The Shenendehowa baseball program saw a change in leadership last year when varsity assistant Greg Christodulu stepped up to the plate. The philosophy within the program changed, also.
“The focus isn’t so much on winning games. It’s preparation, play the game right,” said Plainsmen co-captain Brennan McCormack. “Look at last year. We did those things, and the wins followed. Hopefully, it will happen again.”
After a series of near misses, Shenendehowa ended a lengthy Section II championship drought when it topped Shaker in last year’s Class AA final, 3-2.
A run toward the Suburban Council North Division title and sectional wins against Christian Brothers Academy and LaSalle came before that 20th triumph.
“It was, ‘We worked hard. We put in the preparation. Just another game,’ ” Shenendehowa co-captain Justin Yurchak said of the words Christodulu imparted before the game with Shaker. “It worked out well.”
Christodulu isn’t about to mess with something that’s proven to be effective. He enters his second season with 10 varsity letterwinners led by Yurchak, the Wake Forest-bound shortstop who in 2013 was named the Suburban Council Player of the Year, and the one-two pitching tandem of righty Aaron Kalish and lefty Bryan Warzek.
“We’ve tweaked some things and added some things, but our concentration remains on the process,” Christodulu said. “We’ve got a great group of guys who have bought into our plan. They really enjoy working hard and pushing each other.
“If they continue to do that, we’ll be in a competitive situation at the end of the season.”
Before last year, Shenendehowa’s last Section II championship season was in 1996, in Class A. Though the Plainsmen had great league success in the years that followed, another area title eluded them.
Shenendehowa lost to Columbia in the 2012 large-school final, 3-2, in nine innings. The Plainsmen also bowed in the 2006 Class AA title game to Colonie, 2-1, in nine innings. LaSalle edged Shenendehowa for the 2005 championship, 8-7, in 11 innings.
There were bitter early-round setbacks, too, including a 1-0, 11-inning loss to Troy in 2004. Plainsmen ace Jason Downey pitched 10 innings of no-hit ball in that game.
“Every year is different. Chemistry is different. One thing for sure is we have a focused and determined group,” said Kalish, who’ll play his college ball at RPI. “We don’t focus on who’s going to be good. We focus on us being good.”
“Last year is in the history books,” said Christodulu. “Even though we’ve got some big-game experience, it’s a new mix of characters, and we’ve got to go out and prove ourselves all over again.”
Christodulu is anxious to see his Plainsmen perform against the league’s best teams. They cruised to a 22-1 non-league win over Troy Tuesday when McCormack collected four hits and three RBI.
“We have to execute. Execute pitches, execute defensively and make the routine plays. Execute the plan offensively,” said the former multi-sport Gloversville standout. “Part of our approach is to break the game down, out by out, inning by inning.”
Columbia won the Suburban Council South Division title last year and features Maryland-bound shortstop Kevin Smith and pitchers Travis Sowards and Codey Piel. Sowards was named the 2013 SC Pitcher of the Year.
“One of the story lines will be playing 20 games in five weeks,” said Columbia coach Chris Dedrick. “Pitching depth will help.”
Guilderland coach Doug LaValley has five lefties on his staff, while his remaining mound group includes promising sophomores Nick Bruno and Matt Pierce. Colonie coach Kevin Halburian said he has 11 hurlers led by ace Ben Contento (St. Bonaventure). Shaker’s Tyler Hoffman,
Niskayuna’s Ryan Feeney and Connor Costello of Bethlehem are other returning aces.