GROTON — When asked about his team’s goal this season, new Groton-Dunstable baseball coach Matt LeBlanc gets to the point quickly.
”We want to earn respect,” said LeBlanc. “It would be nice to make the Districts this year and obviously that is a team goal, but you can’t do it just one year. We want to build this program into a perennial contender and the first thing we have to do is gain the respect of other teams. If we earn respect, it means we are doing things right and that will lead to winning, which will lead to playing in the post-season.”
Leading the charge in the Crusaders’ march towards respect will be a solid core of senior captains. Vince Lehman, Doug Starbird, Frank DiMaria and Jim Moniz will be called upon to provide not just solid play but leadership.
"Vince is a complete player," said LeBlanc. "As a pitcher, he is our ace and has good command and is consistent. He has a fastball that reaches the mid to upper 80’s, plus a solid change-up and curveball. Offensively, he will bat third in our line-up and provides a great mix of power and average. When he is isn’t pitching, Vince will see time at a lot of different positions and will always be in the line-up.
”Doug will start in centerfield and will hit lead-off,” said LeBlanc. “His best attributes are his overall speed, range and his arm. We want to be aggressive on the bases and he will be a big part of that. He is working on getting on base more so we can manufacture some runs. He will drop a lot of bunts to get on base and will have a green light to steal.
”Frank is our vocal leader,” said LeBlanc. “He will start at third base, but he will also see time at first and on the mound. Offensively, he does the little things well can could hit either second, eighth or ninth. He is a finesse pitcher who keeps the ball around the plate and will see time as a middle reliever and spot starter.
”Our captains are strong and what they bring to the team is invaluable,” said LeBlanc. “Importantly, they lead by example on and off the field and have the ear of their teammates.”
Senior Steven Roundtree will start at first base.
”Steven is a strong defensive play who keeps everything in front of him,” said LeBlanc. “He is extremely smart and is a hard worker. Right now, we are working on getting him to be a little more consistent at the plate.”
Two other seniors will contribute in different ways this season. Mike Fei and Danny White will both see valuable time as the season goes on.
”Mike will pitch some and also play some third base,” said LeBlanc. “I see him as a middle reliever who has good control and a really improved slider. Danny will be a back-up at catcher, first and the outfield. He has a great attitude and positive outlook. Danny is a total team player who does whatever it takes to help.”
Behind the plate, junior Rick Fotino will see the bulk of the playing time.
”Rick has great defensive skills, including a strong arm and his experience with this staff is invaluable,” said LeBlanc. “At the plate, Rick will probably be in the bottom third of the order, but he has some pop.”
Junior Greg Cocchiolla will find himself in a lot of different spots this season.
”Greg really doesn’t have a set position, but I see him getting time at the corner outfield slots, plus he can play any infield position or pitch a couple of innings. He works hard and his hitting is improving every day.”
A trio of sophomores will be counted upon heavily for Groton-Dunstable as Chris Snell, Steve Carroll and Dan Powell will all be major contributors this season.
”Chris is slotted in as our second starting pitcher,” said LeBlanc. “He is a right-hander with solid velocity and is working on a change-up. He has solid mechanics and a smooth delivery, and is mentally tough. Offensively, he can hit for average and is solid on the bases.
”Steve will mainly be in right while seeing time at first as well as chipping in on the mound,” said LeBlanc. “At the plate, he has a solid stroke from the left side and is line drive hitter with surprising power. He is fast, has solid range and a strong arm. On the hill, we will bring him along slowly with spot innings early, but his role could increase as the season goes along.
”Dan is a great natural athlete who will see time in the outfield, at third and as a pitcher,” said LeBlanc. “His range is impressive to go along with a good arm. Offensively, he is a contact hitter who uses all fields and has strong plate coverage.”
Depending on the day, six players could find themselves on the varsity roster. Junior Dan Callahan, sophomores Andy Collentro, C.J. Rourke, Ian Roundtree and Will Hayden along with freshman Andrew Dhionis will also shuttle between junior varsity and varsity throughout the season.
”They all will most like see varsity time,” said LeBlanc. “They all bring something different to the team.”
What are the Crusaders’ strengths?
”We have solid team speed and great leadership,” said LeBlanc. “But the key might be our pitching depth. About three-fourths of this roster can contribute on the mound which will come in very handy as the season moves along.
”The major thing we need to work on is developing a consistent approach at the plate,” said LeBlanc. “We are stressing patience and solid contact, and we need the kids to get in the mindset of getting on base.
”We are moving from a very strong league in MidWach C to another strong league in MidWach B,” said LeBlanc. “The teams are all strong and we can’t worry about who we are playing. We just have to take it one game at a time and do the things we have control over.”