Kingston High School baseball has a long and proud tradition, and the 2010 season is shaping up to be one of the best in school history.
Seemingly, nothing can stop the Kingston juggernaut that improved to a perfect 11-0 on the season with a 17-2 drubbing of Pine Bush in the first of a three-game set on May 3 at Gruner Field.
Thunderstorms delayed the start of the game by nearly two hours. Coaches and players worked feverishly to get the field in playing condition, using rakes and drying agents to soak up the infield puddles.
The work paid off, and the wait hardly seemed to bother the Tigers, who jumped on the visitors in the first inning and had chased the Bushmen’s starting pitcher by the third frame.
The offensive star of the game was catcher Jake DePietro, who drove in five runs, including three hits and a home run. After a shaky first inning in which he issued two walks and hit a batter, Tiger right-hander John Melville settled down, allowing two runs on just five hits over the next six innings for the victory. Melville allowed just five hits while striking out four batters.
Head coach Mike Groppuso was phlegmatic in talking about the early season success. He credits the excellent work ethic of his players but knows that the real tests lie ahead for his team.
“We are gearing towards a sectional championship. The post-season is the main season so we have to keep this in perspective,” said Groppuso.
The buzzword for the Tigers is balance. Boasting a strong lineup that gives no quarter from the leadoff spot down to the nine-hole, the Tigers can score runs in a hurry. Offense is an obvious asset, but Kingston has dominated by doing the little things well. A stingy defense is a fine example.
“Defensively we don’t hurt ourselves with mistakes and that makes it very tough on the opposing team,” said Groppuso.
A common denominator on most winning teams is a strong presence behind the plate guiding the pitching staff. Kingston is doing just fine in that department with DePietro.
Groppuso and DePietro keep a book on the hitting tendencies of the opposition. The catcher studies the notes before each game and can mentally reference the information while crouching behind the plate. DePietro also has an excellent intuitive sense of his pitcher’s stuff during a game.
“You know when they are feeling good and when something isn’t working. You just have to adjust accordingly,” said DePietro.
He cited a game earlier this season against Arlington. Early on, it became clear that Melville didn’t have his good fastball. Instead of pressing the issue, DePietro called for a greater proportion of off-speed pitches. The strategy paid off and Melville allowed only a single run while going the distance in a narrow 2-1-road victory.
“Pitchers have all the confidence in the world with Jake. He’s able to get them to throw their best pitch,” added Groppuso.
Perhaps the most challenging assignment for DePietro is catching junior pitcher Jared Jenson who throws an unusual pitch for high school.
“Jared has the best knuckleball I’ve ever seen. It comes in at about 75 mph with a lot of movement. You never know where it’s going to go, you just have to react,” said DePietro.
As mentioned, on offense Kingston has a catalyst at every spot in the lineup. Senior Jim Sass said the lineup more than compensates for a relative lack of power with superior plate discipline and speed. “We have good speed and the ability to put the ball in play. I think that everyone in the starting lineup has a stolen base this year.”
Coming on strong
Although they have been playing well all season, the Tigers have been especially good of late, having swept a three game set against Newburgh Free Academy last week. The games were close, hard-fought victories against a traditional rival.
“They proved they were capable of playing with us. We can’t go to sleep and expect to win,” said starting shortstop Rob Alonso.
The Kingston players have a confidence that is unmistakable. They set the bar very in high when it comes to what they expect of themselves.
“We have confidence that we will win every game. We never go into a game thinking that we are the underdog. If we go out and win by nine runs, we look at the game and feel as though we should have beaten them by 10 runs,” said DePietro.
On the bench against Pine Bush, the entire Tiger team was chattering; their aim was to rattle the opponent and they did just that. Aggression is another word that keeps popping up. The Tigers take the extra base, daring the right fielder to make a perfect throw to third base. On the mound, Melville will pound fastballs early in the count before pulling the string with a nasty changeup.
May and June are shaping up to be pretty exciting months for the Tiger faithful in the grandstand at Gruner Field and expectations are high.
“Coach told us the other day that no one should expect more than what you expect from yourself. If we push ourselves and strive to get better every game than we have the potential for something really good,” said Sass.