The Schenectady baseball team believes it can be quite good this season. Maybe even good enough to make a bid for its first Big 10 championship since 2002, but you won’t hear any grand predictions coming out of the Patriots’ camp.
They have only one objective for now, and hope to set a more ambitious one in the weeks ahead.
“Sectionals is the first goal, and we’re looking to get to the 10-win mark,” said Schenectady coach John Isabella. “A lot will depend on what the other guy has got.”
Schenectady needs eight league wins to make the Section II Class AA playoffs. The quest begins April 8 at Central Park’s Buck Ewing Field against Catholic Central.
“If we get it done earlier and get that playoff spot, it will take the pressure off. We want to start off hot and keep it going,” said senior Cole Gozalkowski. “We started out hot last year [4-0], and then we had a few heartbreaks. We’ve got to avoid the heartbreaks, play all seven innings.”
Schenectady made the playoffs last season when it beat Catholic Central in its 13th league game. A subsequent loss to the Crusaders and a split with Troy had the Pats headed to the playoffs with a 9-7 league record. The Pats failed to make the postseason field in 2011, and got there in 2010 with an 8-8 mark.
“We were not focused on the big picture at the beginning of last season,” said Schenectady senior outfielder Javar Tillman. “When it came down to it, we got it done, but we want to do it a lot earlier and go from there.”
Schenectady has one of the Big 10’s most experienced teams with nine seniors — the most Isabella has had since he took over for Jerry Rosen in 2007 — to go with four juniors and promising sophomore Jordan Bernacet.
Gozalkowski (3-3) and 12th-grader Kyle Mohr (3-3) will lead the pitching staff and work with catcher Nick Patierne, a three-year varsity veteran. Tillman batted .346 last year, and senior Cody Shafer hit .333.
“We’ve played together for so long. We went to the regionals together when we were in Little League, and in Babe Ruth we were runner-up in the state tournament,” said Gozalkowski, a Big 10 first-team all-star in 2012. “It would be great to do something special as seniors. We have to get all the parts together at the right time.”
“Hopefully, our experience playing together will help us,” said Shafer.
Schenectady won three straight Big 10 championships from 2000-02, and its 2002 team, led by Casper Wells, later claimed the Section II Class A flag and reached the state title game. Schenectady lost to Troy in a playoff for the league crown in 2003, and hasn’t placed higher than third since.
“We joke around and say we’re going to win the Big 10, but we know we have a shot,” said Mohr, who hurled a no-hitter against Bishop Maginn last season. “We have to take them one at a time, and we have to be aggressive from the beginning of each game to the end of each game.”
“When you look at the top dogs, Schenectady is one of those teams, along with CBA, LaSalle and Amsterdam,” said Troy coach Curtis Nobles.
Schenectady has pitching depth with Tillman (1-1), senior Jeremy Kent (1-0) and Bernecat.
“I don’t think anyone has the pitching like we have,” said Shafer. “With Cole and Kyle returning, we look real good.”
“We’ve got two pitchers with a lot of varsity experience, and our next two are no slouches, either. Pitching is important, and we’ve got four guys who have won at this level,” said Isabella. “Hopefully, we can put enough runs on the board.”
Schenectady finished 9-10 overall in 2012 after a first-round sectional loss to Niskayuna.
First-year Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons baseball coach Kacy Daus has enherited the Big 10’s youngest team.
“We are what we are,” said the former Mohonasen standout. “We’re a young team that’s putting in the work now, with our eye on big things to come in the future.”
A big accomplishment this season would be winning four league games and qualifying for the Section II Class B playoffs. Teams need to finish .500 in league competition to get a playoff berth. As the Big 10’s only Class B team, Bishop Gibbons will get credit for two wins with any triumph over a Class A or Class AA opponent in Section II’s two-for-one formula that was introduced to aid smaller schools.
Bishop Gibbons made the playoffs in 2011, but with a veteran group that put together a 9-7 Big 10 mark.
“I think we’re more than capable of getting the four wins we need,” said Daus. “A pitcher gets hot, a couple guys have a big day with the bats. You have to think there are going to be some of those days.”
Bishop Gibbons does not have a returning starter, and only senior Nick Ferraro and juniors Joe Dobkowski and Roberto Rikprashad are back from last year’s team. Four seniors, four juniors including Albany transfer Jordan Igoe, four sophomores and freshman Brian Perrucci make up the roster.
“They’re hungry,” said Daus. “They’re thinking, ‘This is our chance.’ ”