An error, a long home run and just like that, Albany High School’s fine 2008 baseball season was finished.
“We were playing Colonie in the sectionals, and we were only down by a run. We got a routine ground ball, we booted it and they get a three-run homer,” said fourth-year Falcons coach Joey DiPiazza Tuesday during the Big 10 media night at CBA. “That game, it’s been sitting with these guys.”
Motivated, experienced and talented, Albany believes it has all the necessary pieces to be a contender in this year’s Section II Class AA tournament, and in the Big 10 race beforehand. LaSalle stands in Albany’s way, with five consecutive league titles and Class AA crowns in 2005 and 2008 on its impressive resume.
“We plan on doing a lot better than last year,” said senior pitcher Michael Hughes, who has drawn interest from several major league teams, including the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. “We’ve been working hard for four, five years. We plan on leaving with a bang.”
The Falcons won three league games in 2006, six in 2007 and 13 last season. They qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1999, and had won nine of 10 games before Matt June’s three-run homer sent Colonie to a 5-2 victory, and sent Albany packing.
“We had a phenomenal year. One of the best in Albany history,” said DiPiazza, who has nine lettermen back from last year’s 17-win team. “But what’s done is done. We want to write a new chapter. We want to do something special. We’ve come a long way, and this year, we want to get it done.”
They’ll go at it with four first- team Big 10 all-stars in Hughes, fellow moundsman Patrick Landers, third baseman Jevonte Osterhout and catcher Justin Harris. Hughes went 7-1 as a junior with a 1.17 earned run average, and struck out 60 in 42 innings. Landers went 6-1 with a key win over Christian Brothers Academy, Osterhout led the team with a .457 average, and Harris batted .383 with a team-high 27 runs batted in.
Shortstop Stephen Richards (.342, 22 RBI) and pitchers Jake Valentine (3-2) and Tyler Fleig are back, as well.
“Everyone is coming back, and they hungry and excited,” DiPiazza said. “On paper, it looks good.”
DiPiazza isn’t the only Big 10 coach who thinks his team is capable of making a move up. Even Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, the league’s lone Class B school, is thinking big improvement after losing all 16 league games in 2008.
“I honestly feel we can compete. We only lost one senior. I think we have a legitimate shot at going 8-8,” said Golden Knights coach Dwight Doepel, who has a pair of honorable-mention Big 10 all-stars in shortstop Ryan Maxwell and outfielder Charlie Bouchard among 10 returnees. “More than half of our games we lost by one or two runs. If we come together and play, it could happen.”
“The league this year is a lot stronger,” said Bishop Maginn coach Mike Grasso. “There were a lot of younger teams last year. You’ve got to feel that they’re all going to be a little better.”
“You can’t take a day off in this league,” said Troy coach Curtis Nobles. “Any team in the league can take you out.”
LaSalle coach Jesse Braverman is quite aware of the power shift in the league his team dominated the last five years. The Cadets went 70-10 during that stretch, capped by a 16-0 mark in 2008.
“We graduated six talented players. Other teams didn’t graduate anyone. I don’t think going in we’re that much better than some of those teams,” he said. “It would be a mistake to put a lot of stuck in what happened last year. This is a new year, and the league is much stronger. I think it’s going to be a difficult season, and we’ve got to play well.”
LaSalle went 27-0 last year before losing to Mamaroneck in the state semifinals, 7-5. Though they graduated several standout players in Amar Lewis, Jared Henkel and Brian Beaury, the Cadets bring back 10 veterans, led by Big 10 Player of the Year Dave Roseboom, first team all-stars Kyle Charron, Lucas Bridenbeck and Will Remillard, and second-teammer Scott Morrissey.
“They lost some people, but they’re still LaSalle,” Schenectady coach John Isabella said. “They’ve got a nice team.”
“I think we’ve got the whole package, like last year,” said Bridenbeck, a senior catcher who batted .392 with 31 RBI in 2008. “Hitting, pitching, defense. All three are strengths.”
Roseboom was fantastic as a sophomore, going 9-0 on the mound with two saves and a 1.42 ERA. He beat Albany and CBA twice, and got wins against Guilderland and Columbia in the sectionals. Charron went 7-1 on the hill and excelled defensively at third base while leading the Cadets with a .505 average and 16 stolen bases.
“We’d like to get them this year, but you can’t make mistakes against them. They’ll take advantage of it,” DiPiazza said. “In our second game with them we were up, 3-0, and we started to kick it around. We ended up losing, 9-3.”
Isabella envisions more winning after his 2008 edition crept into the sectionals with an 8-8 league mark.
“Three sophomores [Zach Andi, Joe Borowski, Adam DeFruscio] did most of our pitching,” said Isabella, whose Pats went 10-15 overall. “We’ve got them back, and we also have Dante [Shafer] and Ryan [Zielinski] to mix in there. We expect our pitching to be more secure.”
Shafer (.350) at second base and Zielinski (.315) at shortstop give the Patriots strong defense up the middle and potent bats at the top of the order. Schenectady’s other two seniors are catcher Alex Jurczynski and third baseman Nick Ottati, who quarterbacked the school’s record-setting football team last fall.
“I think we can take a big step up,” said Zielinski.
Grasso is thinking the same way after his Golden Giffins won five league games and eight in all, including a 5-3 victory over No. 1 seed South Glens Falls in the Class A tournament. Six-foot-4 Chris Jeffers won half of Maginn’s games while batting .365, and fellow first- team Big 10 all-star Andrew Butler is back after hitting .417. Davante Buie, Ryan Gaffney and Dylan Tully also return.
“We were in a lot of close games last year. Now, we want to win them, and I believe we can,” said Grasso. “We’ve been in the big games. Nothing is going to surprise them.”
CBA (11-5, 13-7) features first baseman Chris Sand, who batted .490 last year with four homers and 29 RBI, and fellow first-team Big 10 all-star Josh Lewyckyj, a shortstop who hit .438 with 16 RBI. Six others return for the Brothers, including catcher David Russo and second baseman A.J. Ragone.
“I think we’re going to score a lot of runs,” said Sand, a senior. “The biggest question is pitching. Guys have got to step up. If they do, I think we’re going to be in the mix.”
Amsterdam’s group of 10 lettermen includes versatile senior Sean Whitty (3-4, .333), who made the Big 10 all-star first team as a pitcher and second team as a catcher. Outfielder Dan McNamara (.423) is the leading returning hitter, with shortstop Jose Ramirez and first baseman Mike Cranker also back for the Rams (9-7, 11-12).
Troy (7-9, 11-12) returns 13 players, including all-star outfielder Annibal Maldonado, and counts promising sophomore pitcher Jesse Twiss among its newcomers. Catholic Central has six lettermen, but only one senior on its roster in Ryan Connor.
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