The Rye Neck baseball season may not officially kick off until March 29, but according to head coach Joe Carlucci, there is plenty of work to do before Opening Day. With a young roster bolstered by returning stars, the Panthers will hope to round into shape by the time they take on Palisades Prep in their season debut.
After going 15-7 and reaching the quarterfinal round of the Class B playoffs last year, Rye Neck brings back just five returners who played a significant role last year, meaning that many of Carlucci’s charges will be getting their first taste of everyday varsity action this spring. The head coach believes that despite the teams inexperience, if his younger players can continue to improve throughout the year, his team will be in a good position come the postseason.
“We’ve got three freshman and two sophomores and that jump from JV to varsity is huge,” Carlucci told the Review. “The game moves a lot faster, they’re not used to seeing as many good breaking-pitches, so it’s our hope that by the end of the year, the younger players will have kept on making adjustments.”
Those newcomers will have to take direction from the team’s veterans, including senior outfielder Colin Kelley and shortstop Brian Scott, whom Carlucci expects to have a major impact on the offense and anchor the middle of the lineup.
“Brian’s our best hitter right now,” he said. “He’s really got a great swing.”
But as is often the case, Carlucci admits that the Panthers’ season may come down to its pitching staff. Although he expects juniors Mike Colsanti and Evan Dunne to shoulder much of the load, the head coach believes that he will need to round out the rotation and bullpen with as many as nine pitchers.
Those pitching plans have suffered an early setback, however, as Dunne—who was tabbed to be the staff’s ace—has suffered some shoulder tightness early in spring training and has yet to begin his throwing program.
“Last year, in the second half of the season, Dunne pitched really well, he really became a polished pitcher,” Carlucci said. “But he hasn’t started throwing, so we don’t know what the timetable is right now.”
Beyond that, Carlucci is just hoping to get a better sense of what the team looks like as the weather improves and his team is able to take more reps on the field. As of March 19, the Panthers have only been able to get on the diamond twice, something that has impacted much of the preseason preparation.
“It certainly has pushed things back and forced us to be a little more creative in the gym,” Carlucci said. “But from what I’ve seen in our two scrimmages, we’ve been running the bases well; we’re going to be determined to steal bases, hit and run and execute squeeze plays, so our guys are just going to have to be able to do that.”