All Hallows had never advanced all the way to the CHSAA championship at the highest classification before last year. Now the entire landscape has changed for the Gaels. No longer are they viewed as an also-ran.
“I explained to the kids, there’s a target on us now, especially within our division,” coach Ed Gutierrez said. “They have to be ready to play every single day. I think they’re understanding that.”
Of course, this isn’t the same team that fell to Xaverian in the finals in 2011. There’s one very big absence: James Norwood, who was arguably the top pitcher in New York City last year and also a slugger in the middle of the order. The hard-throwing righthander is at St. Louis now, which means All Hallows will be relying heavily on former No. 2 starter Jayson Reyes.
All Hallows shortstop Stephen Alemais returns for the Gaels, who made their first-ever CHSAA finals at the highest classification last year.
“He carried us last year and now he’s not here,” Gutierrez said of Norwood. “Jayson is gonna have to pick up the slack. We’re not as deep pitching wise as we were last year. Norwood covered a lot of ground.”
The good news is that, other than Norwood, the Gaels were young last year – and they’re still young. Stud shortstop Stephen Alemais, who has Division I interest, returns and will also be the team’s closer like he was last season. First baseman Lance Montano will again be in the middle of the order and be expected to help fill the void left by Norwood’s bat.
Then there’s first baseman/third baseman Jonathan Aponte, who transferred from Monroe. Aponte didn’t play last year for the PSAL program, but could help the Gaels. Justin Soto, who came off the bench last year, will see time at first base and second baseman Kevin Almonte is expected to make an impact. Reyes will play second when he’s not pitching.
Joe Morel will start in center field and also be the No. 2 starter, while Phoenix Deschamps returns to left field and will hit at the top of the order.
“It’ll be a grind,” Gutierrez said. “We play in a tough division. Hopefully we’ll be able to hang in there. We’ll have a big bull’s eye on our back.”
The coach figures defense and pitching to be the strength, but the lineup will be deep and versatile. All Hallows could be in the mix for a deep playoff run once again, but Gutierrez says he’s still in the evaluation period.
The Gaels come into the season as one of the favorites in the CHSAA. Their coach, though, will miss the underdog label All Hallows carried into last year’s postseason.
“No one thought we had a shot to contend last year,” he said, “and we wound up going to the championship.”
James Norwood, Norwood, All Hallows, All Hallows, CHSAA, CHSAA, Stephen Alemais, Gaels, coach Ed Gutierrez, Gutierrez, Jonathan Aponte, Phoenix Deschamps