SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ - The Scotch Plains-Fanwood varsity baseball team should be well-equipped to compete in the arms race in Union County this season.
Despite the loss of 12 seniors from last year's 17-10 team, coach Joe Higgins has a team that should still reside in the upper echelon of the county thanks to a talented and uncommonly deep pitching staff and a wealth of team speed up and down the lineup.
The pitching prowess begins--but hardly ends--with junior left-hander Danny Wilkinson (4-3, 1.31 ERA), a varsity pitcher since his freshman season and a verbal commit to Villanova. Wilkinson's stuff alone--a mid-'80s fastball and a sharp curve--make him a chore for any opposing batter, but when combined with an unorthodox and deceptive southpaw delivery, he has days when he's close to unhittable. He struck out 50 batters in 55 innings, allowing only 31 hits.
Senior right-hander Nick McCormack went 4-1 in 23 innings last season; senior right-hander Jake Friedman (0.68 ERA in 10 1/3 innings in 2017) has recovered from arm issues that plagued him earlier in his high school career and seems poised for a big season; and senior righty Matt Kipp is back after serving as the closer, leading the team in saves and posting a 1.55 ERA last season. Wilkinson, McCormack, Friedman and Kipp all turned in outstanding pre-seasons during the course of the Raiders' 5-0 performance in scrimmages.
A significant "re-addition" to the team this season is senior first baseman Anthony DiNizo, who, after batting .294 as a backup catcher on the varsity in 2016, missed all of last spring after undergoing knee surgery. DiNizo's powerful line-drive bat will fit nicely in the middle of the Raiders' batting order, where shortstop Sam Schetelich will also be a key to the offense after hitting the only two home runs that SPF had as a team all spring in 2017.
Although fleet-footed, Gold Glove-caliber center fielder Jake Canavan graduated, the Raiders might actually have more overall team speed this season than last year--when they swiped 74 bags in 79 attempts--with senior flyer Patrick Downey moving from left to center field, junior Jon Ramos (who batted .333 as a soph) set to play either second or third base, and speedsters like senior outfielder Matt Zucker, junior infielder/outfielder Josh Canavan (Jake's brother), junior outfielder Will Gale and sophomore second baseman Dean Kirian all possessed with the kind of speed that can really put pressure on an opposing defense when they're on the bases. Junior Tyler Stines will also see action in the infield at third or second.
Another junior who figures to see time in both the outfield and on the mound is left-handed junior Patrick Cuccurullo, who had a strong pre-season both with the bat and on the mound. Left-handed hitting outfielder Angelo DiNizo, a junior, also sports impressive power to the gaps.
Catching will be handled by juniors Michael Dieu and Eric Refinski and freshman Matt Syvertsen. Junior Patrick Dembiec, currently injured, is projected to return later this season to add depth at first base or in the outfield. Wilkinson, a power bat from the left side, could also DH or play first base.
The pitching staff's depth is evidenced by the likes of Cuccurullo, senior lefty Derek Cappadoccia, junior right-handers Tom Laucik, Miles Owens, Charles Widder and Nick Merkel and senior righty Erik Kaufman, all of whom could help SPF match its glistening team ERA of 2.19.