LATHAM — Shenendehowa baseball coach Greg Christodulu never called it a rebuilding season, but with one starter and a handful of veterans back from the school’s 2016 state championship team, that’s essentially what last spring was.
The young Plainsmen grew up fast, though, and after reaching the Section II tournament as the No. 8 seed, they rattled off three wins before a Class AA title-game loss to the best team Niskayuna ever put together.
“They want to leave a legacy for themselves,” Christodulu said of his newest edition at the recent Suburban Council media night. “They want to continue the tradition of playing in big-time games, and hand it off to the underclassmen.”
This year’s team doesn’t have many of those, with 16 senior lettermen on its 21-player roster. The group includes Brandon Roberts, who pitched a regular season no-hitter against Averill Park, and Devin Smith and Joe Novenche, who had clutch RBI singles when Shenendehowa upset No. 4-seed Saratoga Springs in the sectional semifinals.
Shenendehowa upset No. 1-seed CBA before that in the quarterfinals after knocking off Troy to begin its playoff push.
“Obviously, every team wants to go farther,” said Novenche, a third baseman and outfielder who batted .361 last year. “Our philosophy is we’ve got to take it one pitch at a time. One inning at a time. We want to have a special season and we like our team, but it’s not going to happen today. It’s something we’ve got to build toward.”
That staying in the moment approached has served the Plainsmen well since Christodulu took over in 2013. Each of his first five teams reached the Section II Class AA final. His 2013 team won the area crown, his 2014 team repeated and played for a state title, and his 2016 cast won the New York flag when Joe Palko hit a walk-off, seventh-inning single.
“I think we look strong, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Roberts said. “We can all get better.”
Palko is the key loss after leading the 2017 team with a .425 batting average. Kurt Forsell, John Cady, Kyle Douglas and Matt Connors have moved on, as well, from that edition that went 9-6 in the league and 16-8 overall.
“We’ve got a great core coming back from last year,” Christodulu said. “Great leadership.”
And, according to its coach, great depth and versatility among the position players.
“With this group, I could play 20 different lineups in 20 games,” Christodulu said. “It’s a possibility.”
As for pitching, key seniors on the staff beyond Roberts are Brendan Spulnick, Mitch Wright, Reagan Farley and Tom Barkevich. Junior Brendan Disonell is also back after impressing in a brief varsity stint following a call-up from the junior varsity team.
“We feel good about our pitching staff as well as our hitting,” senior shortstop Devin Smith said.
Smith will be among the defensive anchors with senior second baseman Zack Goldberg, senior center fielder Griff Wallner and the 12th-grade catching combination of Landon Fagle and Colby Aiello.
“The big thing is we throw a lot of strikes,” said Roberts, who went 2-3 last year with a 2.97 ERA. “We throw to contact. You’ve got to have a good defense to do that, and we do. We trust our defense.”
Roberts sees a lot of similarities between this year’s team and the senior-dominated 2016 edition that went 21-5.
“We’re similar to the 2016 season in the bond that they had,” said Roberts, who has committed to St. John Fisher College. “A lot of us are really close friends. We have a lot of trust in each other. We should blend well together.”
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