Niskayuna baseball coach Chris Bianchi has a wish list for the spring sports season that includes good pitching and good weather.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good stretch,” Bianchi said. “It doesn’t have to be a long stretch.”
That is because this season, unlike those in the past, will be condensed into a space of about six weeks. That includes Section II postseason competition, which will be held for the first time since March 2020, as restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of a year’s worth of official Section II championship tournaments. The pandemic, too, forced the cancellation of Section II’s entire 2020 spring sports season.
“It’s going to be fast and furious, but people are excited to get back on the field,” Bianchi said of this year’s spring campaign.
The spring season will be the fourth season packed into this school year and, because of its limited number of days, will allow teams to compete every day of the week. Baseball and softball doubleheaders are planned, and schedules have been reduced and modified to get games in before sectional play begins the second week of June.
Duanesburg baseball coach and Western Athletic Conference chairman Chris Wyanski is anticipating that many teams throughout Section II will not be able to complete their full schedules due to poor weather and umpire availability.
“Baseball sectionals are open because teams aren’t going to get all of their games in,” Wyanski said.
The schedules are ambitious, with baseball and softball teams looking to cram in a dozen games or more in a stretch of about 30 days before area playoffs begin. Amsterdam softball coach Brenden Cetnar team’s schedule currently projects to have 14 regular-season contests in 30 days, including a stretch of four games in five days from May 10-14.
To get through that, he said, he’s not going to rely on just one pitcher or catcher to bear the entire brunt of the season.
“It’s going to be a sprint,” Cetnar said. “This isn’t a marathon this year. It’s a sprint. We’ve got two pitchers, we’ve got a couple catchers. We’re going to rotate in and out, keep everybody as fresh as we can.”
Ballston Spa softball head coach Amanda Fifield, whose team won the 2019 Section II Class A title, said she’s wary of potential arm stress and injury for pitchers this spring, considering the tight timeframe and the overall lack of preparation time. Instead of three to four weeks of preseason workouts, teams are heading out to play this spring almost as soon as they can meet the minimum number of practices required by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
“Many of them [pitchers] haven’t had the chance to build up their arms and the stamina to throw, so it’s a different look,” said Fifield, whose team has a 14-game regular season scheduled. “I don’t know how other schools are doing it, but I know I’ve got three to four pitchers on both my JV and varsity teams this year.”
The pitching situation is weighing heavily on baseball coaches, too, especially at small schools like Duanesburg where Wyanski — who is in his 38th season as head coach and boasts 348 career wins — has a small roster.
“I’m lucky. Eight of my guys can throw,” Wyanski said. “The problem is not as many [teams] are going to have as many as I have. Other schools, I don’t know how they’re going to do it.”
Wyanski said the Section II baseball committee petitioned the section to allow pitchers and catchers to open practice a week early, but that was denied in an attempt not to create further overlap between the “Fall II” season that ended Saturday and the spring campaign.
“We only have 10 days to prepare and then play,” Wyanski said.
“There is some concern about preparation time,” Bianchi said. “We weren’t allowed to start until Sunday [April 25]. Around a week or so [more] for the pitchers and catchers would have helped.”
While pitching will be a concern, it’s not the only one.
While coaches got creative over the year away from competition with attempts to get their players working out, and many were able to play with travel clubs last summer and fall as coronavirus restrictions were eased enough to allow “moderate” risk sports competition like baseball and softball, teams will be attempting to play at a breakneck pace for the next month-and-a-half after barely any time to prepare together. While preseasons were shortened, offseason programs were largely nonexistent for teams because of restrictions related to the pandemic.
“We didn’t see each other as a group until the first day of tryouts,” Fifield said.