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Among the most common questions I hear on baseball fields across Long Island is, “How is Massapequa always so good?”
It’s a great question.
Longtime head coach Tom Sheedy gave a brief window into how they operate when he said, “I learned from the old Ward Melville lacrosse coach, who told me about the ‘Cycle,’”
“The cycle is when you have grade school kids that come down to your camps, they wind up being the leaders of your varsity team,” Sheedy continued, “then they go on to play in college, then they come back to help out at the camps and the cycle goes on. It’s a very positive thing.”
It may sound oversimplified, but one thing is certain: Massapequa is at the top of the hierarchy of Long Island baseball programs.
The Chiefs are the five-time reigning Class AA Nassau County champs; in 2022 they just defeated Commack in the Class AA Long Island Championship. Overall, they went 22-3 last season.
Erik Paulsen Jr., the team’s leader this year and their de-facto captain, was in fifth grade the last time another team won the Class AA Nassau title.
“We haven’t had a captain since 2005, but if we did, it would be Erik,” Sheedy said. “I’ve seen maturity and leadership from him. The way we operate, I put a lot on the seniors. I told him before the season, the way we were once Matt Prokopowicz’ team and Andy Primm’s team, this year will be remembered as Erik Paulsen’s team.
“He has that kind of grip over what we do here,” he added.
Paulsen is the rare two-way player at Massapequa. Sheedy is adamant that he doesn’t like his position players having to pitch, but Paulsen is that good and he is committed to Stony Brook as a two-way player.
Last season, he batted .500 during the regular season, going 25 for 50 with 10 doubles, two home runs and 24 RBIs. He turned it up another notch in the playoffs when he went 11 for 19 with eight RBIs, three walks, three doubles and a triple.
On the mound, he went 3-0 during the regular season with 31 strikeouts over 18 innings. In the playoffs, he pitched 17.2 innings, allowing just 4 hits, while striking out 30 and issuing just three walks and one run.
Massapequa has another Stony Brook commit, catcher Paul Dulanto. Coach Sheedy said, “He’s the whole package.”
Sheedy joked that he’s hitting the ball harder now that he’s switched to a 34-inch bat.
“He was up on varsity with us every day as a freshman, and he followed around Bobby Stang, and (I) told him to listen,” Sheedy said. “He did listen. That’s how we do things here. We have the underclassmen learn from the senior.”
Stang is now a freshman playing at Georgia Southern. In addition to their treasure trove of championships, Massapequa counts a small army of alumni that are current college players.
“Around mid-February, I was just going through my contacts in my phone, texting all my former players and just wishing them good luck for the season,” Sheedy said. “I think it was in the mid-20s. We had some nice conversations, just catching up with the guys. We always allow our former players to come back to the team and talk to the players, and we don’t tell them what to say. It’s a good learning experience for them.”
One of the best players to ever don the Massapequa uniform will be back in a larger capacity this season.
Bobby Honeyman, who was drafted out of Stony Brook and played in the Seattle Mariners system, reaching Double-A ball, will be “helping out a little bit this season – he’s been getting the itch,” said Sheedy.
Last year’s team sent a couple more players onto college: Matt Castrogiovanni (SUNY Purchase) and Matt Hannon (Hofstra). Sheedy stated that Castrogiovanni (“Castro”) was not “a typical kind of leadoff hitter, but he did a great job of setting the tempo.”
Hannon was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the County Finals against Farmingdale, in which he pitched into the sixth inning with the lead. Sheedy said Hannon was able to gut it out even though he wasn’t at his best.
“I told him before the season, you’re going to take the ball … in the county championship,” Sheedy said. “The week before there was a Saturday practice and he was mentally done. I told him, this team needs you. We can’t just rely on George and Eric, you need to get your mind ready and he did. He got the ball to our closer Damian DiGiuseppe, and he closed it out.”
Game 2 was all Massapequa, as they won, 11-1, with sophomore southpaw George Adams taking the ball and thoroughly dominating. From the outside, it may have appeared Adams came from nowhere, but he has the full confidence of the team and coaching staff. Sheedy had the following to say about the junior lefty.
“He didn’t lose a game last year. He gave up a triple and a single to the first two batters last season and he didn’t give up a run after that. He gave up three earned runs in 38 innings for the season (0.55 ERA). He’s going to be our ace this season. He’s about 6’2 and 170 pounds right now, and he’s got the pickoff move so you can’t steal on him. He’s got a change up, a breaking ball and his fastball is up about five MPH from last year.
“We brought him up in practice late April in his freshman year and we were impressed with his composure. The building could be on fire and he will throw strikes. We brought him in during the state semifinals and he went 3.1 innings, didn’t give up a hit when we were down 7-4 and gave us a chance to come back in the game. His composure is off the charts. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Sheedy also mentioned senior Michael Vilardi, who is committed to Queens College as a pitcher, though he may also get time in rightfield for the Chiefs. He may also DH one day per week. He’s another hard-throwing pitcher for the Chiefs, and he can really swing it.
Massapequa’s strong roster includes Tampa-commit Tyler Young, who primarily was the DH last year as he was coming back from an arm injury. Sheedy said he will likely be their third baseman this year, while noting that Young hit in the high .300s and hit about 5 HRs.
They also return their starting shortstop, junior Joe Swinarski. Sheedy noted Swinarski’s strong arm and said he believes he has a future as a shortstop at the collegiate level.
The Chiefs open their title defense on April 3 against Oceanside. They then head to Charleston, South Carolina, for the HIT Tournament, April 10-14, to compete against 30+ teams from North Carolina and South Carolina.
They are scheduled to play 20 games during the regular season, including 15 league games.
Top photo: Axcess Baseball