College of St. Joseph head baseball coach Bob Godlewski thought he might have a special group on his hands when his Fighting Saints from Vermont knocked off some teams from bigger schools and more prestigious leagues early in the season.
“We beat some good teams down south,” the 1971 Mont Pleasant High School graduate said. “Me and my coaches looked at each other and said, ‘We’re pretty good.’ ”
But national championship good? Turns out, they were.
“We have a bunch of kids who believed in themselves,” Godlewski said. “It was one of those destiny-type years.”
St. Joseph secured the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Small College World Series title earlier this month with a 14-3 win against Cincinnati-Clermont at East Field in Glens Falls. Schalmont graduate Tyler Demers had two hits, three runs, an RBI and a stolen base in the Fighting Saints’ fourth win of the tournament, and their 18th victory in a row to cap the program’s landmark campaign.
“Everyone got to contribute on the final day, which was nice,” said Demers, a senior and part of a four-man outfield rotation. “It was a complete team effort all season long, right through to our last game.”
St. Joseph also had another 18-game win streak as part of its 52-11 record, which included a 21-3 mark against NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) competition.
“I won a national [Continental Amateur Baseball Association] title with the Schenectady Blue Jays, which was pretty big, but this is very special,” Godlewski, himself a World Series participant while attending Ithaca College, said. “We had a tremendous season with a bunch of great kids who stayed with it.”
It all started on fields in Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“In the early part of the season, we went down south,” Demers said. “They play year ’round and they play good ball. We beat them and caught fire, and it never went out.”
St. Joseph went 39-31 last school year and tied for fourth at the 10-team, double-elimination USCAA Small College World Series.
“Last year, what carried us was pitching. The offense was a little shaky,” said Demers, who played two seasons at Schenectady County Community College before joining the Fighting Saints. “This year we still had the pitching, but we put up 15, 20 hits on a regular basis, and it was a completely different season. We had a different vibe. We knew we could do it.”
St. Joseph, the smallest of the Yankee Small College Conference’s schools with a student body of 418, has only played two seasons since its return to the diamond after a lengthy hiatus.
“They played for a year about nine years ago and it didn’t work out,” Godlewski said. “A new president [Dr. Richard Lloyd] came in four or five years ago who wanted to increase enrollment, and he thought building up the athletic program would be a good start. He asked me if I was interested in coming over.”
Godlewski left his head coaching post at SUNY Adirondack to join St. Joseph, where he is also its athletic director and director of public safety. He brought several players from SUNY Adirondack with him and drew others from as far away as California, Arizona, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“He brought us together and instilled confidence in us,” Demers said.
Ryan Cummings (Saratoga Springs), Jared Morello (Hoosic Valley), Joe Williams (Chatham) and Nick Burch (Salem) were others on the team who represented Section II high schools.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. Forty years,” said Godlewski, who had a previous head coaching stint at Columbia-Greene Community College and was a pitching coach at Castleton University. “I had a lot of contacts. Former players recommended players to me. I spent a lot of time on the road looking for players.”
Though St. Joseph does not offer athletic scholarships, it does have a Provider Scholarship Program which shaves tuition, room and boarding costs in exchange for community service.
“It’s a great recruiting tool,” said Godlewski, the USCAA Coach of the Year.
The Fighting Saints’ national title run included tournament wins against Cleary University (10-1), Robert Morris-Peoria (2-1) and Rochester College (3-0) before the May 12 finale.
“I brought in a few kids, but it was pretty much the same group of kids we had last year,” Godlewski said.
“We had so much fun,” said the 22-year-old Demers, who batted .262 with 16 RBIs, 27 runs and 11 stolen bases. “We really loved each other and loved playing together. It wasn’t like work. It was fun.”
Godlewski’s group gave the Rutland-based college its second national championship this school year. The women’s basketball team went 31-1 in winning the USCAA Division II title.
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Categories: College Sports, Sports