It was a memorable baseball season for so many reasons. There were dominant pitching performances, unforgettable extra-inning affairs, impressive offensive displays.
The lasting images were the elite right-handers – Mariel Checo of Norman Thomas and Sal Lisanti of Fordham Prep, each leading their respective teams to city titles. It was the first for Thomas and first for Fordham Prep, since 1992.
Thomas vanquished the city’s establish powers to reach the pinnacle of the PSAL – beating GW three of the four times the two rivals met, first in the final of the GW Holiday Baseball Tournament and twice more in thrilling regular-season tilts, one a nine-inning classic. Then, they disposed of Monroe in the final, coming from two runs behind.
Madison, led by a young core and effective pitching staff, got back to the semifinals the year after graduating virtually its entire team, and John F. Kennedy made the final four as well in a surprisingly consistent season for the Knights.
The CHSAA races heated up in May with three of the four regular season division titles decided in the final week. The tightest and most hotly contested race was on Staten Island where Monsignor Farrell, St. Peter’s and St. Joseph by the Sea were neck and neck throughout the season.
Things got even more interesting in the postseason where sixth-seeded Fordham Prep, which rode the arm of Sal Lisanti and the deepest pitching staff in the league, fought off elimination seven times to capture the title for the first time since 1992.
All-City Player Of The Year
P Mariel Checo, Norman Thomas: He came to America two years ago from Santiago, Dominican Republic with big dreams, but no idea what was in store. He was a third baseman then, not the fire-balling right-hander he is today.
Soon after he settled in to his new life in Harlem, he became a pitcher, and found his way to Norman Thomas. Two dominant seasons later, he was a city champion, was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 41st round of the MLB Amateur Draft and is the FiveBoroSports.com’s Baseball Player of the Year.
His senior season was phenomenal. Checo went 9-0 with 109 strikeouts in 59 innings pitched. He was scheduled to throw in an invite-only showcase at the new Yankee Stadium the day after the semifinal matchup with John F. Kennedy, but he put his team ahead of his future, tossing a two-hit, complete-game shutout as Norman Thomas advanced to the final. When he was drafted by the Yankees, he was taking pictures with the school’s faculty when the school bell rang. He raced out of the door – Checo had an English test to take.
In the PSAL Class A city championship game against perennial powerhouse Monroe, he was tagged for two runs on three hits, three of the hardest hit balls he’d allowed all year, in the opening frame. Checo shrugged it off, throwing six shutout innings that enabled the Tigers to rally for a thrilling 5-2 victyory. He finished with 14 strikeouts and retired 17 of 18 Eagles at one point to lead the Tigers to the school’s first crown.
Coach Of The Year
Nerva Jean Pierre, Norman Thomas: There was plenty of talent at Norman Thomas, a dominant pitching rotation, a lethal lineup and even a hoard of backups that could fill in at any moment.
Yet, there was also Jean Pierre, who would become the first African-American coach to win a PSAL Class A crown, egging them on, yelling and screaming, making it virtually impossible for the Tigers to take even one inning lightly.
The Tigers trailed perennial power Monroe, 2-0, after one inning at the new Yankee Stadium.
Norman Thomas had come too far to be turned away. Jean Pierre wouldn’t let them die. He has turned some off with his over-the-top ways, his habit of barking at the opposition or the umpires. He has even called himself nuts on occasion, completing a remarkable 23-0 campaign.
Jean Pierre has to at least get some of the credit for developing this team, taking youngsters like Jose Rodriguez, Miguel Reyes, Alberto Morales and Gonzalez, and turning them into high-level ballplayers. There was how well he brought along sophomore Jariel (Jake the Snake) Cedeno, a sophomore who pitched beyond his years, beating George Washington to clinch the Manhattan A East regular-season crown, the first outright division title for Jean Pierre.
His personality was perfect for this team. He made believers out of them, and than they did the same for the rest of the city. Five years after leaving Tilden to take over at Norman Thomas, he brought the Manhattan school to the top.
All-City First Team
SS Mike Antonio, George Washington: Smooth at shortstop, armed with a plus arm and one of elite hitters, for average and power, around, Antonio, in our esteemed opinion, is the early favorite for Player of the Year honors next spring. Highly competitive yet friendly and warm, he is a born leader, willing to accept the responsibility that goes along with such an honor. In fine academic standing, there’s no doubt Antonio, who .565 with 26 RBIs, 26 runs scored and two home runs and 14 stolen bases this season, will hold a scholarship to a major Division I program soon; he may be drafted high enough next June to go pro immediately.
