Rich Carbone had heard the whispers since the fall – the Poly Prep baseball team wasn’t the same. He didn’t disagree; how could the Blue Devils not be different after graduating their top three starting pitchers?
But different isn’t necessarily worse.
At this point, in fact, it’s pretty similar. Poly Prep is 13-2, 10-0 to lead the Ivy League, and the favorite to win a third consecutive NYSAISAA championship crown.
“We knew,” the junior right-hander/first baseman said, “we were going to be good.”
Unlike his recent clubs, coach Matt Roventini said, this one has to create its own identity. Theirs is old-school baseball – manufacturing runs, receiving solid starting pitching and playing tight defense.
The offense isn’t nearly as explosive, led by shortstop/ace pitcher J.J. Franco, the son of former New York Mets closer John Franco, at the top of the lineup. But it is deep and consistent. Catcher Frank Torres, third baseman Marcus Hernandez, Carbone, outfielder Max Warner and second baseman Joe Calabrese have all produced, each in their own way.
“We find ways to win,” Roventini said. “We know how to battle.”
That was obvious in the last week. Poly Prep blanked Catholic power Monsignor Farrell, 2-0, and knocked off Hackley, 5-0, the team it rallied to beat in last year’s NYSAISAA final.
Carbone, who tossed seven shutout one-hit innings – Roventini called it his finest performance to date – said there was plenty of chatter, from the opposition and its fans throughout. Making the 1-1/2 hour bus trip to Tarrytown is always a challenge, anyway.
Carbone didn’t even know he was going to make the start until warm-ups when Calabrese couldn’t go at second base and Roventini didn’t want to shake up the infield by pitching Franco.
“Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t thinking about it for the whole day,” he said. “I just went out and threw the ball.”
Roventini has received solid starting pitching, from Franco and Carbone at the top of the rotation, Calabrese, junior Chesley Ratliff and freshman Matt Coposio. He wouldn’t categorize his reaction as surprised, but he is happy with the production, not only from the starting staff and the lineup, but altogether.
It is why Poly Prep has extended its winning streak to an unprecedented 45 league games in a row the last two-plus seasons, a remarkable stretch in a tough conference. There have been close calls; the Blue Devils, Roventini said, have often played down to the competition, but also played up to it, as well.
“Anytime you win 45 in a row, every now and then you have to steal one. You got to be good, but you also have to get some breaks along the way,” he said. “I think we’ve created our breaks. I’m definitely surprised the (streak) is still going.”
Said Carbone: “We’re starting to prove ourselves as a top team. Now people are starting to see we’re the same team. Hopefully, we can carry that forward.”