The good news is the Pierson baseball team has returned strong portions of its starting lineup from last season, when in won the Suffolk County Class C Championship. The bad news is what lies ahead.
The Whalers will face their most challenging regular-season schedule in years after Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body of high school athletics, decided to reduce the number of leagues from nine to eight.
After competing in League IX last year, Pierson and other small schools like Southold, Port Jefferson and Smithtown Christian will compete this season in League VIII with the likes of Mattituck, Hampton Bays, Babylon and Center Moriches, which is the defending Class B state champion.
“It’s definitely going to be a very different season this year, much more competitive. It’s going to be ups and downs,” Pierson’s second-year head coach Jonathan Schwartz said. “We’ll see Southold, we’ll see Smithtown Christian, and then we actually open up with Center Moriches.”
Rolling through last season with a 21-3 record will obviously be difficult to replicate. And it’s not just because of the competition. The Whalers lost four key players to graduation, including All-County pitcher and first baseman Tyler LaBorne, centerfielder and pitcher Sam Warne, outfielder Oliver Kirwin and catcher Tom Brooks, all of whom were All-League.
Returning to lead the team is senior Cooper Schiavoni, who will start at shortstop and be relied on as the number-one starter. The loss of LaBorne and Warne, in particular, has left a big gap in terms of pitching, Schwartz said.
“That’s the biggest loss for us, two seniors, quality starters who gave us a lot of innings,” he said. “So it’s really going to be a bit of a question where those innings come from.”
Matt Hall, a junior second baseman who is as smooth an infielder as Pierson has had in recent years, will see significant time on the mound, as will Pierce Summers, who, like LaBorne, is a lefty, and junior Henry Brooks. The combination of Hall and Schiavoni in the middle infield will be the strength of the team, according to Schwartz.
Replacing Brooks behind the plate will be Tucker Schiavoni, with Jack Duryea and Max Mensch as his backups. Nick Egbert will start in centerfield, Schwartz said, but the other outfield positions are still in open competition.
Pierson will open the season with a pair of “non-league” games against Southold, the first coming at home on March 25 at 4:30 p.m. The Settlers originally were not on Pierson’s schedule, which includes six three-game series against Center Moriches, Mattituck, Hampton Bays, Port Jefferson, Smithtown Christian and Babylon. Southold is the only other Class C school in Suffolk County, however, and a likely opponent in the postseason, so both coaches decided it was important to schedule a pair of games against each other in the early going.
“We’ll see them at the beginning and hopefully at the end,” Schwartz said about Southold, which has been Pierson’s biggest rival over the years. “In the meantime we just need to keep our heads up and compete as hard as we can. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I think we’re going to be ready.”