No baseball season has been the same for Edgemont senior Kevin Lee.
He was called up from junior varsity as a sophomore and helped pitch the Panthers to the Section 1 finals. This year he was a key part of Edgemont’s rebound from a two-win 2018 with a 6-12-1 record (the team might play a make-up game vs. Valhalla prior to sectionals) as the program took last year’s experience to move forward this year.
“Kevin had a bounceback season this year,” coach Mike Cozza said. “I think he put too much on his shoulders last year.”
After graduating nine starters, Lee was the team’s most experienced player, so it was no surprise he wanted to step up.
“It went by with the blink of an eye,” Lee said of his three years on varsity. “Just seeing how far the team has come after rebuilding from that team two years ago, the record might not show it, but the way we’ve been playing is completely different from last year. We’ve really come a long way with team chemistry.”
The team achieved the one goal it set after not making sectionals last year. “Our goal for this year was to at least give ourselves a chance for the playoffs,” Lee said.
Though Edgemont will face a top team in the first round — an outbracket is still a possibility — the Panthers are happy to play the role of underdog.
“We have a couple of good arms that can definitely bring us a couple of games into playoffs so we can shock a lot of people,” Lee said, citing teammates Devin Gialleonardo and Alessio Paolucci, a senior and sophomore, respectively.
Hitting and defense have also come a long way for Edgemont this season. What was lacking was the trifecta of pitching, defense and offense each day.
“We’ve seen flashes over the season of top-notch play where we hit really well and play defense and they don’t necessarily come together in the same game,” senior Charlie Rodnick said. “Even recently we’re playing much better than earlier in the season where we lost some games by a lot. We’re in almost every game at this point.”
For Rodnick, it’s about making up for last year’s forgettable season.
“Last year was not a good year,” he said. “This is definitely a nice rebound year and it should set a precedent for upcoming years.”
Cozza took 13 on varsity in order to leave 13 on junior varsity to keep the overall baseball program healthy, while many other teams — boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball and girls soccer — have all folded their JV programs in recent years. He was pleased with the 13 he took as the players were flexible with their defensive positions and eight could pitch. That gave the young talent in the program a chance to play every day on JV.
“We’re in every game, totally different than last year,” Cozza said. “Every league game has been within two or three runs. When we have pitching we have a slip-up on defense or we’re not hitting. When we’re hitting the pitching isn’t there. Every aspect we have a game we need to put all three together. They’re working hard, they’re trying their best.”
Phil Orsini at second base and Rodnick at shortstop took what they learned by being thrust into the lineup last year and formed a great middle infield for the Panthers this spring. “They weren’t eased into it,” Cozza said.
Having Andrew Klein, after two years of injuries, find himself healthy was a big boost.
“We moved him from the infield to the outfield and I told him he’s the starting centerfielder and he’s done a great job out there,” Cozza said. “He came in a few times in relief and impressed us, so we can’t wait for next year with him.”
Paolucci and catcher Anthony Langiulli are both hitting over .350.
“We have a nice top of the order and the bottom of the order lately the last five or six games has a lot of hit and runs, sacrifice bunts, squeezes with Hanaan [Wajid],” Cozza said. “I think the last three games we’ve had suicide squeezes with Hanaan bunting the guy in. He trusts his bat.”
The Panthers are building their confidence from the regular season games they were competitive in.
“I told them we’re a 15 seed right now and the two seed is Briarcliff,” Cozza said of the projections. “They beat us 10-4 and they had two bunt singles. We pitched well, but didn’t have the defense that game. We were up 4-0 in the third inning. We had one bad inning and gave up five runs on two hits, not one ball leaving the infield. We can play with anybody. We’ve played the one to six seeds, so we know what’s out there and we don’t fear anybody.”