GROTON — Spring is in the air, along with the cheer of warmer weather. For the senior-laden Groton-Dunstable baseball team this could be a special spring.
The district qualifying squad returns seven skilled seniors, and a crop of young talent that has everyone in the program excited, especially fifth year coach Matt LeBlanc.
“This group can make a run at the Central Mass. title,” he said.
It all starts with senior leadership and Marco diGrazia returns as the catcher, his third year as a starter.
“Marco has consistently gotten better since he was a sophomore, and he takes tremendous pride in doing his job well,” said LeBlanc. “He is primed for a breakout year.”
Groton-Dunstable has no shortage of senior pitchers as quiet leader Travis Shaw enters the season as the staff’s ace.
“Travis is the ace, he had the most innings last year, and has really been effective since his sophomore year,” said LeBlanc. “Right now he is still playing with a torn ACL, which shows how tough he is. He is a quiet leader, and always understands what the team needs and does it.”
Two other seniors will see innings from the mound as well – middle infielder/pitcher Brandon Wilkinson, and outfielder Mike Fotino.
“Brandon is a middle infielder, who pitches as well, and he has looked good in the bullpen so far,” said LeBlanc. “He has picture perfect mechanics and a fluid motion. Mike is primarily an outfielder, who will get to pitch a lot more this year. He has an absolute cannon for an arm, and is very versatile. He is hard working, and is in tremendous shape from his Marines training.”
Three other seniors plan to leave their mark on Crusader baseball as well, as outfielder Zack Wilson, first basemen Kyle Dzwonek, and middle infielder Dano Ierardi, round out the solid core of seniors.
“Zack works hard, is a great kid, and is extremely fast,” said LeBlanc. “He will swipe some bases for us this year. Kyle is our probable starter at first base. He is strong, hits the ball with power and is in good shape from his Marines training. Dano is a front runner for a middle infield spot. He has strong fielding skills and he can hit near the top of the lineup.”
The junior class has some strong players too, featuring catcher Steve Fotino, third basemen John Dennome and pitcher Brett Sullivan.
“Steve always seems to give you more than what you expect,” said LeBlanc “He is a strong kid, and he caught some innings last year. He has a strong bat, so he will get some time this year. I have a lot of confidence in Brett. He surprised me a bit last year, he saw a lot of innings and was very dependable for us. John started quite a bit last year, he is athletic and fields third base extremely well. He is a contact hitter.”
Juniors Brian Murphy, Paul Calderan, and Zach Hurst will also compete for time this season.
“Brian hits the ball hard to all fields, and plays second, first and outfield,” said LeBlanc. “He is strong and athletic. Paul is an outfielder who is an aggressive hitter and saw time in the outfield last year. Zach stepped up last year as an outfielder, and he will start some games for us this year.”
Talented sophomores also dot the landscape, with several of them will be seeing time at the varsity level.
“John Flanagan is a kid to watch,” said LeBlanc. “He is a catcher who is big and strong and he really swings the bat well. Conor O’Brien is a second basemen, and is a lefty hitter, who hits for contact. Chris Lowney is a pitcher who really impressed us last year. He did well last year in a win versus Fitchburg, and pitched well against North Middlesex. Ryan Sheehan is someone who plays middle infield and can pitch. He has a really good chance to be called upon for both. And sophomore Dougie Smith is a big kid who is making a run this year and may see some innings on the mound.”
Finally, there are two promising freshman who have LeBlanc ecstatic.
“Ryan Vultaggio has looked extremely good in the cages. He is a catcher, but is versatile enough were we could play him in anywhere in the outfield or infield. He is a Ross Julian type. Also freshman Josh Acaba has done well so far.
He is our only lefty pitcher, and he has great potential. He looked good in a live bullpen session, and he is our ace in the hole.”
“We are heavy with seniors, and as they go we go,” said LeBlanc. “This group has been working out for the past eight weeks together, going before school and then working at batting cages in Dracut together. We are well conditioned. My goals are for us to improve every game, win or lose, to represent the school, families and town, and to respect all and fear no one.”