There's no need to look further than last year's playoffs to find the two most tightly contested races in Nassau.
While Class AA and A champs Massapequa and Clarke continue to demonstrate their long-established ability to reload year after year, the superlative individual talents at MacArthur and Island Trees may just be enough to upend the baseball giants.
There's heavy buzz around MacArthur (19-4-2), which returns All-State pitcher Frankie Vanderka and shortstop Nick McQuail. The Generals are looking to regroup after a disappointing postseason; a favored MacArthur came into the playoffs as the first seed but fell to fourth-seeded Carey in the semifinals.
MacArthur boasts a deep rotation, led by Vanderka, who clocks in the mid-to-upper 80s and can throw four pitches for strikes. Vanderka, McQuail (.500 OPB), and Mike Scro (.410) are a potent combination.
Despite this, Massapequa (22-8) remains the favorite. The Chiefs have strong pitching, led by All-State righty Joe Lipari, but will need veterans like all-league first basemen Rob Veltre to set the tone.
Carey ascended to the big show after dominating AA-II in 2009 and defeating No. 1 MacArthur in the semifinals. With the likes of John Daddino, the staff ace who notched a no-hitter against Mepham, and Kyle DeMeo (17 RBIs, 14 stolen bases), the Seahawks will be competitive.
Bellmore-Kennedy returns stronger on the back of big lefty Kevin Archibald, while East Meadow pitcher Max Schonfeld (7-0) and Mepham slugger J.C. Brandmaier (.415, 6 HRs) no doubt will give their teams an edge.
Plainview JFK is strong in AA-II with an abundance of talent, including Manhattan-bound pitcher Kevin Bonanni and catcher Chris Caldari. Port Washington (16-2) continues its metamorphosis into a good team, led by Everett Keller (8-1, 71 Ks) and shortstop David Podlofsky. Syosset isn't to be discounted with five-tool shortstop Mitch Hollander. Herricks returns 10 seniors.
Island Trees (20-6-2) is led by strong pitching and Diamond Award-winner Bryan Verbitsky. He is a heavy-hitting outfielder with a professional-grade slider. Verbitsky, Brandon Garcia (0.82 WHIP) and Dan Bartlett (5-0, 1.17 ERA) comprise a three-ace rotation.
It may take more than that to unsettle Clarke's winning tradition. The Class A state finalist was 25-4 and is led by Connor McCarthy (4-1, 2.21 ERA) and Ryan Sloane (.337, 17 RBIs, 10 stolen bases).
Wantagh is another team to watch, led by pitcher Matt Dybus. The Warriors are senior dominated and can secure a spot atop the league.
Garden City returns seven starters, including catcher Joe Tursi (.306), and Glen Cove likely will improve this year after difficulties in 2009; the Big Red lost five one-run games but introduce a more disciplined team with senior shortstop Rich Maccarone (.404). Expect improvements from Mineola, led by Jimmy Bulva (.429), who hit .722 with runners in scoring position.
The big name in AA-II is Matt Demitroff. The Manhasset pitcher and shortstop hit .471 and has more than 100 career hits and stolen bases. He and rightfielder Tom Heenen make Manhasset a top contender. The Indians will be challenged by Seaford and North Shore.South Side also returns a loaded lineup.
Elmont hopes to move away from a difficult season in A-III and returns an improved pitching staff, and Great Neck North also has a slew of senior pitching. Westbury is growing and might surprise behind Nick Arevalo (.365) and the burgeoning talent of pitcher Billy Casseus.
CLASS B & C
Carle Place has talent in junior Stephen Laurino (.500, 28 RBIs). The Frogs will try to hold off Cold Spring Harbor.East Rockaway will hope to challenge Oyster Bay in Class C, helmed by David Hobbs (1.77 ERA, 62 Ks). Friends Academy improves on the strength of its pitching.