Strong play up the middle, young talent could boost Washington Twp. baseball in 2017

The Minutemen are hoping to ride the momentum of last year’s postseason run into the 2017 season.

Washington Township High School only finished the 2016 season with 12 wins, but the Minutemen are riding a wave of momentum into the 2017 season.

Washington Township made a deep run in the 2016 South Jersey Group IV tournament as a №11 seed, upsetting both Kingsway High School and Cherry Hill High School West on the road.

This year, head coach Bill Alvaro believes his team is talented enough to get back on top of the competitive Olympic Conference American Division. Washington Township won the division four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014.

“I always think we’re right up there with (the top teams),” Alvaro said.

The strength of Washington Township is up the middle at pitching, catcher, middle infield and center field. Senior Rich Racobaldo will lead the pitching staff this year after having a solid 2016 season. In last year’s South Jersey Group IV tournament, Racobaldo tossed a combined six shutout innings in the Minutemen’s two playoff wins.

“He’s able to dominate a game,” Alvaro said. “When he’s on, there’s not much the other team can do.”

Three of Washington Township’s top returning offensive players are senior catcher Alex Gattinelli, senior shortstop Ryan Swift and junior center fielder Lorenzo Morello. All three players had batting averages above .300 last season and are expected to be team leaders this season.

This year’s team could feature a mix of experienced seniors and talented underclassmen. One thing Alvaro noticed in the opening days of the preseason was some of the younger players on the team stepping up and pushing the incumbent starters. Alvaro said freshmen Greg Rossi, Christian Kane and Nick Hammer have all looked strong in the preseason.

“The young guys come out and they’re hungry,” Alvaro said. “Some of them we have are pretty good and they push some of the older guys.”

One challenge Washington Township and other teams had to face in the preseason is the weather.

The Minutemen took advantage of the warm and dry weather in the opening week and a half of practice, playing two intrasquad games and a scrimmage against Kingsway before cold weather and wintry precipitation forced the team inside.

“We’ve been able to work outside and do some things outside,” Alvaro said. “Even though we’re able to work indoors, it’s not the same thing as being outside or in a scrimmage setting.”

“The teams that work that hardest inside are going to be ahead of those that didn’t work as hard,” Alvaro added.

The Minutemen will be challenged early on in 2017, with road games against division rivals Eastern Regional High School and Cherokee High School in the season’s first two weeks. The team also has a couple tough non-conference games, including a home game against Millville High School on April 17. Millville eliminated Washington Township in last year’s playoffs.

Alvaro said the tough schedule will challenge his team and prepare them to face a variety of opponents.

“We see (tough opponents) throughout the whole year, even the games that are out of conference,” he said. “We have to make sure they’re tough games. By the time we get to the postseason, we’re not surprised by anybody.”