The preparation for the 2009 baseball season for Mark Ycaza began in the sullen Cardinal Hayes locker room at the conclusion of the disappointing 2008 season.

“Last year we were young and immature, we weren’t focused,” the senior shortstop said. “Coming into the year, we saw how the seniors from last year left, how after the last game the locker room was down. We came in and worked hard during the off-season and had a good feeling about starting up the season.”

After a 3-15 record in the CHSAA Class A Bronx-Manhattan division, a season Ycaza called “terrible,” the focus on this year became paramount for Ycaza and the returning Cardinals.

“We worked so hard in the off-season together, everyone was committed to the off-season program,” he said. “We like playing with each other.”

And Curt Scheibe is even more confident as he enters his 27th year as Hayes coach, especially after hanging with perennial PSAL powerhouses Clinton (3-2) and Monroe (6-4), as well as St. Francis Prep (2-1) in pre-season losses. The first true test comes April 13 in a regular-season opener against Mount St. Michael.

“I’m getting a little more optimistic, but I’m not going to jump to conclusions right away,” Scheibe said. “We’re coming along.”

The Cardinals return their top two pitchers from a year ago – ace Nick Santiago, who will also play first base, and Jeff Fernandez. Sophomore left-hander Chris Pena has also been a bright spot in the pre-season.

“He’s going to be good,” Scheibe said. “He gets the ball over the plate, he’s not overpowering and he throws a nice breaking ball.”

Ycaza is a two-year starter at short and there’s a sophomore, Neil Torres, at third base. The all-important pitching and defense seem to be taken care of with the Cardinals.

“Defensively we are looking good,” Scheibe said. “We have to work on our offense a little better.”

Because of its maturity, Scheibe believes his team is talented enough to compete for the division crown, which last year was captured by Regis.

One thing is certain, Ycaza is determined to have a better ending to his high-school career than the seniors did a year ago.

“We don’t want to leave on that same note the seniors from last year left on,” Ycaza said. “The motivation started from there.”


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