The College Sports Notebook is compiled by veteran sports writer and columnist Marc Maturo, a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). The notebook will be published every Thursday. Please send items of interest to [email protected].

On the diamond, Spartans have a reason to believe

Nikki Saponaro of Nanuet and RCC

Whether it be at the friendly confines of their Spartan Gym in Sparkill, or on the indoor turf field at the Torne Valley Sports Complex in Hillburn, the St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team is already in the swing under the tutelage of veteran skipper and former pro Scott Muscat of West Haverstraw.

Muscat, entering his 13th season as the skipper and the program’s 10th as an NCAA Division II representative, pulls no punches in assessing his expectations for the defending East Coast Conference champions, who went 34-18 overall and 18-6 in the ECC.

“My first expectation is to repeat as the regular-season champion, that’s my first expectation,” Muscat said. “My second expectation is to win the conference tournament and secure a bid to the East Regional; we’ve never done that.”

To that end, Muscat has a core group of outstanding performers to rely upon, including last year’s ECC player of the year Frank Salerno, and last year’s Triple Crown winner Mike Russo of Boca Raton, Fla., who hit .381 with 44 RBI and six home runs.

Salerno, the Spartans’ leadoff hitter, co-captain and legitimate pro prospect, hails from New City and is a graduate of Clarkstown South HS, where he played with senior teammate Joe DePool, a converted outfielder.

DePool was the team’s and the conference’s saves leader last season, preserving eight wins.

“This year we’re giving him an opportunity to be a starter,” notes Muscat, who said DePool’s arm is exceptional.

“He’s a tremendous athlete and one of the fastest guys on the team,” Muscat continued. “Our eyes lit up when we saw his arm as an outfielder, and we felt he can use that on the mound.”

Replacing DePool in the closer’s role will be CJ Ferriggi, a transfer from Nassau Community College.

“He’s a hard-throwing right-hander with good control. He throws strikes, and knows how to pitch. He’ll also be a DH (designated hitter),” Muscat said.

Salerno, who set a STAC stolen-base record (40) in leading the conference last season, is a 5-foot-9, 180-pound shortstop – compact and powerful.

“He’s low in build, not tall and lanky like a Derek Jeter, but he’s a very powerful, explosive player,” Muscat said. “He has the green light (to run); he’s smart enough to know the situation. He’s got range, and a great arm. He’s got pro tools; he can play at that level. If you can play pro baseball it doesn’t matter if you come from STAC or Arizona. If a scout is doing his job, he’ll pluck anyone from anywhere. I’ve already been contacted by three or four scouts.”

Salerno was all-conference as a sophomore, followed that up with player of the year as a junior, and last summer led the New York Collegiate Baseball League with a .400 average (the NYCBL is considering on par with the well-regarded Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League).

Other core players include co-captain Nicholas Barbalato of Mahopac, a left-handed hitting center fielder who will bat second in the lineup; and sophomore third baseman Stanley Susana, who won ECC rookie of the year laurels coming out of Cardinal Hayes HS in the Bronx. Susana, who made most of his noise as a hitter and is still sharpening his defense, will bat third.

“Susana could be conference player of the year as a sophomore; he’s that good,” assesses Muscat.  “If not this year, than next year.”

Russo, the backstop, follows in the tradition of recent graduate George Wargo of West Haverstraw and North Rockland HS, who was a three-time all-conference catcher.

“Russo can be as good behind the plate (as Wargo), and he has already surpassed him as a hitter. When he’s not catching, he’ll be our DH. He will not leave the lineup,” predicts Muscat, adding that Sullivan CC transfer Steve Sunday will be behind the dish when Russo is the DH.

Pitching gems

            In addition to DePool, the Spartans’ pitching staff is blessed with several other high-quality performers, led by the 6-foot-7 southpaw Eric Cooper, a junior from Brooklyn.

“He’s unique at that height, like a Randy Johnson without the dominating fastball. He poses some problems when releasing the ball,” says the manager.

Right-hander Robert Frank, out of St. Joseph’s Regional HS in Montvale, N.J., is another starter and also a junior.

“Unquestionably, undoubtedly, he’s has the best stuff of any pitcher on our staff,” offers Muscat. “He throws 90 mph-plus, and has a devastating curveball. His only issue is control, the same old song and dance. He’s gotta find the plate and when he’s on the mark he can be dominating.”

The Spartans hope to find out more about themselves in competition, and mesh as teammates, on the team’s annual spring training trip to Lake Worth, Fla., for six non-conference games in six days in early March.

“It’s a good time to evaluate and see how guys perform in game situations,” notes Muscat. “We’ll be forming decisions on who will help us when playoff time rolls around.”

Stadium to savor

            St. Thomas Aquinas College may have a small campus, and a small student body, but its baseball program and its stadium, Provident Bank Park in Pomona, are big-time without debate.

“We play in a $40 million stadium, with the home-team locker room and access to the multi-media scoreboard and indoor hitting tunnel,” said Muscat, putting on his recruiter’s cap.

“We play at a high level, with wood bats and a new stadium” the skipper continues. “We may recruit to a small student body, a small campus but we have a big-time baseball atmosphere. What’s not big-time about Provident Bank Park? Many DI schools don’t come near that.”

Pasta dinner

Before the season even gets under way, however, STAC is hosting its annual fund-raising dinner on Feb. 9, with WFAN’s Talking Baseball sports radio host Ed Randall of Larchmont scheduled to be the featured speaker.             The Spartans will be honoring Gerald Oswald Sr., a former minor- leaguer for the Yankees and Cardinals and a scout for the Cardinals during their World Series title runs in 1964 and 1967. Jason Pominski, a former Spartan (2003-’06) currently serving in the U.S. Military, will also be honored. He had a .343 career average, holds the season record for runs (65) and is member of the 200-hit club (215).

For information or to register, visit Pasta Dinner Night Registration.

CHARGERS SURGING: On a day in which Dominican College held its annual Bobby Mulligan Memorial ceremony, the Chargers responded with their 16th win of the season, tripping Chestnut Hill (Pa.) College, 94-86, in a Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) basketball contest played on Coach Baxter Court at the Hennessy Center in Orangeburg.  Prior to the game, junior Johnathan Brown of Central Islip was awarded the Bobby Mulligan Scholarship. Forward Nick Smith of Middletown came off the bench and led all scorers and five Chargers in double figures with a career high 27 points and added nine rebounds. Cory Quimby of Otisville led all rebounders with 11 caroms as the Chargers lifted their mark to 16-3 overall and 10-1 in the conference. Dominican hosts nearby rival Nyack College on Jan. 31 at 8 p.m., and stays home on Feb. 6 to meet Post University, also at 8 p.m.

HAWKS FLYING HIGH: Coach Rich Jacobson has the women’s basketball team at Rockland Community College playing team ball, and the result is a league-leading 12-1 mark in Region XV. The Hawks host Queensboro CC on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. in the front end of a twinbill with the men’s game at the Eugene Levy Field House on campus in Suffern. “Next week we have two tough games, against the No. 2 and No. 3 teams – Sullivan County and Westchester,” Jacobsen said. “Both games are away.” The Sullivan contest is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 7 in Loch Sheldrake, with the game against WCC set for 1 p.m. at the Vikings’ campus in Valhalla on Feb. 9. “It’s a real team effort now, with all our starters averaging close to double digits,” Jacobson noted. The five steady starters are Erica Richards, out of Tappan Zee HS; Melissa Loughhane of Pearl River; Nikki Saponaro of Nanuet; Fiona Pierre of North Rockland; and Katie Sovak of Tuxedo.


SPARTANS GO THE DISTANCE: Coming off two school-record-settings efforts in the distance medley relay at the Terrier Classic in Boston, the St. Thomas Aquinas College track and field teams travel to the New Balance Armory in upper Manhattan on Feb. 1-2 to compete in the Collegiate Challenge. At Boston College, the men’s team of Garvenchy Nicolas of Brooklyn, George Erazo of North Babylon, Mike Kraus of River Vale, N.J., and Joe Chegwidden of Hamburg, N.J., improved the DMR record by nearly 16 seconds and finished 6th overall in the competition in a time of 10:22.92 . Erazo, ranked 20th in the country in Division II in the 400, was named East Coast Conference track athlete of the week. The women’s DMR quartet of Keeley Bateman of Pearl River, Gabriela Sloezen of Westwood, N.J., Rebecca Fortoul of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., and Meagan Jaskot of Blauvelt also hit a school record, beating the previous mark by 25 seconds with a time of 12:39.96 – good for11th overall. Jaskot, an alumna of Tappan Zee HS, had a personal best in the mile with 5:23.87, and Bateman also ran a season best of 2:21.93 in the 800.

IN THE SWIM: Freshman Chris Leary of Suffern, Luke Strothenke of New Paltz, Jack Jakubek of Monroe and Brandon McManus of Pittsford won the 200-yard medley relay in 1:42.78 as Cortland defeated host Oswego, 141-99, in a men’s swimming and diving meet. Cortland, which improved to 10-5, reaching 10 victories in each of the last nine seasons, followed up with a dramatic 149-146 win against Rochester. The Red Dragons will host the University of Rochester on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m., and then take part in the Ithaca Diving Invitational on Feb. 2. … Junior Andrew Shepard of West Nyack turned in two third-place finishes as The College of Mount Saint Vincent men’s swimming team was upended by Old Westbury, 54-32, and Mount Saint Mary, 57-27, in a double-dual meet at Old Westbury. Freshman Brinsley Johnson of New Rochelle picked up two of the Dolphins’ three individual wins on the day. Shepard, an alum of Clarkstown South HS, was third in the 1,000-yard freestyle in a time of 12:40.73 and also placed third in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:32.10. … The SUNY Cortland swimming and diving team hosts Fredonia State on Feb. 9 at 1 p.m. Junior Kelli Dari of Pomona competes in breaststroke for the Red Dragons while senior Molly Kauders of Suffern is a freestyler.

GO ARMY: Fresh off a 4-1 exhibition-game victory over the Canadian Royal Military College at Tate Rink in West Point – the 77th meeting in one of the top international rivalries in all sports — the Army men’s hockey team plays a two-game series against AHA rival Mercyhurst (Pa.) College (11-10-1) in Erie, Pa., on Feb. 1-2. Both games start at 7:05 p.m. The Black Knights (7-12-3) return to Tate Rink on Feb. 8 at 7:05 p.m., hosting American International (5-14-4) for the first of five remaining home games. Freshman forward R.J. Burns of Pearl River has missed several games due to an injury, but may return to the lineup before the end of the regular season (March 2 at Holy Cross).

LEAP TO VICTORY: Cortland posted eight victories, including one by senior Amber Stephens of Stony Point, at the non-team-scoring Cortland Women’s Indoor Track and Field Winter Invitational at Lusk Field House. Stephens, an alumna of North Rockland HS, hit an ECAC Championship qualifying mark in the triple jump with a distance of 36-feet 1½ inches. Cortland will compete at the Ithaca Bomber Invitational Feb. 2-3.

WILSON RED-HOT: Senior guard Taylor Wilson of Pearl River and sophomore center Alyson Caizzo of Brooklyn led the charge as the Manhattanville College women’s basketball team overtook visiting Eastern University of St. David’s, Pa., 73-56, for the Valiants’ second Freedom Conference victory. Wilson, who also had nine rebounds, picked up 22 points, going 4-of-8 from long distance. Caizzo, the leading rebounder in the conference, also scored 22 points while hauling in a game-high 15 caroms. The Valiants (9-9) welcome Wilkes University (10-8) to Kennedy Gym in Purchase on Feb. 2 at 1 p.m., and then travel to Center Valley, Pa., on Feb. 6 to meet DeSales (13-6) at 6 p.m.

