With arms, bats, speed and experience, Saratoga Springs has all of the things necessary for another championship season, but not even the best baseball teams can expect a smooth ride from start to finish.
It rarely happens.
“If we lose a couple games, we’ve got to bounce back,” Blue Streaks senior second baseman Nick Kondo said. “You’ve got to go on and keep playing. That’s all you can do.”
That’s what Saratoga did late last spring — it kept moving forward — after losing not only a couple of games, but its head coach, too.
“I think it speaks a lot to how this team is built,” Saratoga senior relief pitcher Cory McArthur said after the reigning Section II Class AA champions completed a series of sprints at Tuesday’s practice. “We hit a wall and found a way around it. We persevered and went on a heck of a run.”
It was a history-making run which included Saratoga’s first regional title and state semifinal win under interim head coach Rich Lofink, who is back in his familiar assistant role. Former Mohonasen varsity mentor Andy Cuthbertson has taken the lead coaching spot, inheriting a team with 10 returning players, eight of them seniors.
“Rich and I talked about it, about the coaching position,” Cuthbertson, who led Saratoga’s modified team in 2015, said. “Rich was comfortable in his role, and he thought I would be a good candidate for the job.”
Lofink had replaced Dean Bailey. Bailey delivered a loud, critical post-game talk, one which school officials said amounted to improper conduct, after a loss to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. Saratoga also lost its next game against Ballston Spa before using a win against Schuylerville — Lofink’s first game in charge — as a springboard toward its playoff success.
The Blue Streaks believe more of that is coming their way after putting together a 20-6 record in 2015.
“On paper, it looks great. Now we have to execute,” McArthur said. “I’m definitely excited for it. We’ve got so many guys with experience.”
The cast includes Danny Hobbs and Danny Coleman, Saratoga’s top starting pitchers from last year who’ll be coupled with Shane Barringer, catcher Brendan Coffey and outfielders Jake Fauler and Brendan Frank.
“When I was at Mohonasen, I was trying to get it going in the right direction,” Cuthbertson said. “Here, I can basically run a college practice. I’m coaching at a college level where what we do is a little more complex. These are still kids, but I’m blessed that they are at such a high level.”
Cuthbertson’s coaching resumé has stints as a Springfield College assistant and head coach of the Saratoga Phillies New York Collegiate Baseball League team. Hobbs and Barringer have both committed to Siena College, Coffey is headed to Sacred Heart, Kondo will play for the University at Albany and McArthur will hurl for Cortland State.
“We look good,” Kondo said. “We’ve got a ton of guys coming back after the big run last year, and some rookies stepped up on our trip to Florida.”
The Blue Streaks have several athletes who have gone far in other sports. Kondo and McArthur started for the school’s football team that last fall finished second in the state tournament. Hobbs and Fauler skated for the ice hockey team that earlier this month reached its second consecutive state final four.
“We’ve been under that presssure. It makes it a little easier,” McArthur said. “It definitely slows the game down.”
Saratoga will have some stern games in the Suburban Council, two of them against rival Shenendehowa. The Blue Streaks split with the Plainsmen in league play before beating them 1-0 for their first Section II title since 1995. Hobbs got the win, McArthur got the save, and Frank singled home the lone run.
“Our first goal is .500 in the league so we can qualify for the sectionals,” said McArthur. “If we get that, then we’ll worry about the sectionals. If we win the sectionals, then we’ll worry about the next step.”
Saratoga went 3-0 in scrimmage games in Florida last week, and outscored its opponents 24-3.
“That was really good for team bonding, and it was good for me to get to know the guys better,” Cuthbertson, a 35-year-old elementary school physical education teacher said. “This season is a step-by-step process, and that was a good step for us.”