P Jonathan Bobea, Francis Lewis: Bobea’s emergence has been nothing short of remarkable, from a little known skinny sophomore to hands down one of the top five pitchers in the city. His velocity has consistently improved, along with his command and pitching IQ. He is blessed with high-end stuff – a blistering high 80’s fastball and improving breaking ball – but Bobea also thinks the game, relying on three different speeds on his fastball. His numbers were straight out of a video game – 6-1 with a 0.33 ERA, 108 strikeouts, 16 hits, 11 walks and three earned runs in 49 1/3 innings pitched and one save. “The cat’s out of the bag,” Francis Lewis coach Ian Millman said after Bobea threw a two-hit gem in a 3-1, opening-round playoff win over Bronx power DeWitt Clinton
P Tommy Cardona, Mount St. Michael: The hard-throwing right-hander didn’t have the best record – he was 4-4 – but he had a 2.70 ERA, 70 strikeouts and a 3.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The New York Tech-bound senior also batted cleanup for the Mount, playing first base when not on the mound, and hit close to .300.
SS/P JJ Franco, Poly Prep: Forget the last name and who his father is, Franco is carving out his own niche in the local baseball community. One of the best leadoff men in the five boroughs and the Poly Prep ace, he guided the Blue Devils to their third straight Ivy League regular-season title. He also pitched them into the NYSAISAA final, tossing a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 semifinal victory over Rye Country Day School.
2B/P Henry Cartagena, James Monroe: It’s a shame Cartagena didn’t have the ball in his right hand when the PSAL Class A city final was determined. Chances are, the result would’ve been different, not a 5-2 loss to Norman Thomas. He was Monroe’s ace in the hole – he closed out three of Eagles four playoff wins and also was 4-1 with a 1.40 ERA during the regular season. Then, there was his contributions at second base and in the third spot in the batting order, where he drove in 21 runs, scored 19 times and even stole nine bases.
P Kasceim Graham, Bishop Ford: A versatile athletic senior, Graham has tremendous upside as a pitcher and he’s not too shabby in the outfield, either. The hard-throwing senior right-hander was 3-6 with a 2.25 ERA, striking out 68 in 56 innings, tossing a complete-game two-hitter against Xaverian. At the plate, the Albany-bound Graham batted .299 with a team-high eight doubles. He also had 10 RBIs, 20 runs scored and stole nine bases.
P/1B Anthony Hajjar, Xaverian: The Fairfield-bound senior right-hander did a bit of everything for Xaverian – and he did it well. Hajjar was the Clippers’ ace, going 6-0 and tossing gem after gem in the regular season and the playoffs. At the plate, the No. 3 hitter was the Clippers’ best hitter, batting .485 with 2 home runs.
P Sal Lisanti, Fordham Prep: The Bryant-bound hurler was tough to beat during the regular season, going 6-1 with a 1.91 earned run average. But in the post-season, the senior right-hander was dominant, tossing a pair of complete-game shutouts, including a three-hit gem in a 1-0 win against Monsignor Farrell in the semifinal round. He also saved two other playoff games.
P Nick Pavia, St. Joseph by the Sea: The junior right-hander, who has drawn interest from St. John’s, went 6-3 with a 1.22 ERA. He also hit .372 with eight RBIs. But Pavia forged his reputations as a big-game pitcher in the postseason, where he tossed a pair of complete-game shutouts. He was named the most outstanding pitcher by the Staten Island Baseball Oldtimers committee.
SS John Ziznewski, St. Peter’s: The senior shortstop led Staten Island numerous offensive categories and batted .429 during the regular season. He went on a tear in the postseason, driving in seven runs and went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs scored in a 9-1 win against Cardinal Hayes in an elimination game. Ziznewski drew interest from Division I schools, including Monmouth and LIU, but he didn’t have the qualifying grade and he will attend Rockland Community College next season.
