BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent Hitting has been a cornerstone for the Raritan High School baseball team’s success over the years, and pitching may be strong enough to carry the team to its 16th trip to the NJSIAA and Shore Conference postseason tournaments in 17 years, according to coach T.J. O’Donnell.“Raritan baseball usually swings the bats well, and I hope this group falls into it. We take pride in what we do at the plate,” said O’Donnell, who returned to coaching last year to direct Raritan to first place in the Shore Conference A Central Public School Division and a 16-7 record. “We have three or four sophomores who will play major roles in the team this year. It will depend on their development to determine how we do.”Raritan opens its regular season on April 1 at Middletown High School North.“Hitting is definitely one of the main things that we’ve had. Pitching will take care of itself,” said senior outfielder Mike DaCosta, one of the captains who moves from leadoff to No. 3 in the batting order, a spot he said he prefers. “We put so much emphasis on it. It’s the key.”DaCosta pitched primarily in relief last season and started in one game, and O’Donnell said he is in the mix “because he is such a tremendous competitor.”“My pitching’s been pretty decent,” said DaCosta, a spot pitcher who keeps the ball low. “I’m mostly a ground-ball pitcher.” Three sophomores could start in the infield — Dom Guida at second base, Nick Pasquenza at third base, and C.J. Pulcine, who is a top candidate at catcher with junior Tyler Kalarjian. Pasquenza and fellow sophomore Rob Roman, the only lefthander, also are in the pitching rotation, and O’Donnell said he is “banking on their contributing” behind junior ace Dan Dutch, the top prospect who had four wins last season with a good fastball and curve.Also expected to pitch are Mike Pease, a senior up from the junior varsity, and junior Chris Lenahan, who also could see action in the outfield and at designated hitter.“As they all go is how we’ll go,” said O’Donnell, who has yet to determine a pecking order.Five starters on last year’s team graduated, led by top pitcher and cleanup hitter Matt Facendo, who is at NCAA Division II Felician College, and O’Donnell said he is “tough to replace.” Also graduated is No. 2 pitcher and third baseman Corey Chonko, who is playing at Brookdale, and right fielder T.J. Murray, who batted at the No. 3 spot in the order.“What I really like about this year’s team is their determination to get better as they go along,” said O’Donnell. Senior Kevin Benfer moves from catcher to first base. He’ll bat cleanup. Senior Tim Pizanie is back at shortstop, where he is reliable defensively and looks to pick up his hitting from last season. Mike Langan, a junior, will start in the outfield and bat in the leadoff spot, where fellow outfielder DaCosta hit last year. The other outfield spot is undecided. Bill Devarti, a senior up to the varsity for the first time, is practicing hard for the other spot.The coaching staff remains the same with Emil Karlia as the main assistant, Jon Evancho at first base, Greg Casha handing the pitchers, Mark Maglione coaching the hitters, Denis Caruano heading the junior varsity team and Ron Poll directing the freshman team.