Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa baseball poised for epic ‘AA’ championship series

Raul Rodriguez at shortstop for Saratoga Springs during the Section 2 Class AA semifinals against Niskayuna on Monday at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

Raul Rodriguez at shortstop for Saratoga Springs during the Section 2 Class AA semifinals against Niskayuna on Monday at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

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TROY — When Raul Rodriguez isn’t traveling up and down the East Coast, trying to make Team USA, his attention is on helping his Blue Streaks win a Section 2 title.

At least, that’s how the past two seasons have panned out for Saratoga Springs’ freshman shortstop.

No matter where he is playing, Rodriguez regularly competes against the best competition he can find.

“The development, as a player, you get from that program is at another level,” Rodriguez said of USA Baseball. “There were some scouts at one of my games and they invited me to the Northeast tryouts.”

There are youth USA Baseball teams selected for age levels beginning at 12U, going through 17U. The first step in making the national team, in a certain age bracket, is to make the National Team Identification Series (NTIS).

“It really showed me how much you have to build and work for it,” he said. “Obviously there’s guys who are just as good, if not better, than me, competing for the same roster spots.”

Last summer, Rodriguez made the roster of the Northeast Stars and was able to compete for a spot on the 14U national team.

“It’s been a huge goal of mine,” said Rodriguez, who traveled to USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, North Carolina. “I had a great time in North Carolina and with USA Baseball. I want to continue working with them until I’m a senior.”

“All the coaches are former professional ballplayers,” he added. “They all know what they’re talking about and they’re going to push you on the field, but they also remember that we’re kids, and that’s how it should be.”

In the immediate future, Rodriguez is focused on helping No. 2 Saratoga Springs defend its Section 2 Class AA championship.

The freshman leadoff hitter will be the first one to step up to bat on Wednesday at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in the first game of a three-game set against No. 1 Shenendehowa.

“It’s a different team and a lot of different guys have stepped up, but a lot of it still feels the same,” Rodriguez said on making it to the championship series for the second straight year. “We’re still wearing Saratoga blue and we all have that same hunger to come out and win.”

“I want to get one base and steal bags. Obviously that’s not going to work out every game. You just have to be able to flush it and get ready for the next one. That’s just baseball.”

Last season, Rodriguez was called up to varsity, as an eighth-grader, to take over at second base for an injured Orion Lansing. After the graduation of Zander Teator, Rodriguez moved over to shortstop and Lansing has returned to second.

“My injury was tough last year and Raul did a phenomenal job stepping up,” Lansing said. “Him and I have really bonded up the middle this year and formed some great memories.”


When Saratoga Springs and Shenendheowa take the field at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at “The Joe,” there will be a lot on the line.

It’s not simply about a championship, or even the I-87 cup.

This will be a series about pride, and about bragging rights.

“I hope the fans come out and support Section 2 baseball,” said Shenendehowa coach Greg Christodulu. “It’s going to be real competitive, it’s going to be loud, exciting and I’m sure it’s going to be intense. The kids are going to play their hearts out for their communities. That’s how both programs operate.”

Saratoga Springs has won three straight games against Shenendehowa, dating back to the semifinals last season, including a pair of regular season games this year.

“We’ve got another chance to beat them now,” said Shenendehowa’s Ethan Farina. “I can’t tell you how much we want [the I-87 Cup] back. We’ve lost three games in a row to them. It’s a goal for us, but we’re focused on winning the first pitch of the first inning.”

The agreed-upon rules for the I-87 Cup is that it is up for grabs any time the Blue Streaks and Plainsmen face off. Meaning, the cup can change hands more than once in the upcoming series.

“I’m looking to create a legacy here,” Farina said. “Last year we learned from everything, built off of it and now we’re right where we want to be.”

The Blue Streaks picked up a 6-0 win over CBA and a 3-1 win over Niskayuna to return to the championship series. Shenendehowa earned a 4-0 win over Ballston Spa, then defeated Bethlehem 6-3 for its spot in the final round.

Game 1 on Wednesday will likely be a battle between junior aces James Redick and Michael Mack.

Redick has gone 5-0 so far for Shenendehowa, posting a 1.18 ERA. He has thrown three straight complete games, including a 10-strikeout performance in the Section 2 quarterfinals against Ballston Spa.

Mack is 5-0 for Saratoga Springs and has thrown a complete game in each of his last five starts — four of which have been shutouts. He struck out 15 in a quarterfinal win over CBA. With a 0.58 ERA, the junior has a 79-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“The whole thought process behind this whole system is that we want to send the best team into regionals and hopefully to Binghamton,” Christodulu said on the championship series. “Not the team with the best pitcher, but the team with the best pitching staff, because that’s going to be needed in Binghamton.”

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