All-City Second Team
P Nolan Becker, Stuyvesant: There was the perfect game he threw in a 10-0 win over Manhattan Bridges. All the other times the Yale-bound Becker was brilliant with nothing to show for it. The games he won with his bat, hitting .321 with 19 RBIs. He became the first Stuyvesant baseball player to earn Wingate award. Basically, there was little the big lefty didn’t do for the Hitmen.
P Michael Corona, Health Professions: So Corona pitched in the ‘B’ division? He would’ve been top 10 in the ‘A,’ probably higher. Corona’s season was flat-out memorable, from his absurd statistics – the 6-foot-2 Brooklyn resident struck out 152 opposing batters in 69 innings pitched, tossed four shutouts and allowed 21 hits – to the leadership he showed in guiding the Vipers to their first-ever city title.
P Frank DiMaria, McClancy: On an overachieving McClancy team, the senior right-hander was 6-1 with a 1.60 earned run average, striking out 66 in 55 innings. DiMaria’s final outing was arguably his best, striking out seven in a complete-game two-hitter against Salesian in the CHSAA Class A intersectional first round. He will play at SUNY Old Westbury next year.
3B Robbie Duran, Xaverian: After winning a city title in 2008 as a junior, Duran batted cleanup was a big reason why the Clippers captured the Brooklyn/Queens ‘A’ division title and was the top-seeded team in the CHSAA Class A intersectional playoffs. The senior third baseman will play for powerhouse Miami-Dade College in Florida next season.
C Sammy Dominguez, John F. Kennedy: He grew up this spring, developing into a team leader and learning to be patient and now allow pitchers to get him out with their pitch. Dominguez also became Coach Al Torres’ lights-out closer, using that big arm on the mound. He still led one of the city’s best lineups, hitting 451 with 24 RBIs, three home runs and 20 runs scored. Remarkably, he has a year left.
C Jason Galeano, Telecommunications: Galeano sticks out on this list for his age – he is only a sophomore. He deserved the nod nevertheless – stack him with any other backstop in the city. He belongs. From his ability to handle a pitching staff, to throwing out runners, to serving as the linchpin to one of the more potent batting lineups in the city. He hit .484 with 24 RBIs, 27 runs scored and added six doubles for good measure.
C Joseph Gerena, James Monroe: Talk about coming of age. Last year, Gerena could barely get off the bench, a seldom-used backup and pinch-hitter. At coach Mike Turo’s request, he improved defensively, to the point where he earned the starting job behind the plate outright. His offense obviously wasn’t a problem – Gerena took over the cleanup spot in the Monroe lineup early in the year and never relinquished the spot. He was fifth in the city with 25 regular-season RBIs, bashed 3 home runs and hit .468.
P Eddie Lenahan, Madison: Lenahan makes up for his lack of velocity with control, poise and guile, not to mention the ability to throw any of his three pitches – fastball, curveball, changeup – at any time in the count, often working backwards. Oh, and he’s a winner. Among his many conquests were complete-game victories over Telecommunications and Tottenville, and a brilliant effort in a season-ending loss to Monroe. He went 7-2 with a 0.54 ERA this spring.
C Jesus Jaile, Fordham Prep: The senior catcher was the heart and soul of Fordham Prep’s championship team, leading the Rams in most offensive categories while batting in the middle of the order. The New Jersey Institute of Technology-bound Jaile stepped his game up in the postseason, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs, three walks and reached on an error in eight at-bats in a pair of championship round wins against Stepinac.
1B Matt Salvatore, St. Peter’s: The senior first baseman, who batted cleanup for St. Peter’s, led the CHSAA Staten Island ‘A’ division with a .455 batting average and finished second behind teammate Ziznewski with 20 hits and nine RBIs. He will play at Queens College next year.
P Rich Anderson, Tottenville; P John Cosgrove, Xavier; P Ricky Eusebio, St. Raymond’s; SS Elddy Fernandez, Telecommunications; P Jordan Frair, Rice; 2B Alex Maldonado, Xaverian; P Louis Mastrandrea, Bishop Ford; SS Melvin Mercedes, DeWitt Clinton; RF Alex Middlemiss, St. Francis Prep; SS Alberto Morales, Norman Thomas; P Mike Rafaniello, Farrell; P Phillip Seay, Berkeley Carroll; P Nick Thomas, Regis; CF Chris Vasquez, Newtown; 3B/1B/P Sal Villani, McKee/Staten Island Tech .