A year ago, Pat Laguerre was still getting used to the fact that he was the head baseball coach at St. Peter’s Prep, after spending the previous 13 years as the head man at the now-defunct St. Mary’s of downtown Jersey City.
“It was a transition year more for me than it was for them,” Laguerre said. “It was a situation where I had an idea what I wanted to get done as a head coach, but that takes a little time. I felt that the slate had to be wiped clean. I had a system where if you perform, you play, and I think the kids understood that.”
Now, a year later, and after posting an 18-12 record and reaching the Hudson County Tournament before falling to Marist, Laguerre knows that it’s his team now and the Marauders are ready for another county title run.
“I think the benefit of me being there the entire year is that the kids now know me,” said Laguerre, the former St. Mary’s standout baseball and basketball player who played basketball at Jacksonville University. “I thought it was an excellent first season. The kids understand the philosophy now and they understand the style of play. I was very fortunate to step into such a good situation. It was a blessing that I have kids who work hard.”
The Marauders are hoping to have an improved record this year, mainly because they boast of one of the deepest and most talented pitching staffs in New Jersey.
Heading the way is senior left-hander Ryan O’Connor, who posted a 7-3 record last season earning Hudson Reporter All-Area honors in the process. O’Connor, who has already signed a national letter of intent to attend Fairfield University in the fall, is in total control every time he takes the mound.
“He’s pitched very well early this season,” Laguerre said of his ace O’Connor. “I expect him to be better than last year. I have a sense of relief knowing we have him back.”
Another key returnee is senior lefty Anthony Pacillo, who won four games last season.
“He’s a power pitcher and a very confident kid,” Laguerre said of Pacillo, whose uncle, Pat, was a standout at Seton Hall University and the Cincinnati Reds organization. “He has good poise. With him and Ryan, I feel like I have two No. 1 pitchers with varsity experience.”
Pacillo will pitch for Seton Hall, like his uncle, in the fall.
Another solid pitcher is senior lefty Ryan Finn.
The other top starter is also a left-hander in senior Nick Clappsy.
“We’re blessed to have so many lefties,” Laguerre said. “They have the funky movement on their pitches and there are not of lefties around for others to see. Plus, we have lefties that are pretty experienced and have good command.”
The Marauders’ pitching depth doesn’t end with their left-handers. They also have senior right-hander Joe Calandra, who has a little bit of varsity experience, plus promising newcomer sophomores Dan Cooney and Cory Caddle, who is also a fine football player.
“I’m really impressed with the young guys,” Laguerre said. “They’re coming along nicely.”
The catcher who will handle all of that talented pitching is senior Jason Uliano, who has already signed a letter to attend St. John’s in the fall.
“Not only can he handle the pitchers, but he can swing the bat as well,” Laguerre said. “He had a great summer and caught a lot of people’s attention. I think he tried to do too much last year, but he’s comfortable now.”
Senior Drew Casey will back up Uliano.
At first base, senior Brendan Cosgrove and junior Vinnie Sita are battling for time, but O’Connor will find himself in the lineup there as well.
Sophomore Mike Marino is the second baseman.
“I expect him to step in and make major contributions,” Marino said.
Junior T.J. Ward, who made Hudson Reporter All-Area honors as a sophomore first baseman last year, moves back to his natural position of shortstop. Ward led the Marauders with 25 RBI last year and batted better than .330.
“He was probably our most consistent offensive player last year,” Laguerre said. “He’s a shortstop by trade. He only played first base last year because we needed him there. It’s an easy move to put T.J. back at short. He’s been a shortstop his whole life.”
Ward is one of the top players to watch in the county this spring.
Senior Will Glancy has earned the spot at third base.
“He played well in scrimmages,” Laguerre said. “We have to get better at the corners and they’re showing signs of doing well.”
Sophomore Kyle Bowes is the starter in left field.
“He’s shown a lot of promise in left and he can run very well,” Laguerre said.
Senior Matt Halchak returns to his spot in centerfield.
“He’s an excellent defensive player and he’s stepped it up offensively,” Laguerre said. “He’s the real spark plug to the team, a fire and energy kind of guy. He’s also a very tough kid who plays the game the way I want it to be played. He has an addictive style about him.”
Caddle will get the nod as the starting right fielder.
“He has a world of potential,” Laguerre said. “He can flat out run. He can hit and hit for power. He can throw. He just needs to add some consistency to his game, but he has it all.”
Seniors Mike Walshe, Sean Falzone and James Regan and junior Mike Cirillo will all see a lot of playing time.
“They’re all utility guys who can play a lot of positions,” Laguerre said.
Laguerre likes the makeup of his team.
“I’m going to say that I’m cautiously optimistic,” Laguerre said. “I think it’s great that we have a competitive schedule.”
It began with a rematch against defending county champion Marist.
“That’s the way it should be,” Laguerre said. “I’ve been looking at that game since the schedule came out. We ended the county playing them and we begin it this year playing them. The expectations are certainly high. I think we have a chance to be very good if things work out.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.