Niskayuna rallied for six runs in its final at-bat in a wild finish to last year’s Section II Class AA semifinal game with Columbia, yet came up short in a 10-7 defeat.
“Last year, I pitched there, and I’d love to get back and redeem myself,” said Niskayuna senior Zach Griesche, who got touched up early in that battle at Joe Bruno Stadium. “I think we have a good shot. If we don’t make errors and don’t walk people, we do have a team that can be pretty good.”
A lot of Suburban Council coaches believe that, too. Ten lettermen dot Niskayuna’s roster, led by multi-sport standout Dan Peters, who batted .330 last year with with 19 RBI and 20 runs, and Griesche, who won eight times in its 18-8 run last spring.
“How’s it feel to have the target on your back?,” Shenendehowa coach Jim Carrese asked Niskayuna’s John Furey at the Suburban Council’s annual media night. “I’ve been there.”
Shenendehowa has 12 division titles and two Section II banners under Carrese over the last 18 years. The Plainsmen, like other teams in the North Division, are young this year, leaving the door open for the veteran Silver Warriors to make a push for division honors before their sectional bid.
“All of them are multi-sport kids. They’re athletes and competitors,” said Furey, whose last two teams were derailed in the sectional semis, by Class AA champ Guilderland in 2007 before Columbia, the 2008 runner-up. “We’ve got a good returning nucleus, and kids up [from JV] who have had success. They only lost two or three JV games. This group knows how to win.”
The veteran cast includes outfielder Mike Krasodomski, first baseman Gregg Rahn, catcher Shawn Callahan and Cortland-bound second baseman Peter Furey, whose three-run triple capped last year’s semifinal rally. Junior Matt Royce, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound pitcher, also returns, while the new cast includes possible impact sophomores Jake Syed and Nick Valletta.
“The league is going to come down to pitching, who makes mistakes, who steps up and makes big plays,” said Peter Furey. “We’ve got experience at some key spots, but some younger guys have got to step up.”
That’s a recurring theme throughout the North, while the South is loaded with established stars at Columbia, Bethlehem and Guilderland. The league is divided into two divisions this year, rather than three, and Mohonasen, Averill Park and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake will be the lone Class A schools striving for postseason bids.
“There’s a lot of unproven pitching and unproven talent in the North Division,” said Carrese, whose Plainsmen and Niskayuna are coupled with Ballston Spa, Shaker, Saratoga Springs and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. “You’re looking at some young teams.”
Shenendehowa returns only four from its 20-5 Blue Division-winning team in catcher Bryan Marotta, pitcher Tyler Dehmer, infielder Travis Belleard and standout sophomore shortstop Brandon Cogswell.
“We were in this exact position in 2005 and 2007. The 2007 team was my first under .500, but look what they did last year,” said Carrese. “They turned it around and went on a heck of a run to finish 20-5. The only down point is we lost in the first round of the playoffs.”
Ballston Spa will go after a playoff spot with a 12 seniors, including fourth-year Siena-bound catcher/pitcher Kyle Baldani and three-year vets Phil DiLorenzo and Michael Shriver, and an optimistic first-year coach in Kevin Sheremeta.
“Last year we lost three or four games by one run, and that kept us out of the sectionals,” said Baldani. “This year it’s all about getting clutch hits, doing the little things and winning. We have a great chance.”
Shaker coach Peter Mravlja is thinking the same with his seven senior-led group, though most of them saw little varsity action during last year’s push to the sectional quarterfinals.
“They’re ready to step into spots and perform. They’re ready to go,” said Mravlja, whose team features pitchers Brian Cary and Michael Petilli, and top hitters Tyler Young and Derek Gardella. “Our No.1 goal is to make the sectionals, and No.2 is to take it farther.”
Saratoga Springs is looking to do so after winning four league games in 2008, with five returning starters in Mike Allen, Matt Coleman, Scott Hladik, Erich Lange and Leejay Pollacchi leading the effort. Coach Rich Lofink is high on newcomers Chris Davis, Luke Fauler, Nate Foster and Kyle Willmott.
Burnt Hills won just two league games last year, but played numerous underclassmen as part of a rebuilding process, including returning starters Bret Dennis, Mike Fischer, Justin Bariteau, Keatin Flint, Aaron Pennings and Matt Pucunas. Dennis, a sophomore shortstop, batted .325 last year with a .500 on-base percentage.
“Our defense will be very good, and although I don’t have [first team all-star] David Fischer, I’ve got eight, nine guys who an throw,” said BH-BL coach Paul DeLuca. “My question is how much will we hit?”
