GROTON -- After a turbulent end to a 6-14 campaign in 2012, the Groton-Dunstable baseball team is pointed in the right direction entering the new season. Under eighth-year coach Matt LeBlanc, the Crusaders boast a deep roster filled with talent and experience that will look to get back in the post-season in 2013.
"In my tenure, this is by far the deepest roster I have ever had," said LeBlanc. "It isn't just that we have a lot of kids, we have a lot of talent and a group that never quits. These kids will grind it out until the last out, and that is the kind of team I want. We are not a team of stars, we have a great chemistry and I know that we will be in every game we play."
One of the many strengths of the team starts with senior catcher Mike Keating and junior Alex Dhionis. "Mike is going to play catcher, first and third for us and is an experienced and versatile player," said LeBlanc. "He is athletic and uses that to his advantage defensively and on the bases. Offensively, he is a middle-of-the-of-order bat with some pop.
"Alex is big and strong and entering his third year on varsity. He is an experienced go-to pitcher who throws in the 80s. He has a nice curveball and is working on his changeup. When he isn't pitching, he will play first and is a run producer in the middle of our lineup."
A familiar face and a fresh face will make up the left side of the infield to start the season, as senior Adam Kmetz will play short and freshman Aidan Ward will man third base. "Adam is a respected leader of this team who knows the game and has a great attitude," said LeBlanc. "Offensively, he is our catalyst and is critical to the team's success. He bats leadoff most of the time but can hit in the three-spot, has excellent speed and makes things happen on the bases.
"Aidan is a strong contact hitter with all the tools. He plays strong defense at third base and will also pitch, with an above-average fastball. We are working on his control on the hill, but I like what I have seen."
On the right side, senior Mike Ierardi will play second and sophomore Ben Butler will play first. "Mike has some varsity experience and is a hard worker with a team-first attitude," said LeBlanc. "He is a good hitter who uses all fields and is a good situational hitter.
Ben will also play some third for us and has good size. He has good hands on both corners and knows the game. Offensively, he is a good contact hitter that is still developing."
In the mix for playing time in the infield is freshman Jacob Barnes and senior Allan Haynes. "Jacob has been one of the biggest surprises so far with his versatility, as he will see time at third, pitcher and catcher," said LeBlanc. "He is willing to do anything and is a smart player. So far he has looked good at the plate and has shown excellent control on the mound.
"Allan will play some third, catcher and will also be a designated hitter. He has also been a pleasant surprise from the left side of the plate. He is still getting comfortable, but has shown some good signs early on."
Groton-Dunstable boasts a stable of outfielders who will all see time. Getting the nods to start are seniors Dan Roper, Josh Acaba and Alec Ierardi in left, center and right field, respectively. "Dan has good range and gets great jumps on the ball," said LeBlanc. "He has a high baseball IQ and is always focused and in the game.
"Josh will also pitch some for us and gives us a left-handed pitcher with decent speed. He is a left-handed hitter who will most likely be in the two-hole with his mix of speed and ability to make contact. Alec is versatile and could play any outfield spot. He is a solid hitter who is always positive and keeps the team up with his energy."
Looking to break through into the starting lineup in the outfield will be seniors Brad Zadrozny and Dan Tomany, along with juniors Alex Marken, Nick D'Angelo and Andrew Sinnery. "Brad is a great story as he broke his right arm a couple of years ago and has taught himself how to throw left-handed. He is a gamer," said LeBlanc. "He is the fastest kid on the team who is great on the bases and will get a number of chances to pinch run and pinch hit. Dan will also play some first for us and have varsity experience. He is a solid hitter who can play center and right field.
"Alex is improving defensively, but gives us a solid bat. I could see him getting some games at designated hitter for us this season. Nick is up from the JV and has had a good preseason. I like that he is aggressive at the plate and he hits the ball hard to all fields. Andrew is in his third year on varsity and is a lefty who will be in our rotation. He is a crafty pitcher who mixes speeds well and has excellent control."
With a versatile, talented group of players, LeBlanc believes he has a group that is ready to take on the challenge of getting back into the postseason after a year hiatus. "The goal as always is to get to 10 and go from there, but we want to make a run at the league title, which I believe is doable," said LeBlanc. "Our pitching rotation isn't deep, so we need our offense and defense to be strong, but we are strong in both areas. In addition to a great group of kids, it is nice to have Todd Lynch helping out because it allows us to do a lot of things and give kids individual attention.
"I think we are going to have fun this season and I like where we are and believe we have a chance to have a strong season."