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A five-tool player is defined as someone who hits for average, hits for power, runs the bases well, possesses a strong arm and plays great defense. It’s a term that is thrown around loosely in the baseball world, but it’s rare to find a player at the high school level who actually fits the description.
In shortstop Richard Slenker, Fox Lane might have had the closest thing to a five-tool player that Section 1 has seen in years.
“He’s the best defensive player I’ve ever had. You add that on top of being one of the top two hitters I’ve ever had, and I just can’t reiterate enough that the sky is the limit for this kid,” coach Matt Hillis said. “He comes along once in a coach’s lifetime, if you’re lucky.”
The Yale-bound senior was regarded by many as the most complete player in the section, but his intangibles are what many opposing coaches point to as his most impressive attribute. With his even-keeled demeanor, Slenker was the unquestioned leader on a team that featured six seniors who will play college baseball.
“I try my best to play the game the right way,” Slenker said. “I play hard, and I definitely take pride in the way that I play. … I think if you play the game the right way, people will respect you.”
Slenker led the most potent offensive team in the section in batting average (.494), runs scored (40), hits (40), doubles (10) and home runs (7), earning the Tony Zimbalatti award as MVP of Section 1. In a lineup filled with tough outs, he was the toughest.
“He was very consistent,” Maryland-bound first baseman Matt Oniffrey said. “I could bring up something great in each game. Every game he made spectacular plays and hit lasers.”
Slenker and Oniffrey formed the most lethal middle-of-the-order combination in the section, leading Slenker to say, “I think Matt’s just as deserving of this as anyone.”
With those two leading the charge, the Foxes reached the Class AA title game, where they led 11-5 over Arlington heading into the final inning. An epic eight-run rally by the Admirals handed Fox Lane one of the most heartbreaking defeats in Section 1 history, but the way Slenker and his teammates handled the loss spoke volumes.
“I think you have to move on,” he said. “It was definitely rough at first. After the game, everyone got pretty emotional, but it’s nice to see. It showed you how strong our team was, and how much we all wanted to be here and really respected the whole program.”
“I’ve never seen a more respected kid ever in my life,” Hillis said of Slenker.
But the coach is also quick to speak of Slenker’s unique talents.
“Obviously, (Fox Lane graduate Darin) Mastroianni went on and became a big-leaguer. From a talent standpoint, they’re running parallel. Darin ran a little better, but Slenk has a stronger arm and more power,” Hillis said. “It would absolutely shock me if this kid doesn’t play somewhere in pro ball.”
While Slenker dreams of playing professionally one day, his next step will be to compete for the shortstop job at Yale. Never one to boast or make bold predictions, Slenker simply shrugged and smiled when asked what the future might hold.
“If I’m fortunate enough,” he said. “That’s definitely the goal.”
The rest of the The Journal News first-team all-stars:
Catcher — Kyle Adams, White Plains: The all-state senior catcher led the Tigers to their most successful season in recent memory, winning a share of the league title for the first time in 34 years and earning the No. 2 seed in the Class AA playoffs. He hit .421 with a .593 on-base percentage and slugged .719, finishing the season with 25 runs scored, 18 RBI, 12 extra-base hits, 13 stolen bases and only three strikeouts.
Infield — Sky Mercado, Stepinac: The Maine-bound senior shortstop was arguably the Crusaders’ best hitter, and best pitcher. He went 4-2 with four saves, a 1.96 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings, and hit .364 with 22 runs scored, 38 stolen bases and 23 RBI.
Infield — Matt Oniffrey, Fox Lane: The all-state senior first baseman hit .446 with 28 runs scored, 33 RBI and 16 extra-base hits, including six homers. But he might have played an even more important role for the pitching-needy Foxes on the mound. The Maryland-bound lefty struck out 42 in 21 1/3 innings with a 1.97 ERA.
Infield — Stephen Zalys, Haldane: The all-state senior first baseman led the Blue Devils to their second consecutive Class C sectional title, hitting .474 with a .543 on-base percentage and 28 RBI. The sweet-swinging lefty will play his college ball at RPI.
Outfield — Gabe Kardish, Ardsley: The all-state center fielder was a spark plug all season and led the Panthers to a surprise sectional title in Class B. The senior hit .389 from the leadoff spot with 23 runs scored, 19 RBI, nine doubles, seven triples and five homers.
Outfield — Vinny Martin, Iona Prep: The Iona College-bound senior right-hander went 4-2 with a 1.58 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). He struck out 55 in 53 innings and held opponents to a .204 batting average, while also hitting .385 and driving in 10 runs.
Outfield — Marc Medico, Eastchester: The all-state senior was a major contributor both on the mound and at the plate. The Mercy-bound left-hander went 6-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings, while also hitting .493 with 26 runs scored, 23 RBI and 15 extra-base hits.
Utility — Thomas Pipolo, Rye Neck: The all-state junior catcher led the Panthers to one of the best baseball seasons in school history, finishing 21-3 on their run to the Class B title game. Pipolo hit .407 with a .510 on-base percentage while scoring 24 runs and driving in 22.
Utility — Joe Scambia, Somers: The all-state senior had the best statistical season of any catcher in Section 1, hitting .532 with a .986 slugging percentage, 27 runs, 24 RBI and 18 extra-base hits, including five homers. He also threw out 75 percent of runners attempting to steal. He will play at Northeastern.
Pitcher — Tyler Fernandez, Rye Country Day: The junior left-hander emerged as the Wildcats’ ace this season, finishing 5-2 with a 1.80 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 37 innings.
Pitcher — Will Hofmann, Mamaroneck: The all-state right-hander went 8-3 with a 0.76 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 70 strikeouts in 67 innings. The Franklin & Marshall-bound senior earned a reputation as a big-game pitcher by starting half the Tigers’ games, including a first-round playoff win over Mahopac.
Pitcher — Dylan Jorde, Mahopac: The all-section right-hander emerged as an ace to lead one of the better pitching staffs in the section. The senior finished 5-2 with a 1.70 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 33 innings.
Pitcher — Spencer Kulman, Briarcliff: The all-state right-hander went 5-3 with a 1.58 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 69 strikeouts in 53 innings. The Wofford-bound senior was also the Bears’ most consistent bat, hitting .472 with 25 runs scored and 24 RBI.
Pitcher — Sam Mines, John Jay: The all-state senior went on a tremendous postseason run, winning three playoff games and saving another to lead the Indians to the Class A state semifinals. The Rutgers-bound submariner finished 7-1 with two saves in 61 1/3 innings and struck out 55, finishing with a 1.37 ERA and holding opponents to a .212 batting average.
Coach of the Year — Geoff Curtis, John Jay: Despite losing pitching ace Will Jahn to a partial labrum tear in the first game of the season, Curtis led his team to new heights with its improbable run to the Class A state semifinals. Curtis developed pitching depth to offset the loss of Jahn and found creative ways to score runs to lead the Indians to league, sectional and regional titles.
Catcher — Jason Agresti, Jr., Kennedy
Infield — Nick Campana, Jr., Eastchester
Infield — Jack Hatheway, Sr., Byram Hills
Infield — Steve Sicignano, Sr., Pleasantville
Infield — Jack Weiller, So., John Jay
Outfield — Jayson Gray, Sr., New Rochelle
Outfield — Chris Medeot, Jr., White Plains
Outfield — James Wynne, Sr., North Salem
Utility — Spike Manning, Sr., Pelham
Utility — Peter Pena, Jr., Sleepy Hollow
Pitcher — Alec Brown, Jr., Fox Lane
Pitcher — Chris DiDomizio, Jr., Lakeland
Pitcher — Christian Doughty, Sr., Croton-Harmon
Pitcher — Frank Fusco, Sr., Yorktown
Pitcher — John Valente, Sr., New Rochelle
Honorable mention: Jacob Aboodi, Jr., Scarsdale; Nick Arduino, Jr., Sleepy Hollow; Luis Arias, So., Salesian; Ryan Aquino, Jr., Rye Neck; Alec Brown, Sr., John Jay; Brandon Campos, Jr., Stepinac; Lou Carrafiello, Sr., Briarcliff; Chris Cascione, Jr., Rye Neck; Kyle Crimmins, Sr., Eastchester; Tim DeGraw, So., Rye; Justin Ellick, Jr., Horace Greeley; Jared Feldman, Sr., Byram Hills; Felix Fermin, Sr., Riverside; Drew Fopeano, Sr., Fox Lane; Matt Gherlarducci, Sr., Brewster; Nick Greto, Sr., Pleasantville; Eric Handleman, Sr., Blind Brook; Tyler Keech, Sr., John Jay; Kevin Kernan, Jr., Mahopac; Ryan Koval, Sr., Haldane; Ryan Ledwith, Sr., North Salem; Edwin Lopez, Sr., Sleepy Hollow; Joe Lovecchio, Sr., Valhalla; Mat Marino, Sr., Mamaroneck; Jean Mejia, Sr., Yonkers; Kyle Monk, Sr., Hen Hud; Matt Mojica, Sr., Saunders; Carlos Monserrate, Sr., Ardsley; Michael Murray, Sr., Pelham; Ryan Nealon, Jr., Somers; Vinnie Nicita, Sr., Harrison; Abel Nunez, Jr., Lincoln; Ryan Orgielewicz, Sr., Mamaroneck; Dan Ormond, Sr., Iona Prep; Brian O’Toole, Sr., Tuckahoe; Michael Palmiero, Sr., Carmel; Nick Reisman, Sr., Tuckahoe; Lukas Repetti, Jr., White Plains; Anthony Rotunno, Jr., Westlake; Pat Rucci, Sr., Panas; Shoran Tamura, Sr., Irvington; Takumi Yokoyama, Sr., Keio.
Photos by Ricky Flores/The Journal News