NAUGATUCK — As another season of Naugatuck baseball begins, the expectations remain high.
Head coach Tom Deller said the seasons may change, but the Greyhounds’ goals do not. This year’s Naugy team will look to compete.
“The goals this year are the same as they are every year—compete in the NVL and in the states,” Deller said.
The Greyhounds finished the regular season at 12-8 last year and lost in the first round of the state tournament to Windsor. This year’s team features a lot of pitching and a lot of potential at the plate.
The pitching staff is led by senior Matt Zahornasky, who was 6-1 last season with a 1.66 ERA in 46 innings. Zahornasky earned All-NVL status last season and high praise from his coach.
“Matt is one of the top five pitchers in the league,” Deller said.
Brian Dowling, another senior, will be a key to success for the Greyhounds. Dowling saw limited varsity action (one win, five innings pitched) on the mound in 2010, but will be asked to contribute more this year.
“We’re counting on him,” Deller said of Dowling. “If he can win five or six games we’ll be in good shape.”
After Zahornasky and Dowling, Deller said there are at least four other pitchers—Adam Neveski, Mike Burns, Seth Mulhall and Rich Pimental—who could see considerable innings. Deller did not rule out some pitchers tossing a few innings in JV to build arm strength.
“We have a solid corps of pitchers who could see varsity time and help us,” Deller said.
Deller said the team’s biggest question marks may come at the plate. In recent seasons, the ‘Hounds have struggled to score runs.
The desire to score runs may outweigh putting players in their natural playing positions.
“If you can hit, you’re going to find yourself in the field,” Deller said.
For example, senior Arber Mehmedi, the team’s returning catcher and hitter, may move to second base to allow another player to get into the lineup and contribute at the plate.
Mehmedi, who hit .313 last season, has proven to be the consummate teammate, according to Deller.
“Arber has the ability to (move to second) and is willing to do it,” Deller said. “That says how valuable he is.”
Neveski, who may be the team’s first baseman, could be a contributor on the mound and at the plate. Deller said he’s the most improved player he has seen.
While the team doesn’t have many hitters with a proven track record at the varsity level, Deller is optimistic. Recent practices have involved more hitting against live pitching and not batting practice tosses from 20 feet away.
“We don’t have a whole lot coming back, but we have a lot of potential,” Deller said.
Junior Ryan White returns with a .308 average from last season, while junior Zack Mercer showed signs of being a good hitter as a designated hitter last year. Deller said he expects senior Erich Broadrick to see time in the infield, perhaps at shortstop.
The only position player to lock down a specific spot in the field is Nolan Kinne, who will be the team’s center fielder. Kinne impressed Deller during a recent practice after chasing down a long fly ball.
While there are questions regarding positions and lineup order, there’s no doubt that Deller believes the Greyhounds can be in the NVL mix.
“There’s a lot of parity,” Deller said. “There’s no reason why we can’t compete at the top of the NVL.”