LATHAM — Niskayuna baseball tri-captain Kyle Cox is well aware of how it goes. You win big, and the next year you wear the big target.
“I know it motivates us,” Cox said at last week’s Suburban Council media night held at Shaker High School. “They want to beat us. We want to beat them.”
Niskayuna beat a lot of teams last spring, including Colonie, LaSalle and Shenendehowa in the Section II Class AA tournament to claim the first championship in program history. Even with a regional setback afterward, the 18-5 Silver Warriors posted their best winning percentage ever.
“It was such an amazing accomplishment,” said Cox, one of six seniors on the Niskayuna roster. “If we could do that again … That’s what drives us.”
Head coach Chris Bianchi steered Niskayuna to a new level in his inaugural 2017 season with the varsity team. His second go-round will be with a relatively young team that has eight juniors and four sophomores.
Four all-state players graduated from last year’s powerful lineup, including first-team third baseman Tyler Senecal, who also earned the Suburban Council Player of the Year award.
“We have some returning players, and we have some younger players in the mix,” Bianchi said. “We want to cover all of the fundamentals as we prepare for the grind of the Suburban Council schedule. We want to continue to grow so by the end of the season, we’re ready to go.
“Last year is in the back of my team’s mind. Our expectations haven’t changed. We’re hoping to challenge everyone.”
Niskayuna went 12-3 in the Suburban Council before its postseason run that was capped with a 4-0 win over Shenendehowa, the 2016 state champion. Niskayuna’s season ended when a seventh-inning rally fell short in a 5-3 regional loss to Liverpool.
“You’re looking at Colonie, Saratoga and Shenendehowa, and don’t forget about the team that won it all last year,” Guilderland coach Doug LaValley said of Niskayuna. “They’re good again.”
Niskayuna will be led by the senior Alec Ritzenthaler, an all-state fourth-team pitcher, 12th-grader Ben Funyak, and juniors Jimmy Joyce, Cole Hedden and Tim Schaffer.
“I don’t know about all the home runs this year, but we’ll be able to hit,” Ritzenthaler said. “We’re pretty good all over. I think we have a solid team.”
Ritzenthaler went 4-0 last year with a 1.01 ERA, and went the distance on the mound in the Section II title game against Shenendehowa. Funyak, a shortstop and pitcher, hit .433 with 16 RBIs, and Joyce, an outfielder, batted .383 with 18 RBIs.
Bianchi said junior Aaron Whitley and sophomores Chris Erickson and James Murphy are among his underclassmen to watch.
Niskayuna is scheduled to make its season debut Tuesday at noon at Shenendehowa.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.
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Categories: High School Sports, Sports