Fairfield Ludlowe

It's a new beginning of sorts for Ludlowe. Coming off a 15-9 season in 2013, the Falcons will rebuild with 15 players, including eight starters, having graduated a year ago. What's more, there's a new coach at the helm, although the face is familiar. Mike Francese, who spent nine years as an assistant, takes over the new-look lineup.

The goal of the Falcons: "To compete and win as many games as possible," Fracese said. "If our pitchers throw strikes, our fielders make the routine plays, and our hitters have quality at bats, I am confident we will succeed."

The coach isn't expecting things to be easy.

"The FCIAC is always competitive and there is a lot of parity around the league. We will take no one for granted and respect all opponents, regardless of record or past years' success," he said.

"The boys work hard in practice and are challenged by the coaches and each other every day to get better," said Francese, noting that he is hopeful there are no weaknesses on the field. "If we play as a team and can deal with adversity, there is always a chance to improve."

Among the seniors who will be turned to for leadership are pitcher/outfielder Steven Zadrevec (All-FCIAC honorable mention in 2013), pitcher/outfielder Mikey Arman, and pitcher/first baseman Kevin Hickey.

Fairfield Warde

The Mustangs went 7-13 a year ago, but with a bulk of experienced players back in the mix, 10-year coach Mark Caron believes they stand to turn things around and contend for a playoff spot.

Caron expects his team should, at the least, make strides from a year ago when inexperience was a factor in those struggles. The team lost six players, four of whom were starters, to graduation, but returns a wealth of talent.

The coach believes strong infield play, consistent starting pitching, and the batters finding a way to put up some runs will be key. Strengths are in the outfield, where seniors Mike Foley (captain) and Tom Luckner return to make plays, as well as the lineup that Caron says is deep.

Foley, a first-team All-FCIAC selection a year ago, headed to the University of Rhode Island next year, batted .455 last spring, and stands to be in the running for Player of the Year in the conference, Caron said. Luckner, who will play at Eastern Connecticut State University, finished with a .373 average a year ago.

Senior catcher Anthony Miller (captain) provides a good bat coming off a season in which he hit .327. Junior Nick Nardone, an infielder/pitcher batted .353 and posted a 3.42 earned run average.

Senior Hunter Hewitt is a probable starter in a three-man rotation, and sophomore Reece Maniscalco is a likely starting pitcher, Caron said.

Warde has inexperience in the infield, and the team will need to secure pitching depth to get better, Caron said.

Tough teams on the schedule include FCIAC foes Staples, Danbury, New Canaan and St. Joseph.

"I am excited about this year's team. We have great character kids that are passionate about baseball and have a strong work ethic," Caron said. "We will definitely be much improved from last year's team and hope to make the FCIAC tournament."

Fairfield Prep

Coming off a season in which the Jesuits (18-7) got all the way to the Class LL state tournament semifinals with nine seniors, six of whom were starters, coach Rudy Mauritz has high expectations and also some big shoes to fill throughout the lineup.

"After making a deep run in the Class LL tournament last year, the members of the team this year are anxious to make another deep run and hopefully a trip to a state championship game," Mauritz said.

Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division foe Xavier of Middletown (undefeated in the regular season) is among the tough teams on the schedule, along with Notre Dame-West Haven, Hamden and West Haven. Non-divisional teams in the SCC who stand to be among the most competitive are Amity-Woodbridge and Shelton, Mauritz said.

"Our schedule is a difficult one. We need to make sure we focus on the game at hand and earn the opportunity to play in the state and SCC tournaments by playing solid defense, executing on offense, and by taking care of all of the little things which make the game of baseball challenging but so great to play," Mauritz said.

The Prep coach says his team should be strong in the field and at bat. Seniors Shawn Blake and Kevin Stone, the team's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in last year's lineup, return. Joe Ganim, Jake Berry and Dean Lockery all made significant contributions in the batter's box last year as well.

Blake, who plays first base, was an All-Quinnipiac selection, and was chosen as a Junior All Star. Lockery, a senior shortstop, is in his third season as a starter. Berry, a senior, is a catcher; Stone (All-Quinnipiac) is a pitcher/outfielder; and juniors Ganim, who plays outfield, and Simon Whiteman, who plays the infield and outfield, should be key contributors.

Beyond Stone, the pitching staff is a big question mark, Mauritz said. "We're interested in seeing who will step up into the number two and number three starter roles this season," he said.

Mauritz (91-86) is in his ninth year.

Notre Dame-Fairfield

Notre Dame-Fairfield coach Bill Mazzucco returns for his second year guiding the Lancers. The team went 15-9 in 2013. This year's starting lineup stands to feature an even mix of returning players and new faces. Among seven graduates were four starters, including P.J. DeFilippo, now at Sacred Heart, and Anthony Searles (UMass).

Mazzucco and assistant coach Bob Sorrentino have some strong pitching and senior bats back in the fold. Among those who will be expected to deliver some wins on the mound are seniors Spencer Basset, Collin Cegelka and Matt Moffat, along with sophomore Dillon Stimpson, who posted a 7-3 record and an ERA of 2.26 in his freshman year.

Basset, who also plays shortstop, provides a productive bat coming off a season in which he hit .448. Cegelka is three-year starter and plays in center, and Moffat also contributes in left field.

Senior first baseman Mark Komorami, another three-year starter, provides solid defense and a strong bat. Senior catcher Matt Lasky, who received the CIAC Scholar Athlete Award, returns behind the plate. Junior second baseman Nick Carloto and junior shortstop Matt Coppola are other players the coaches expect to contribute.

Mazzucco expects strong starting pitching from Stimpson and Basset to be backed by veteran leadership and a balanced lineup as he looks ahead. "Strong senior leadership and an improved junior class will be the keys to a successful season at Notre Dame-Fairfield," Mazzucco said.

South-West Conference rivals Bunnell, and Weston, both of which have strong pitching, are among the teams the Lancers will have to overcome, Mazzucco said, adding that Bunnell is also a threat at the plate. Notre Dame won't have to worry about either conference foe until May.

Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter