Deep pitching staff, flexible lineup keys to success

Roy Lenhard and Joe Ciccone are Shelton baseball captains.

Roy Lenhard and Joe Ciccone are Shelton baseball captains.

Bill Bloxsom / Hearst Connecticut Media

Shelton baseball coach Scott Gura is counting on pitching depth and a versatile roster to offset graduation losses.

“We were senior loaded last year, so I have only three kids with any sort of varsity experience,” Gura said of his Gaels, who went 10-8 and split two state games. “We lost six out of nine starters. We are six or seven arms deep that can give us pitching on the varsity level. That is an area of strength as opposed to our inexperience that will improve.”

Roy Lenhard and Joe Ciccone are captains.

“I don’t think there is another individual who has worked harder to perfect his mechanics more than Roy has over the past two years,” Gura said of his 6-foot-3 lefthander. “He throws above average and has a very good slider. Since he’s coming from the southpaw side a lot of kids don’t see that angle. A lefty batter sees it coming at his shoulder and a righty sees it dipping in on them. It’s a different look that Roy can use to his advantage. He has a great deal of grit and moxie. He doesn’t let things faze him. He’s waited two years. This is his first opportunity to be a varsity pitcher and I think he will relish the moment. Roy has all-league capability.”

Ciccone can help in a variety of positions.

“Joey Ciccone is our other lefty pitcher. He is our quiet leader. He lets his hard work speak for itself. He never takes a drill or a practice off,” Gura said. “Joey will pitch, play some first base and outfield.”

Platooning around the diamond is the way to go for Shelton.

“Our No. 1 and 1A are Dylan Ziegler and Lenhard. Dylan is a righty thrower and has the most returning experience after playing as a sophomore. He can also play outfield,” Gura said. “Ryan and Andrew Hafele are two seniors that can each play three infield positions. We have options with multiple infielders and outfielders. I’m looking at playing anywhere from an 11 to 12-man rotation to begin the season for position players.

“Nick Piscioniere and Billy McGuire can catch. In the offseason, Billy got into great physical and baseball shape. He wants to go out on a high note. He was in the weight room every day. As a senior he was a leader with the younger kids in conditioning all winter. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in his hitting so far this spring,” Gura said.

“Nick will be in three core positions. He is going to be a middle infielder, a pitcher for us, and can catch. He is an extremely athletic player with good speed, a good bat, a good arm. Nick is that 5-tool player with a lot of natural power to the right-centerfield gap. Being only a sophomore, he is going to get better each year.”

Gael Quiroga will be at second base.

“Gael is a 100-percent baseball kid that I can see being a coach one day. He has sure hands to turn the double play with some pop in his bat,’ Gura said of his junior. “Joey Ciccone or senior Ryan Blakeslee will be at first base. Ryan has done a great job this preseason coming up with three or four hits.”

Outfield play is another plus.

“Ben Cicale and Shane Santiago are two football players getting their first chance to play varsity in our outfield, where I believe we will really shine tracking down balls along with Ciccone or Ziegler,” Gura said. “I expect Ben and Shane, who were kick returners and wide receivers, with their speed can go get any ball.”

Gura feels that pitching can be tricky over a regular season.

“At the beginning of the year, everyone is in the same boat because you can’t over-extend your pitchers. The goal is to get into state tournament, but early on with an inexperienced team. It’s hit or miss,” he said. “You have got to understand that there is going to be growing pains. On the other hand, in a 20-game season, you can’t stick with them too long. They don’t have the resume (if they get in trouble). You have got to try someone else.

Gura added: “It’s been difficult because we haven’t been able to get outside (weather) to hit. We need to be outside to walk through things they will encounter in a game. You really need field time to do that. You can’t do it in a gymnasium with the small space. You need to have diamond-size practices. A lot of times the weather doesn’t cooperate.

“I think we have 42 kids in the program. Shelton has great teams. We have a lot of sports sharing gym time. If you have a big program and you have multiple levels (freshmen, JV, varsity) like we do. It’s tough getting everyone into practice.”

Team goals remain the same: win the division, make the SCC playoffs and the state tournament.

“I think all are realistic this year,” said Gura, whose team begins play at Sheehan on Monday at 4. “Our five-team division (SCC Oronoque with Fairfield Prep, Shelton, Lyman Hall, Career-Hillhouse co-op) may come down to us and Fairfield Prep. We scrimmaged Newington, who I think will be a top 10 team. We stay local with our scrimmages (Seymour, Masuk and Derby). We want to give our kids as much timing as possible going into our opener.”

Diamond notes: “Connor Jensen is playing at Southern New Hampshire,” Gura said. “Anthony Steele has already established himself as a full-time starter at Penn State. He is batting .300, has a home run, is playing first base and pitching a little. We’ve proud to have a kid playing in the Big Ten that a year ago was playing here at Shelton High.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354