Don’t count young Patriots out of baseball race

Don't count the young Schenectady baseball team out in the Big 10 chase this season.
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Schenectady’s baseball team has only four lettermen, and just one of them, senior catcher Evan Frank, was in the starting lineup when the Patriots took on Troy last year in a Section II Class AA semifinal game.

“They’ve been in the system. They’re ballplayers, and they’re hungry,” Schenectady coach John Isabella said of his 11 varsity newcomers, which include a pair of sophomores. “I know what you’re probably thinking, but I’m not too concerned.”

Despite a big player turnover, Isabella doesn’t expect a big dip in production. In his first year in charge of the varsity, his Patriots went 11-5 in the Big 10, good for a third-place tie, and won a pair of sectional games before losing to Troy for a 16-9 overall record.

Schenectady hadn’t won a sectional game since 2002, and its

signature victory came at Columbia in the quarterfinals, a comeback

9-8, eight-inning affair.

Dante Shafer’s pinch-hit single started a five-run seventh inning in that game, and the junior joins Ryan Quinn and Kyle O’Brey as Schenectady’s other varsity veterans.

“We’re a young team, like coach said, but I grew up with all of these guys,” said Quinn, a senior out­fielder. “They can all play ball.”

The new group includes seniors Kyle Beverly, Jose Camilo, Joe Deltorto and Andy James; juniors Will Dobson, Cory Flavin, Alex Jurczynski, Nick Ottati and Ryan Zielinski; and sophomores Joe Borowski and Adam DeFruscio.

DeFruscio is a transfer from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, and in his finest effort last year, he pitched a complete-game four-hitter in a 2-1 win over Catholic Central.

“Our guys have been working hard, and getting ready,” said Isabella. “They realize it won’t be easy with LaSalle and CBA out there, but they have a lot of con­fidence. They’re a very compet­itive group.”

“You’ve always got to reach for the top, and try to be the best,” said O’Brey, a senior first baseman. “We’re going to do that. I think we have a legitimate shot.”

Isabella believes his Patriots can make a move up in the league race, and possibly contend for the championship, if everything falls into place.

“Our pitchers have to throw strikes, but the biggest thing is fielding. We can’t do what we did last year,” he said. “We made 60 errors, and we’ve got to lower that.”

Isabella figures his Patriots will score plenty of runs, though they lack the power of last year’s team. In the Columbia game, Mike Center, Dane Flavin, Chris Serrano and Darrin Earing all homered, with Earing’s blast the game-winner.

“We scored 200 runs last year. We had some pop. This year, we’ll have to manufacture a little more,” Isabella said. “I’m confident we’ll stroke the ball, and move people around.”

Frank has a lot of confidence in the pitching staff he’ll be working with, which also includes Shafer, James, Dobson, Borowski and

Zielinski.

“I like our pitchers. They look good,” he said. “They throw strikes and have a lot of movement on the ball. They’ll get people out.”

defending champs

LaSalle’s pitching staff, though, may emerge as the Big 10’s best, with seniors Craig Ward and Brian Beaury, junior Kyle Charron and sophomore Dave Roseboom leading the effort. Roseboom went 7-1 last season, while senior outfielder Amar Lewis batted .466 to help the Cadets capture their fourth straight league title.

“We’ve got four solid starters, and when we bat, one through nine, we can can look for a big hit from anyone,” said LaSalle senior shortstop Jared Henkel, one of nine players back from a 20-4 squad. “We expect a challenge every day, and we’ll be ready.”

“Troy, Amsterdam, Schenectady. We’re going to get challenges from everybody,” said LaSalle coach Jesse Braverman. “When you have won something, it’s harder to win again because of the motivation of your opposition.”

LaSalle’s 2006 and 2007 seasons ended in disappointment, with quarterfinal losses in the sectionals. The Cadets won the Class AA crown in 2005, beating Shenen­dehowa, 8-7, in an 11-inning thriller.

“We want another Big 10 championship to make it five, and another sectional championship,” said Ward. “I was on that 2005 team that won it, and that was pretty special.”

“LaSalle has the arms. They’ve got the leg up in that respect, while Troy always hits. Schenectady hits the ball, too,” said Christian Brothers Academy coach Dave Doemel, whose team placed second in 2007. “We’ve got our work cut out, but I think we’re capable.”

Junior shortstop Josh Lewyckyj and senior third baseman Mike Patnode hit .420 and .397, respectively, last year with 37 RBI, and senior pitchers Mike Muia and Joe Corrigan combined for a 7-1 record.

“We have a little bit of firepower. We should score some runs, but depth in the pitching staff is a question,” Doemel said. “We have some good arms, but it’s a matter of producing in game situations.”

The Big 10 has a pair of new coaches in Bob Noto at Amsterdam and Curtis Nobles at Troy, the two teams that shared third place with Schenectady. Troy put together a great postseason run in 2007, beating Colonie (2-1) and LaSalle (8-6) before a 4-0 blanking of Schenectady, which was followed by a 5-2 title-game loss to Guilderland.

“We have high expectations,” said Nobles, whose only seniors are Ethan Lyons and Matt Marsh. “We’re very young, but we’re not going to use that as a crutch. I think we’ll have strong pitching, solid defense and we’ll put the ball in play. We’re still going to be tough Troy.”

“For us, I think its real important to get off to a good start,” said Noto, who has six seniors and a sophomore on the rise in Brandon Eutermarks. “If we do, I can see this team getting on a roll.”

Albany could be this year’s surprise team, with third-year coach Joey DiPiazza returning his entire roster, led by senior captains Justin Harris and Pat Landers.

“We won three league games my first year. Last year, we finished

6-8,” he said. “We’ve improved

every year, and I’m hoping that will continue. The guys have worked really hard, and they’re excited about playing. It’s baseball. We’ll see what happens.”

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