Marc My Words!

Marc Maturo’s official sports column

Win or lose, Rockland Astros are having a blast

Rockland Astros
Rockland Astros

Perry Lopez of Congers has a mission.

“We want to keep the kids playing,” notes Lopez, who runs the eight-year-old Rockland Astros, an organization that features four club-level amateur baseball teams including the College Astros for players 18-and-over.

The other clubs sponsored by the Astros are 14-and-under, 16-and-under and 18-and-under.

The collegiate club, in its fourth season, competes in the highly competitive New Jersey Amateur Baseball League (NJABL), with its home games at Rockland Community College in Suffern.

Last year, playing their first season in the NJABL, the Astros reached the best-of-three championship series. Lopez is proud to recount a tough loss in the third and deciding contest.

“We lost 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh (inning),” Lopez said. “It was a tough loss, but I do enjoy it. We want to provide good coaching and good competition. The college level is highly competitive against good competition; we use experienced college players as coaches. Wherever we can go in the Northeast we go – Boston, Rochester, Albany. We want the players to get exposure. We’ve had over 60 players get to play at the college level.”

Lopez, whose club got off to a shaky start this season, went 0-2 in the recent Crotty-Konkowski Memorial Tournament, sponsored by the Suffern Blue Devils. (Clarkstown North head coach Mike Pisano guided the Rockland River Dogs to the title.)

The Astros’ schedule showcases games in June and July, before picking up again for fall ball in September and October.

“We break in August, which is left for families,” said Lopez, adding that training continues indoors during the winter at Indoor 365 off Route 9W in Congers.

Lopez was undaunted by his team’s showing in the Crotty-Konkowski Tournament.

“Unfortunately, we lost two games but it was for an excellent cause, a great tournament,” he said. “ It was our third year competing. We actually won it our first year.”

The tournament is held each year in memory of former Suffern HS students Vincent Crotty of Montebello and Christopher Konkowski of Airmont, both of whom died tragically in an automobile accident in March 2010.

Some recent Astros players who went on to professional careers include Andrew Camardella of Pelham, who played five years in the organization and starred at Dominican College in Orangeburg. Camardella – “A great kid,” Lopez observes – is playing Independent League baseball with the Bisbee Blue in Arizona in the Pecos League, which attracts huge interest from major-league scouts.

Robbie Aviles
Robbie Aviles

Robbie Aviles of Suffern, whose older brother Mike played for the Suffern Blue Devils, is pitching in the Midwest League for an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians and is currently sporting a 2.16 ERA.

This year, two Astros alumni hooked up with a professional team: pitcher Justin Van Grouw of New Jersey and left-hand pitcher Kevin Ferguson of Suffern, who attended Northeastern University. Grouw is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization while Ferguson signed with the Houston Astros.

This year’s team includes pitchers Casey Kern of North Rockland, a southpaw who attends Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pa.; right-hander Joe DePool of Nanuet, who starred at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill and who also sees action in center field; right-hander Chris Hutton of North Rockland and Catholic University in Washington, D.C.; Matt Dedeo of Clarkstown North HS; and right-hander Kyle Unger of New City and Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.

Unger is coming off a nifty three-hit, 5-2 victory over Wyckoff in a NJABL game.

Ben Drandow of New City, who is bound for Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, mans the first-base position for Lopez, whose son Corey, who went to Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, plays second base.

Clarkstown North HS graduate Malcolm Nails of New City is the team’s catcher.

Lopez said anyone looking to play summer and fall ball should access: www.rocklandastros.com.

Matt Willows, Hall of Fame honoree
Matt Willows, Hall of Fame honoree

HALL OF FAME: Wrestler Steve Ramos, hockey standout Matt Willows and basketball/lacrosse star Brett Harvey will be inducted into the Clarkstown North High School Hall of Fame.

Ramos’ outstanding scholastic career spanned five seasons from 2005, eighth-grade participant, through the 2008-09 season (senior year).

Ramos, a team captain and MVP in his junior and senior years, is the school’s all-time leader in career wins (172) and career pins (112).

Coach Tony Mellino is quoted as saying, “Steven Ramos was the most coachable and naturally gifted athlete to ever compete for the Rams. When he stepped on the mat fans, opponents, and other coaches would make a point of watching him compete because they knew they would see something spectacular.”

Ramos competed two seasons at North Carolina State University, and twice made the ACC honor roll.

Willows, who attended Morristown-Beard Prep School in his junior year, came back his senior season and amassed a state-record 87 goals, 68 assists and 138 points, another state standard.

For his three-year career Willows scored 158 goals (second-best all-time for the Rams), with 115 assists for 273 points (third in school history).

Willows is currently a player for the University of New Hampshire’s Division I program, and was selected the “offensive player of the year” for UNH and selected as team captain for the upcoming season.

Harvey, a two-sport standout, earned six varsity letters while being a varsity starter for three seasons in each.

While basketball was his main love Brett exhibited outstanding ability on the lacrosse field, but he stuck to the hardwood in his senior year after receiving a full Division I scholarship. Still, Harvey scored 57 goals and assisted on 30 others in his shortened lacrosse career ranking him ninth all-time.  Coach John Fitzgerald said, “Brett was one of the most game savvy and talented lacrosse players I have coached in 19 years.”

In basketball, Harvey was a two-time all-county selection, and player of the year in 2006. He then showcased his talent at  Loyola, where he was a four-year starter and set a school record for games played.   In the 2008-09 season Harvey led all of Division I in free-throw shooting with 91 percentage.  After graduation Brett signed a professional contract with Macaabi Haifa in the Israeli Super League.

Pocholo Chavez, honored
Pocholo Chavez, honored

QUICK HITTERS: Purchase College tennis standout Pocholo Chavez of Stony Point and swimming standout Aaron Schwartz of Nyack were named to the Skyline Conference honor roll for the 2013-14 winer and spring. The Panthers had 42 honorees among the 389 selections from around the conference.
THIS & THAT: The Israel Lacrosse Association, the national governing body of lacrosse in Israel, is seeking sports management, communications, marketing, or physical education students who are looking for a unique and challenging internship in the heart of the Middle East. Previous lacrosse playing and/or coaching experience is a plus, but not required. Contact Julia Szafman at julia@lacrosse.co.il.