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BVT Baseball Looks to Replace Strong Senior Class

The Blackstone Valley Tech baseball season began Monday, March 17, with 74 bright-eyed Beaver hopefuls in the gym, looking for a spot on one of the three rosters. The high turnout is the natural product of a successful program; BVT has become a perennial playoff team and the class of the Colonial Athletic League. 2014 will be a challenge, however, as the Beavers try to replace one of the most successful senior classes in the program's history.
"We lost some guys who really put us on the map, beginning with Dan Avery," said head coach Anthony Leonelli. "He was the ace of the pitching staff for the past three seasons and started against most of the stronger opponents on our schedule."
Avery is playing at Mass Maritime Academy. His departure has had one potentially positive side effect. "Once he graduating, my phone started ringing with teams trying to schedule us," said Leonelli with a chuckle. "Avery has been the type of pitcher that other teams aren't too anxious to face."
BVT also graduated Cam Fiorentino, who is playing baseball at Southern New Hampshire University. Three-year starter Chris Kowalik and two-year starter Taylor Hanson are also gone, leaving a number of holes to fill. "We have a lot of guys at tryouts, so we need to figure out who is going to step up and win a job," said Leonelli.
Junior Austin Lebastie is the front-runner to take over for Avery as the staff ace. He's been on the varsity since his freshman year. Senior Connor Byrnes is a four-year varsity player and has started the last two at catcher. "We really want Austin to shoulder the load on the mound," said Leonelli. "And Connor is a good, stabilizing force for us."
Junior Ben Reiffarth hit over .300 as a sophomore and is coming off a successful season in both football and basketball. Leonellli said he is hoping the success translates to the baseball diamond as well.
BVT will also draw from a successful junior varsity program. This year, the JV team will play a separate schedule against some of the stronger JV teams in the area. The freshman team will "play up" against a number of JV squads from within the league.
In total, Valley Tech has 14 returning players from a 22-man roster in 2013. Figuring out roles for the players coming back as well as the newcomers will be a challenge for the coaching staff in the coming weeks.
"We kept 22 guys because we have 22 uniforms, if there is a guy I think can help us, I am going to keep him" said Leonelli. "Regardless of the new faces, we want to be aggressive. We want to throw strikes, swing the bat, and run the bases with aggression. Baseball is a stop-and-start game and sometimes that makes teams be passive, but we always want to be the aggressor. That's the mentality and approach that can win you games."
With 74 players at tryouts, Leonelli figures to be making around 25 cuts. But the numbers and stability in the program has been a source of pride.
"It's exciting to see that many kids who want to be a part of the team," said Leonelli. "We have not had a single kid quit any team at any level to this point and in this day and age, that's pretty incredible. Kids want to be a part of the program and that's exciting. It makes it easy to go to work every day."




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