Greenwich High baseball searching for another deep postseason run

Greenwich High School pitcher JT Hintzen fires the ball to the plate during Monday's scrimmage against Westhill High School. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School pitcher JT Hintzen fires the ball to the plate during Monday’s scrimmage against Westhill High School. — John Ferris Robben photo

While the roster says that there’s a new head coach for the Greenwich High School baseball team, Phil Tarantino’s familiar face with the program makes things feel like it’s business as usual.

In addition to the familiarity, Tarantino is also bringing the same familiar expectations that the baseball program has come to expect.

Last season, the Cardinals finished 20-5 overall. They advanced to the FCIAC semifinal game and smashed Cheshire 9-2 and beat Conard 4-2, but ended its season with a 6-0 loss to Amity in the CIAC class LL quarterfinals.

The loss in the class LL tournament also was the last game that longtime coach Mike Mora would lead the team, as he stepped down after 13 highly-successful seasons.

Luckily for Greenwich, Big Red didn’t have to look far to find their new coach, as Tarantino, a 1993 graduate of Greenwich High School, has been one of the team’s assistant coaches on the varsity level and the junior varsity head coach.

“I’m very excited to be the coach of the team,” Tarantino said. “I played for this team in the early 1990’s and I’m a town resident. So coming back and helping out with coach Mora for the past nine years and having the opportunity to take the program over is exciting. I couldn’t be happier for the opportunity. The group of kids that are coming back are terrific. I am very comfortable with them and it’s a perfect fit.”

Greenwich High School will be swinging for the fences this spring baseball season. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School will be swinging for the fences this spring baseball season. — John Ferris Robben photo

And there’s no time like the present to start with the high goals. Tarantino believes that the Cardinals are capable of competing for both an FCIAC and CIAC class LL championship this year. However, the coach said that Greenwich still has room to improve.

“We are a long way away from that at this point in time,” Tarantino said. “I am not concerned about our record. We have to be playing well at that time. All you have to do is make the tournament. I really don’t think it matters what seed you are. Baseball seems to be different than all the other sports when it comes to seeding. If we could piece the little things together in the next month and a half, we have a shot at the championships.”

The Cardinals will be led this year by senior captains Jonathan Dreher, JT Hintzen and Kyle Dunster, who all have had a plethora of experience and success already with the Cardinals.

“Kyle is arguably the best player in the league and JT is right there with Kyle as a pitcher,” Tarantino said. “JT will also have an opportunity to bat in the lineup. Jonathan is a catcher and has done a wonderful job behind the plate. They are all great leaders and will do a great job as captains.”

Dunster is going to be leading the Big Red pitching staff and has already committed to playing baseball next year for Boston College.

“It’s great to be a leader on this team,” Dunster said. “We have some new faces this season, but I think we are doing well right now. I am excited for the season to start. On the mound, I have high expectations, but I want to take it one game at a time and go for a win.”

Tarantino said that Dunster has every physical took needed to be a successful baseball player.

“He has a plus arm, plus average speed, plus bat and is an elite baseball player, Tarantino said. “You can’t teach what he has. As I tell everybody, if you’re curious to see what a Division I player looks like, just come to our practice. It’s that obvious.”

Backing up Dunster on the mound will be Hintzen and Tarantino is thrilled with the amount of experience he brings to the pitching staff.

“It feels great to be a leader on this team,” Hintzen said. “We have a great group of guys coming back again this year, so it’s great to be in a leadership role here. I expect that we will have a very good pitching staff, just like we did the last few years. For me, I have become a lot more efficient now on the mound and matured a lot since my freshman year.”

“As a junior he went 6-1 and had a successful season,” Tarantino said. “For him to come back stronger as a senior means that it’s only going to get easier for JT. He might be even more dominant.”

In addition to the two pitchers, Dreher will be helping the two hurlers out, as he returns to his familiar spot this year at the catching position. Tarantino said that Dreher is solid behind the plate, as he manages the pitchers well and is strong at communicating with his infielders.

“I tell this team every day how proud of what they’ve done,” Dreher said. “This team works hard every day. We are trying to improve. As a catcher, I want to be a leader on the field all the time. I want to be vocal and keep everybody in the game. It’s a lot of fun to be on this team because we have a great group of guys. I think we are going to win a very good amount of games this year.”

When it comes to the pitching staff, the duo of Dunster and Hintzen are leading the pack. Tarantino said that the reason those two are so dominant on the mound is because of their fastball.

“In high school baseball, when you’re over 84 miles per hour, that puts most of the kids they face at an extreme disadvantage,” Tarantino said. “They are also great at holding runners on, they have numerous pitches, they don’t walk guys and they battle. That’s a recipe for a dominant high school pitcher.”

In addition to the dynamic duo on the mound, Greenwich will be looking for junior Michael Genaro, senior John Mikalopas, senior Keigo Fujikura and fellow senior Vincent Murphy to step up and see a bunch of playing time.

Junior Devin McGrath will be returning to the outfield, as will seniors Zach Monick and Sean Marks.

Also stepping up for Big Red this preseason has been the play of senior Justin Gaccione, one of the captains of the football team last year. Tarantino said Gaccione will be patrolling first base.

The head coach stated that he isn’t sure who will be patrolling the infield yet, however seniors Jack Juliani, Keigo Fujikura, Hintzen, as well a junior Alex Laparco, will see some quality time in the field.

When it comes to the lineup offensively, Tarantino has a nice mix of speed and power. Leading off for the Cardinals will be McGrath, who has some power but runs well and knows how to run the bases. Dunster and Fujikura are also speedy runners that know how to get on base.

In the power category, Gaccione, Marks and Dreher will lead Greenwich. All three have had extra base hits during the preseason and are seeing the ball well.

“We have like seven guys right from the start that you can look at and say that we have a productive lineup,” Tarantino said. “If we could function well at the bottom of the lineup, it could lead to a lot of runs and that’s what we are hoping for.”

Greenwich’s strength this season will be in the pitching staff, as two of the top pitchers in the area, as well as a bunch of talented hurlers under them should keep the opposition off-balance. However, Tarantino would like to see his team get a little stronger defensively.

“We need to be stronger up the middle,” Tarantino said. “We need to work on our execution defensively in the right spot and base running. We need to do the little things really well. If we can do that and limit our mistakes, then I think we are in good shape.”

“I think that this team can win a championship,” Dunster said. “I think it’s everybody’s expectations on this team. If we work hard and improve every day, there’s no reason we can’t win a championship.”

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