Youth will be served on area teams
By TERRY JONES
Baseball teams at north Tampa's six high schools enter the 2002 season with plenty of youth but just as much talent.
While no program looked clearly dominant in preseason, almost every team -- perhaps even first-year Alonso -- should be competitive. Sickles, Gaither and Wharton appear likely to have solid runs.
WHARTON: The Wildcats graduated the majority of its 2001 team, which finished 15-8 and was the district runner-up. But they return three starters and should benefit from a pair of Boggses.
One of professional baseball's best hitters, Wade Boggs, has joined coach Ron Brown's staff. The future Hall-of-Famer is helping out in all areas, Brown said.
Boggs' son Brett parlayed a stellar performance in Legion ball to a starting spot in Wharton's lineup, though he's only a freshman. Brett Boggs will lead off and play leftfield.
Second baseman Nick Cardieri and third baseman Matt Young add infield strength. "Our hitting game still remains to be seen, but we have a lot of new starters," Brown said. "Right now we need some games behind us to start jelling as a team."
GAITHER: The Cowboys return several players from a 2001 squad that went 21-9 and reached the regional semifinals. As usual, Gaither will face tough district competition, including Venice, Sarasota, Sarasota Riverview and Bloomingdale.
"Last year, coaches voted our district the toughest in the state of Florida," coach Frank Permuy said. "It won't be any easier this year. But we will have a competitive ball club. With (Ray) Reed back, our pitching rotation has a good start and we should be pretty solid defensively."
The Cowboys will count heavily on Reed, who recorded an 8-2 record and 2.74 earned-run average last year.
SICKLES: Despite finishing the 2001 season 13-12, the Gryphons came on strong in the second half. Most of those players return for coach Bob Pagano, who is looking to his experienced pitching rotation to boost his team to the next level.
The Gryphons should be strong on defense, led by first baseman Jason Baroff and leftfielder Ty Taborelli, both juniors. Senior third baseman Chris Pagnieca should be a leader at the plate. "We will rely on strong pitching and tight defense . . . and hopefully our hitting will come around," Pagano said. "We have a lot of experienced seniors and a few good young players coming in to help us right away."
ALONSO: The Ravens should benefit from the leadership of veteran coach Landy Faedo, who came over from neighboring Leto. Faedo has 20 enthusiastic players, several with considerable experience in youth leagues.
"Our pitchers are very young but all have experience with American Legion ball," Faedo said. "Right now we are focusing on solid defensive play and some consistent hitting."
The key, he said, is getting off to a good start, avoiding blowouts even against tough opponents: "We hope to be able to stay in most of our games early and come around to being competitive by the end of the season."
CHAMBERLAIN: The Chiefs return five starters from last year's 10-15 squad but still are fairly young, with only two seniors, eight juniors, nine sophomores and a freshman.
Right-hander Mark Garcia heads the pitching corps. He recorded three wins last year as a freshman in a rotation dominated by seniors. He's joined on the mound by senior Mark Scalise, junior Brad Johnson and sophomore Devon Cason.
At the plate, look for catcher Rocky Rocamora, who hit .325 last year, and third baseman Clay Spivey, who hit .300.
"What we need most right now is time playing together as a team," Chamberlain coach Dick Rohrberg said. "I have high hopes for this team."
LETO: New coach Scott Hoffman, a 1989 Gaither graduate, will be working with a lot of young players following the Falcons' 11-16 campaign in 2001. While the team has only two seniors, a rotation led by three junior right-handers could set the stage for a dominant run.
Sergio Perez, Brian Jordan and Justin Valdes comprise the trio, while Jordan's brother Lamont, a senior rightfielder, should be a leader at the plate.
"We return a lot of untested players, only a few real everyday starters," said Hoffman, an assistant coach the past seven years at Gaither. "We're looking to make some improvements and get some experience."
- Times correspondent Rick Gershman contributed to this report.
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