GROTON — As the old adage goes: ‘experience breeds confidence.
The Groton-Dunstable Crusaders have a lot of it as they head into the 2016 campaign with all of its starting lineup from a year ago still intact.
Ask any baseball coach where building a winning team begins and nine times out of 10: they will say pitching. Lucky for LeBlanc, he has his two top pitchers back for another go-around in Joe Simeone and Justin Watt.
“Having your two best pitchers back helps out a lot,” 11th year head coach Matt LeBlanc said. “On the same token, having Jacob Barnes back at catcher is huge. Last year, he was voted as captain. To have someone like that captain your team two years in a row is awesome. I can’t wait for the season to get going.”
Groton-Dunstable adds a pair of non league games against Dual Valley League runner-up Nipmuc, who was 16-5 last season and Gardner (12-9) out of the Mid Wach C.
Simeone has impressed in the early going with the way his pitching and hitting have developed over the off season. Watt is a menacing 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior who has the ability to take over a game and pound the strike zone.
“Watt has a high strike percentage and is good at holding runners on,” LeBlanc said. “He is really good at keeping hitters off balance. I would not really call Justin a power-pitcher, but he can bring it. His fastball was in the low 80s last year and I would imagine he added a couple more this year. He has a good curve ball — and if his changeup is on, he is tough to beat.”
When Simeone is not on the mound he will see time in the outfield. Simeone, Barnes, Watt and Kyle Priest are all returning Mid Wach B all-stars. Watt also garnered Lowell Sun all-star honors.
Rounding out the returning seniors are: three-sport athlete Patrick Keating (1B/3B), Priest (SS,P), Aidan Ward (4-year varsity, OF) and Chris Werner.
On the junior side: Chris Lattini (2B), Simeone (P/OF), Gavin Keough (CF,SS,3B), Matt Naughton (OF), Ben Strauss and lefty Ethan Cook (OF).
“Keough is a vacuum out there in centerfield,” LeBlanc said. “He can cover a lot of ground when he gets going. He is a great athlete.
Naughton will likely see the bulk of the innings in the left field.”
The sophomore class is highlighted by Brendan Cronin (Catcher) and Wiley Ordemann (utility infielder and pitcher). Junior Connor Mulligan (1B/3B) brings a power bat and will be pushing for innings with speedy sophomore Shamus Gelinas.
Groton-Dunstable missed out on clinching the Mid Wach B title by one game last season.
All the Crusaders needed to do was earn a split with Nashoba Regional.
Sounds easy enough, right?
“We just couldn’t put them away,” LeBlanc said. “We had a good run in the league and a good winning percentage overall. I would have liked to see that team win a game in the districts and get that bye. It is not the same as getting that W. We played a good team in Auburn. I guess our goal going forward is to not only make districts, but win a Central Mass title.”
Groton-Dunstable travels to Falmouth this weekend for its annual Cape Cod slate of scrimmages before facing Mid Wach B rival North Middlesex on the road Monday at 4 p.m.
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout:@EdNiser