SWAMPSCOTT — Some might say a new era begins for the Swampscott baseball team as Joe Caponigro enters his first season as the Big Blue’s head coach. But Caponigro isn’t new to the Swampscott program. He played for the Big Blue, coached many of this year’s players at the youth levels and was an assistant under Jason Calichman last spring.
Caponigro hopes to use that familiarity to his benefit as the 2019 quickly approaches.
“I’ve coached some of these kids when they were in Little League,” Caponigro, who coached baseball at English until 2017, said. “I’m coming into familiar territory. It’s better than coming into uncharted territory. It helps you feel comfortable. I feel comfortable. I’m looking forward to it. The kids have been working hard.”
Caponigro inherits a team with state tournament experience. Swampscott finished the 2018 regular season at 11-10 and earned the No. 13 seed in Division 3 North. The Big Blue defeated O’Bryant and Latin Academy before falling to eventual state champion Austin Prep in the sectional semifinal.
“We had a successful year,” Caponigro said. “We lost in the state tournament to Austin Prep. We have some kids back that have experience on the mound, at the plate and in the field. We have to fill some key holes in key positions. We still have to figure that out.”
Offensively, the Big Blue return one of the top hitters in the Northeastern Conference in senior first baseman Ryan Graciale (who committed to Salve Regina during the offseason). Also returning to the order are senior designated hitter/catcher Zach Elwell, junior infielder Graham Inzana, junior catcher Dylan January, junior second baseman Drew Olivieri and junior outfielder Jonathan Oriakhi.
“If we can limit strikeouts, we’ve got some table setters,” Caponigro said. “If we can limit strikeouts in the middle of the order and keep the ball in play, we’ll be OK. We have athletic kids but you can’t steal first base. That’s something we’ve been stressing. It’s hard because we haven’t seen live at-bats yet but hopefully we’ll make some strides.
“We’ve got some open spots and over the next week we’ll be able to lock down those positions,” Caponigro said. “Hopefully we’ll get some production out of this team.”
Swampscott returns four experienced pitchers to its rotation. They are senior right-handers Colin Reiling and Max Pegnato, and junior right-handers Tyler Marshall and Nick Reiser.
“Max had four or five wins last year,” Caponigro said. “Reiser probably had the second most. We’re hoping that they’ve matured. They’ve matured physically. They’ve been working hard. We’re just hoping we can find other guys to compliment them.”
From his time at English, Caponigro knows what to expect from the NEC. Beverly, Danvers and Gloucester also hired new coaches during the offseason but Caponigro expects those teams will be talented enough to compete without missing a beat.
“On our side, we’ve got Peabody, Danvers, Gloucester, Beverly, Marblehead, Saugus and Winthrop,” Caponigro said. “I know there are some new coaches but those teams always find their way into the tournament and make some runs. We have to play them twice. I think it’s going to be very competitive. I can’t say we’re going to do this or that. We want to compete. Some of these programs have a real history of success, as Swampscott does. Every day, we stress competing to our utmost.
“Although there are some new coaches those programs are going to be extremely strong,” Caponigro said. “We just hope to be up to the task.”
Swampscott opens the season April 9 at Manchester-Essex in a non-conference contest.
“The kids are very punctual,” Caponigro said. “They’re early for practice, they get after it. I think they’re very focused. Their attitudes and concentration have been excellent, as well as their effort. To me, that means they’re eager. Guys are vying to make varsity and get starting positions. We’ve had spirited workouts, which is good.”