mestre is the likely starter at shortstop for the Braves.
"He's got a little chip on his shoulder, and his strength is definitely his fielding," Stannard said of Mestre. "We wouldn't put him in that position if he didn't have a good arm."
Coach: Jared Shannon, third year
Last season: 3-16
Returners: Ethan Wells, Sr., SS; Eli Pease, Sr., CF; Pat Jamross, Sr., 3B
Defensively, the Warriors' strength and stability is up the middle -- what you want in baseball, of course.
But Shannon believes the real strength comes from the catcher position. Sophomore Matt Schneider filled in due to a number of injured players last year, starting 16 games. Now he's the No. 1 option as backstop.
"He's going to have to embrace more of a leadership role, which was hard as a freshman," Shannon said. "I think the catching position is the heart of your defense. The guy behind the plate sees everything. He did a good job of that last year in a very difficult situation, and I think he's very comfortable in that situation."
Marco Anastasio will catch when Schneider pitches. Schneider is one of a three-man starting rotation that includes Kyle Kirchner and Collin Parrott -- who is also the starting second baseman.
No one is designated as a No. 1 starter, though, and Shannon thinks Wahconah's strongest pitches may come from the bullpen, when either Wells, Anastasio or Pease comes on in relief.
The mystery so far, mostly due to a lack of cage time due to the weather, is hitting.
"Everybody's in the same boat. Nobody's seen a lot of live pitching," the coach said. "I think there are going to be a decent number of guys who were swinging the bats in the winter."