(Pictured: From the 2022 season, Nick Cerreta and the Xavier baseball team at Dunkin’ Park in Hartford).

By Paul Augeri

Xavier won 15 games last season and again was a top-10 seed heading into the baseball postseason, but the Falcons lacked the joy of team and of winning and flamed out in the first round.

The best thing about the 2024 Falcons? They have an outward love of the game and, more importantly, take joy in seeing a teammate succeed at the plate, in the field or on the mound.

“This team resembles the 2022 team, which was a very good team with a lot of heart,” coach Nick Cerreta said. “This team reminds me of that one. You don’t get that every year. This team has the intangibles. They love cheering for each other and they’re happy when someone succeeds. You need that in baseball.”

The aforementioned 2022 Falcons won 18 of 20 in the regular season, played for the SCC championship and was one good inning away from reaching the final four of the Class LL tournament.

Xavier began this spring with a No. 7 ranking in the GameTimeCT Top 10 preseason poll and a road win out of the gate — 7-4 against Cheshire in extra innings.

Even though Cerreta dismisses the early attention — “This team has nothing to do with the ranking,” Cerreta said — it speaks to the dynamic of this year’s club and what it could achieve.

“There is a different mindset this year,” he said. “They’re hungry and they want to win and work hard. They come early and stay late. It’s a good, fun group, and fun to be around. This is a hard-working and fun team and they’re a lot of fun to coach.”

The Falcons’ win over SCC divisional rival Cheshire had no shortage of ups and down. The Falcons had an early lead and lost it, regained the lead and lost it again. The Rams scored late to send it to extras before Will Weber’s two-run single in the eighth sealed the deal. Junior right-hander Price Savini was the winning pitcher in relief.

Xavier’s lineup is anchored by senior first baseman Nick Fox, who hits out of the 2 hole. The GameTimeCT and CHSCA All-State performer wowed during his junior season with a .479 average, 24 RBIs, 18 runs and six stolen bases. Fourteen of the left-handed hitter’s 34 hits went for extra bases and he had a .514 average with runners in scoring position.

Fox is committed to play next year at Central Connecticut State, where Middletown native Charlie Hickey has been the longtime head coach. He is a Xavier captain along with seniors Colby Ciampi and Luc Frezza.

“He’s a force to be reckoned with in the lineup,” said Cerreta. “He struck out once last year. He put the ball in play and he hits it hard. Every time he gets up he thinks he’s going to get a hit. Just great hand-eye coordination.”

The Falcons’ offense will need time to settle in around Fox and the counted-on bats of junior third baseman Clark Beattie and junior DH/catcher Max Zajac. Xavier’s top newcomers include sophomores Cael Loria at shortstop and Zach Ferrera in left field.

“They came onto the scene and earned starting spots,” Cerreta said.

The Falcons’ starting rotation for now includes junior lefty Maddox Leite, who pitched 4 1/3 innings against Cheshire; junior left-hander Anthony Papa, who is returning from Tommy John surgery; senior right-hander Mike Prestash; and Savini. Papa will be on a strict pitch count early on, while Prestash is slowly building up from a shoulder injury.

Sophomore right-hander Paul Cristalli will come out of the bullpen as a middle reliever/closer, while senior righty Brayden Lobo also will get innings.

Xavier’s schedule ramps up next week (weather permitting) with three games in as many days – against East Haven on Tuesday, at No. 3-ranked/SCC champion Guilford on Wednesday, and Daniel Hand on Thursday. The East Haven and Hand games are scheduled for Palmer Field.

Key dates include a May 3 return game with Guilford at Palmer Field; a May 8 game at Dunkin’ Park in Hartford against Fairfield Prep; and a May 11 (Saturday) game against Cromwell at Palmer Field.

“The players are ready to have fun,” Cerreta said, “but they’re focused, too. They have the right mindset.”

Diamond notes from the area

**Cromwell’s season opener turned out to be a hard-luck 3-2 loss to Haddam-Killingworth. The Panthers allowed three unearned runs from a booted double-play ball in the second inning. In the bottom of the sixth, freshman Evan Ucol’s grounder would have found a hole had it not hit a Cromwell base runner for the final out.

**H-K coach Mark Brookes began this season, his 47th with the Cougars, as a first-time DEFENDING state champion. The team is 2-0 – win Nos. 744 and 745 for the widely regarded Brookes. Only North Haven’s Bob DeMayo, who retired in 2022 after 64 seasons and 936 wins, has more dubs.

**Former Coginchaug left-hander Kolby Pascarelli has landed at Elon University in North Carolina. On Easter Sunday, the redshirt freshman closed out Campbell in the ninth inning for a 13-12 Elon victory. It was the first save for Pascarelli, who also has won twice. He was the ace on Coginchaug’s 2021 CIAC Class S championship team.

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