ON THE RUN: Freshman Julio Melendez of Valley Cottage turned in a runner-up performance in the 800-meter run with a 2:00.07 clocking as the SUNY Cortland track and field team earned third place at the Colgate University Invitational in Hamilton. Senior Andrew Greenberg of Suffern was sixth (54.26) in the 400-meter dash for the Red Dragons, who will compete at the Ithaca Bomber Invitational Feb. 2-3.

ON THE MATS: Top-seeded sophomore Paul Fields of Clarkstown, who competes at 125 pounds on the SUNY Cortland wrestling team, reached the semifinals before being upended at the Messiah College Open in Grantham, Pa. Fields, a graduate of Clarkstown North, pinned his first opponent, John Archangelo of Elizabethtown, but lost in the penultimate round. Archangelo turned the tables on Fields in the fifth-place consolation bout. Cortland, an impressive 12-2 in dual meets, returns to action at Delaware Valley College (6-1) in Doylestown, Pa., on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m.

PRIVATEERS PREVAIL: The SUNY Maritime hockey team swept to three victories, including two against nationally ranked Southern Connecticut State and Fairfield, to elevate its record to a sparkling 19-2. The Privateers, anchored on defense by senior James McManus of Pearl River, take on local Met Hockey foe Fordham University at the Ice Hutch in Mount Vernon at 10:15 p.m. on Feb. 1. Maritime then meets Columbia in a conference game on Feb. 2 at 9:15 p.m. at Parkwood Ice Rink in Great Neck.

QUICK HITS: Nyack College visits Dominican College in Orangeburg for a basketball twinbill on Jan. 31, with the women’s teams meeting at 6 p.m., followed by the men’s game at 8 p.m. Sophomore guard Khalid Samuels of Mount Vernon leads the Warriors with 16 points and 4.2 assists per game while freshman forward Frank Martin of Miami, Fla., is pulling down 4.6 rebounds per game. For the Nyack women’s team senior guard Khamari Tellis of Chicago is carrying the load, scoring 12.4 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game. … Junior Amanda Connell of Orangeburg, an alumna of Tappan Zee HS, competes in jumping events for the track and field team at the University of Rochester. .. Sophomore Kellyanne Bondulich is a middle distance specialist for the Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds, who will be in South Bend, Ind., on Feb. 1 for the Meyo Invitational. As a freshman Bondulich, an all-county standout at Tappan Zee HS, placed sixth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the MAAC Outdoor Championships. … Kyle Collins of Suffern, a freshman distance hopeful at Fredonia State, is following in the athletic footsteps of his father and mother. Kyle’s dad competed in cross country and track and field at Fredonia while mom competed in basketball at the University of Rhode Island. The Blue Devils compete at the Ithaca Invitational on Feb. 2-3. … Senior KC Jentzen of Pearl River forward scored 10 points and had six rebounds as the women’s basketball team at Dominican College defeated Chestnut Hill (Pa.) College, 57-48, in a CACC contest at the Hennessy Center in Orangeburg. The Lady Chargers, elevating their record to 12-6, were playing in the 12th annual Sue Heller Memorial Game, and honored Nicole Welton of Southbury, Conn., with a scholarship. The Lady Chargers host Nyack College at 6 p.m. on Jan. 31, and stay at home on Feb. 2 for a 1 p.m. contest against Georgian Court University of Lakewood, N.J. … Alaina Walker of Pomona had nine points and five rebounds as the St. Bonaventure University women’s basketball team dropped two games below .500 following a 61-44 loss to Saint Joseph’s at Hagan Arena in Philadelphia. The Bonnies (9-11) look to rebound on the road against Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Feb. 3 and against Duquesne in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Feb. 7.

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