The Spartans’ veteran cast also features Mike Symer, Jake Chernesky and Blake Wadsworth. Sophomore Corey Parks is a key newcomer.
Columbia came within a run of its fifth sectional title since 1997 last spring, and that 3-2 loss to LaSalle still stings. The Blue Devils piled up 33 runs in three earlier playoff games before going silent at the plate, and lost to the Cadets in the seventh inning.
“We’ve got 13 seniors who have been thinking about that sectional final, and they’re hungry to get back to that level,” said coach Chris Dedrick, whose team finished with an 18-10 record. “Our first goal is to win the Suburban Council, then win the section and go as far as we can in the state. The guys are focused mentally and physically, and motivated.”
Nolan Gaige is back after hitting a team-high .530, and the future UAlbany player joins with Eric Hilton, Ian Gaule and Ryan Lucas to give Columbia a formadible pitching staff. Holy Cross-bound Pat Puentes and Brockport-bound James Vooris are superb outfielders.
“I like Columbia’s talent,” said Carrese. “No question there’s a lot of upside there.”
“They have a will to win, and that’s big. They want something and they’re going to go for it,” Columbia assistant Kyle Wilkins said. “If they can stay healthy, they have a great shot to have success.”
Bethlehem intends to with its strong one-two-pitching combo of Randy Bowers (Canisius) and Sean Quinlan (Niagara), and a loaded offense led by outfielder Mike Fish (Siena), who batted .482 with 32 runs and 21 RBI on last year’s 19-win, sectional semifinal team.
“We have 12 seniors, and sometimes senioritis takes over and kids aren’t focused, but I doubt that will happen with this group,” said coach Rob Helm, whose senior cast includes seven lettermen. “They want to succeed.”
Bethlehem has a sophomore shortstop to watch in Matt Cahill, who could start on an infield that returns only one letterman in Kyle Niehaus.
Guilderland made an early-season statement when it beat Bethlehem and Columbia in scrimmages, and knocked off 2008 state Class AA runner-up Massapequa in a non-league game.
“If we do the things we can do, we’ll be a tough out,” said coach Doug LaValley, who has nine lettermen back from his 14-win team that, like Bethlehem and Columbia, lost to LaSalle in the sectionals. “I have all the confidence in the world in them.”
First baseman Steven Anderson batted .408 with 24 RBI last year, while Saint Rose-bound Kyle LaValley went 4-0 on the mound. Jason Sherwood, Matt Roth, Pat Quinn, Jimmy Quinn, C.J. Lozano, Ethan Slupski and Jeremy Affinito also return. Matt Zanotta homered and fellow newcomer Luke Stark hit a key two-run double in Saturday’s 8-5 win against Massapequa.
“Our kids’ goal is to get to `The Joe’ (Joe Bruno Stadium). They feel their year would not be complete unless we get there,” said LaValley, who plans to play more small-ball this season with his athletic Dutchmen. “Once you get there, anything can happen.”
Colonie will try to make it happen with six returning seniors led by catcher A.J. Monin, and 10 sophomores and juniors.
“Colonie is known for good baseball and we want to keep the tradition going,” said first-year coach Kevin Halburian. “We’ve got to get out there and get some confidence, and get better as the season goes. I think we will.”
Mohonasen lost the nucleus of its Section II Class A runner-up team to graduation, but still has Siena-bound pitcher Robert Tedesco (6-2) to call on with fellow veterans Jacob Papa, Vinny DeMarco, Dominic Bianchi and Anthony Savini. Junior pitcher Luke Flood and sophomore outfielder Ben Dalton are top newcomers.
“It’s not necessarily how you start the race. It’s how you finish it. Last year we didn’t start so hot and we finished so well,” said coach Jim Huggins, whose team won the league’s White Division and 15 games in all. “I’ll be coaching a different team this year, and I’ve got to find out what makes them tick to get them going.”
Averill Park has one of the league’s premier pitchers in High Point-bound righty Tim Murdick, but only five other veterans, including returning starters Andrew Goyer, Nick Cioffi and Josh Gustafson.
“I think this team has potential,” said Murdick. “I think we’ll play well once we get established.”
Murdick got the win in Averill Park’s three victories last season, against Burnt Hills, Saratoga and Niskayuna, and opened this year with a another against defending Section II Class A champ Ichabod Crane.
“We’re young, but we can play the game,” said Warriors coach Mike Conroy. “The key for us is to be consistent. You’ve got to put in seven innings in the Suburban Council.”
Categories: High School Sports