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Taravella Enters A New Era Under Alan Clark
Shortstop Joe Libio and second baseman Lino Bravo will be key to the Trojans’ defense this season.
A new era is beginning at Taravella, where Alan Clark begins his first year as the team’s manager. The former assistant coach will be tasked with trying to help the Trojans regain the glory days when the program was neck and neck with Douglas for the top spot in a district that has seen Coral Springs evolve into the team to beat.
Clark takes over for Jason Stein as the program, coming off a 7-13 campaign last spring, is on its third coach since last year and will try to bring a sense of stability. Already some of the players are buying in and are expressing confidence in Clark.
Jack Kelly is entering his third year on the varsity team, so he has been through the coaching changes.
“[Clark] brings organization,” Kelley said. “He brings talent. He brings fun, because if we’re not having fun out here, we’re not winning. We’re having fun this year. He’s teaching us how to hit, how to pitch and fundamentals. He’s doing everything he can.”
Kelley’s teammate Matthew Majewski said Clark has the traits of a successful manager.
“He brings experience because he knows how to get everyone ready for a game, how to keep us energized,” Majewski said. “It’s fun having him around. He actually understands the kids.”
Clark said he has a put a staff in place to foster success and is making sure the players are all on the same page.
“You’ve got to bring a good coaching staff so everyone is seeing the same faces for one,” Clark said. “Number two is discipline. If they’re not disciplined, then they’re not going to listen to you and then nobody’s really going to know what’s going on. So it’s got to be the same thing day in and day out.”
In the short term, Clark’s goal is to put a winning season together this year. His long-term goal also is straightforward.
“For every high school coach, their long-term goal should be winning a state title,” he said.
Clark is making the most of the fall to identify the team’s strengths and weaknesses. The team is fairly young, so development is a priority. A plus is the players are familiar with one and another, and there’s a sense of camaraderie.
“I’m trying to get everybody enough playing time to where I can evaluate them and get a really good idea of what I have going into the spring,” Clark said. “We have a lot of returners. We’re not an old team. We have a lot of juniors, a lot of sophomores, a couple of seniors. So from there, it’s pretty much get everyone working at the positions they need to be working at and just put a good team on the field. That’s all I want this year. They play very well together. A lot of them have been together since little league. So everybody knows each other. There’s not a lot of new faces. everybody knows their job, and we just got to keep everybody on the right track.”
Clark said he is pleased with the team’s work in the offseason to improve, and the players understand the game better.
“The amount of summer ball that these kids have played has shown,” he said. “Their vocabulary of the game has increased, so I don’t have to tell them everything five and six times like we did last year. For the most part, everyone has been around. They know what I’m expecting. I was here last year. So yeah, I’m a new head coach, but I’m not a new face to the program. They know what I expect and how I want it done, and so far, it seems to be working out.”
Clark also implemented a weightlifting program that previously wasn’t year-round. This summer, Clark opened the weight room to the team. He didn’t make it mandatory, but nearly every player took advantage of the opportunity.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that I had almost all of my team out here during the summer,” Clark said. “If they were out of town, they were here when they were in town. So I think weightlifting has been the biggest key this year because to swing these bats, even last year, everybody knows with BBCOR, balls weren’t flying out of the yard like they were. I think these kids understand to swing these bats now, you’ve got to be strong. And you don’t get strong by eating a lot of food.”
Brady Acker will pitch for the Trojans this year.
Hitting is an area where the Trojans can stand to improve, batting just .257 as a team last year. In addition, the team lost three big bats in Greg Feinberg (.451 average) and Andrew Wallach (.339), both of whom graduated, as well as Joseph DePalo (.314), who transferred to Coral Springs Christian. No returning player hit above .300 last year.
“We’ve got to hit,” Clark said. “I tell the kids all the time that pitching and defense is a staple of a good championship team, but you’ve got to put runs on the board. If you throw a shutout and you don’t score any runs, you still haven’t won the game yet.”
Pitching also is an area where the Trojans will be looking for people to step up as they have lost potentially their best arm in Devin Meyer, who transferred to Coral Springs Christian. Meyer went only 2-5 last year, but he struck out 37 in 37.1 innings.
“A kid like Devin Meyer, it’s a big loss,” Clark said. “He’s a great pitcher. He’s going to succeed in this game as long as he keeps his head on straight. He’s that type of kid. I had a good relationship with him. It would have been nice to keep him, but I understand. We spoke before he left. I have no hard feelings, and I wish him the best.”
Clark said he understands why he lost a few key players from last year’s team.
“With all the stuff that was going on with the program, I think that kind of threw some people for a loop. They weren’t sure what was going on, so there was some hesitancy for people to really buy in because they weren’t sure if the coach was going to be here.”
Chris Verardi and Majewski return to the staff with a lot of experience from last year. Verardi threw 28.2 innings last year, going 3-2 with 21 strikeouts and a 2.69 ERA. Majewski struck out 20 in 25 innings but went 0-2 with a 4.20 ERA. Brady Acker is another player who will be counted on to pitch well this year.
Clark is expecting good things defensively, though he said there is work to do at first base. Clark is especially high on the team’s catchers Kelley, Julio Batista and Mike Fitschen.
“I’m blessed with the fact that I actually have really good catchers in this program,” Clark said. “A lot of high schools, they don’t have catchers who can shut down a run game. They don’t have catchers that can take charge of a game. I have three catchers who can take charge of the game. It’s almost like having another coach on the field. It’s a nice plus.”
Chris Verardi could be an innings-eater for the Trojans.
Fitschen, Steven Vasquez and Matt Ortiz will play at first with Jack Costanzo, Joseph Libio and Lino Bravo as dependable middle infielders. Chad Corrace and Eddie Torres will lock down third. In the outfield, the top guys are Manny Pantaleon and Gavin Robinson will other promising players penciled in as well.
“We’re going to be pretty good defensively. Nobody that’s going to be out here has not played a lick of varsity baseball before,” Clark said. “We’re young, but we’re not stupid. We have kids who have varsity baseball experience.”
Clark said if the team can play an all-around solid game and cut down on mental mistakes that plagued it last year, he sees the team as a threat in tough district in which the Trojans finished fifth with a 5-7 record.
“We’ll have a good shot at doing something around here that people can remember,” he said.
Majewski also is confident in the team’s chances to be back among the top teams in the district.
“I think we can honestly do it this year because I know Douglas and Coral Springs actually lost some kids from last year,” he said. “And I believe with us, if we focus on defense and pitching this year and hopefully hitting will come up and we can get it, I think we can actually compete this year.”