PEABODY– The challenge of replacing seniors is one coaches face year in and year out. So it’s fair to say that Peabody baseball coach Mark Bettencourt knows a thing or two about filling the roles left by the prior season’s graduating class. But this year the Tanners have to replace 11 seniors from last spring’s team- and they know it won’t be easy.
Gone are the likes of star players like Jake Gustin, Alex D’Angelo and Eric DeMayo.
“When you get kids like Jake Gustin you never replace them,” Bettencourt, entering his 15th season at Peabody, said. “Just like when we had Patrick Ruotolo, you never replace them. You just try to fill those voids the best you can. You don’t want to put that pressure on anybody. We try to take the kids we’ve been working with. My JV and freshman coaches do a good job teaching our philosophy.”
Peabody finished the 2018 regular season at 11-7. The Tanners defeated Lawrence (3-1) in the first round of the Division 1 North state tournament before falling to Medford (8-5) in the quarterfinal.
“I think last season was something to build on,” Bettencourt said. “One thing about our program is we try to be competitive year in and year out. We try not to have ‘down’ years. We take pride in developing kids at the lower levels so they’re ready to play when they get up to varsity. We’ve done a good job with that. We’ll have some names that people who follow us might not be familiar with but we’ve done that year in and year out.”
Returning to lead the pitching rotation are seniors Eddie Campbell (right-hander) and Joe Zito (left-hander) and junior Nick Fiore (right-hander). Juniors Jordan Anzuoni (right-hander) and Calvin Ingemi (right-hander), and sophomore Ryan Knight (left-hander) also project to pitch some innings.
“The biggest thing for me is throwing strikes,” Bettencourt said. “I don’t care how hard they throw, if they throw strikes they’ll force teams to hit. Eddie pitched against some good teams last year. He does a good job keeping hitters off balance. Joe throws a little harder. If he has command of the strike zone he can be one of our starters. Nick has good command. He pounds the zone and works both sides of the plate. The big thing is making teams earn their runs.”
Offensively, Knight (centerfielder) projects to bat leadoff (a spot he earned toward the end of last season). Also returning are Campbell (third baseman), Anzuoni (shortstop), Ingemi (infielder), Anthony Conforte (junior first baseman), Taidon Perez (senior catcher), Christian Ploumbidis (junior outfielder), Jared Ridley (senior outfielder), Mike Sabella (senior first baseman) and Mike Tansey (senior outfielder).
“The big thing for us with the speed we have is we want to put the ball on the ground and put pressure on infielders,” Bettencourt said.
“Offensively the swings look good,” Bettencourt said. “Scoring runs depends on how quickly you get going. The bottom line is we ask pitchers to throw strikes, we want opponents to earn everything they get. Defensively we ask them to make the routine plays. Offensively we don’t rely on the long ball. We play a lot of small ball here at Peabody and it takes a while to get that going.”
Bettencourt doesn’t know what to expect from the Northeastern Conference this season. He knows NEC teams are well-coached and compete but feels there isn’t a clear-cut favorite in the conference.
“This is probably the one year I don’t know who the favorite is,” Bettencourt said. “Gloucester, Beverly and Danvers have new coaches but they always have talent. Saugus has Todd Tringale, who’s probably the best pitcher but we don’t know what else they return. Swampscott has Joe Caponigro who’s familiar with the NEC from his years at English but we don’t know what he has. Winthrop, you never know what you’ll get from them. Marblehead and Saugus, with Mike Giardi and Joe Luis, have good coaches. The league, especially our half, is up for grabs.”
Non-conference opponents include Austin Prep, Central Catholic, Lawrence and St. John’s Prep.
“Our schedule is going to be competitive and challenging,” Bettencourt said. “We’re going to have to show up and play every day.”
Peabody opens the season April 8 at Lawrence. The Tanners will play their home opener April 15 against Beverly.