ROTTERDAM — Schalmont baseball coach Chris Teta has so many fond memories of the 2016 season.
Many of them stem from a 10-game win streak that netted the Sabres a third Section II championship in four years and a state final-four berth. Teta would like to forget what happened there, though, when errors, base-running miscues and not enough base hits factored in a 4-2 loss to Fredonia at Maine-Endwell High School.
“Our goal is to get back to Binghamton and I feel like it did a few years ago,” Teta said of the state Class B title Schalmont claimed in 2014 when he was a JV coach and assistant for the varsity team. “When I took over for Bob Anderson, I adopted the same goals he had for the program — Colonial Council championship, sectional championship, regional championship, get to the final four and battle for a state championship. We’re at the point, as a program, where we’ve done these things and believe we can again.”
The Schalmont players began working toward that end after their summer baseball seasons were complete.
“These guys were hungry right from the get-go,” Teta said. “They wanted to do workouts in the fall. They were itching to get going again. We gave them a little break at the end of the summer, and then the guys jumped in.”
The group includes second baseman-turned-centerfielder Jake Defayette, the lone holdover from the 2014 team, and pitcher Brian Mahar, who authored a pair of shutouts when Schalmont swept through five Section II tournament opponents. Fellow seniors Brandon LaRue, Matt Rash, Tim Ryan, Alex Capovani and Anthony Pasquarella are also back from a team that was two games over .500 late in the regular season yet finished 19-8.
Schalmont’s most significant loss is Stony Brook freshman Chris Hamilton, last season’s staff ace and the Sabres’ leading hitter and power source.
“Looking back, we were a completely different team at the end of the year than in the beginning of the year,” said Defayette, who will continue his baseball career at RPI. “I was so proud to see the growth. I can see us getting a lot better like that.”
That, Teta said, is the objective.
“You want to play your best ball at the end,” said the third-year Sabres head coach. “It happens at every level in all sports. It happened to us last year. Our best ball came out when it needed to.
The first 20 games of the year, at times, were a struggle. We played well at times, and got slapped in the face a few games. From our second LaSalle game on, there was no stopping us. We didn’t want to see another season go by the board on someone else’s field.”
Defayette said a positive attitude played a significant part in the Sabres’ productive season.
“We were always looking to the next game,” Defayette said. “If we played bad, it was, ‘We want to correct this.’ Last year no one got on anyone or got down. In the middle of the year, we picked it up and ended up in the state final four.”
LaRue played a key role in the game that propelled Schalmont there when he pitched five shutout innings and hit a two-run single in the early stages of a 9-0
regional championship-game win against Ogdensburg Free Academy. LaRue and Mahar will be backed on the mound by returning juniors Alec Burchardt, Ryan Pepicelli and Chris Caputo, who was a late-season JV call-up.
“We’re OK, depth-wise,” Teta said of his pitching staff. “We have nine guys between our varsity veterans and new guys from the JV. It’s a blessing to have that many, but you have to play the games.”
Games will be played with new state-approved pitch count rules this season, which require a certain number of days rest, depending on the number of pitches thrown.
“It’s a different era,” Teta said. “We’ve got to be more conscious of pitch selection and throwing strikes. Our motto is, ‘Use it while you’ve got it.’ Go after them and throw strikes. Get ahead early. If you don’t have your stuff, put the ball on the barrel and let your defense make plays.”
Defayette made a huge defensive play in last year’s Section II Class B-BB playoff game, turning a bases-loaded line drive into a catch-and-flip double play to preserve a 2-0 fifth-inning lead in what would be a 4-0 win against Hoosic Valley. The fifth inning was special for Rash in the game that followed, with the shortstop’s tie-breaking, two-run single serving as the key blow in a 5-2 sub-regional win against Plattsburgh.
“The majority of the guys back were involved in our run last year,” Teta said. “Even the guys who were role players, some of them really stepped up.”
More from The Daily Gazette: