Well before the regular season began, it was a sentiment Shenendehowa baseball head coach Greg Christodulu eventually expected to express: “We wouldn’t have the No. 1 seed without him.”
But with No. 1 Shenendehowa set to play host today to No. 8 Columbia in the Section II Class AA quarterfinals, the surprise is the “him.”
It was supposed to be Ian Anderson, the Plainsmen’s senior pitching star who recently earned an invitation to June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft to hear his name called in person. You know, the guy who will spend the lead-up to his high school graduation debating between instantly becoming a millionaire or heading to perennial powerhouse Vanderbilt University.
But Shenendehowa’s “him” is not Anderson, who missed nearly all of April with a variety of ailments. It’s senior Nik Malachowski, Shenendehowa’s second baseman, pitcher, top hitter — whatever the Plainsmen need from their under-the-radar star who will play next spring for the College at Brockport.
“He’s our guy,” Shenendehowa senior third baseman Frank Pizzo said of Malachowski. “He’s the type of kid that’s always there, always going to succeed for us. The competitive edge that kid has is unbelievable.”
While Shenendehowa experienced all the pitfalls that can hit a squad — injuries, unruly weather, bad luck — it was Malachowski who kept the Plainsmen pointed toward winning the Suburban Council’s regular season title. When things got rough, Shenendehowa knew where to turn for a big hit or a shutdown pitching effort.
“He loves to compete and that was such a huge part of our success,” Anderson said. “It was him going out there and competing, doing anything he could to help us.”
“Nik’s just that grinder — and he grinds himself sometimes, too,” Christodulu said. “He’s the toughest on himself because he wants to succeed so much.”
As a junior, Malachowski rarely saw the field except to pitch. Cast as the Plainsmen’s No. 3 starter behind the dynamic duo of Anderson and Bryan Warzek, Malachowski made the most of his opportunities as the rotation’s other guy. In 292⁄3 innings, he went 5-0 and allowed just two earned runs in 2015.
Despite his impressive pitching season, Malachowski entered the 2016 season expecting to play mostly as a second baseman. Ian Anderson and twin brother Ben Anderson started the year as the Plainsmen’s top-two starters, but Malachowski gobbled up many of the innings left open when Ian Anderson missed the season’s first several weeks. All Malachowski did with his opportunity was allow a single earned run across 30 innings, compiling a 5-0 record with two saves. The earned run he allowed came in his complete-game effort during a pivotal late-season 3-1 win against Ballston Spa.
“But he’s also done it at the plate. He’s hitting over .400 and he always has quality at-bats,” Christodulu said of his team’s No. 3 hitter. “He’s done everything you could expect a guy to do.”
Except to seek attention for his play, which Malachowski said is not his style. He said he is as far from jealous of the attention some of his teammates receive as possible.
“Honestly, I’ve loved it. It takes a lot of stress off me,” he said. “So it doesn’t bother me at all. Seeing them all having their success has been awesome.”
Internally, though, Malachowski’s impact this season has never gone unnoticed.
“He’s not forgotten with us,” Christodulu said. “He’s too critical.”
In other action
In each Section II classification, baseball’s quarterfinals are scheduled for today.
Highlighting the action is Class AA defending champion Saratoga Springs’ visit to Ballston Spa, where the Scotties are looking to continue their terrific season with a berth in the semifinals. Another game of note sees Schalmont travel to Hudson in the Class BB 3-6 matchup.
All games are scheduled for 4 p.m. starts:
8-Columbia at 1-Shenendehowa; 5-Guilderland at 4-La Salle Institute; 6-Saratoga Springs at 3-Ballston Spa; 7-Colonie at 2-CBA.
8-Mohonasen at 1-Queensbury; 5-Lansingburgh at 4-Amsterdam; 6-South Glens Falls at 3-Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake; 7-Troy at 2-Scotia-Glenville.
9-Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk at 1-Saratoga Catholic; 5-Ichabod Crane at 4-Albany Academy; 6-Schalmont at 3-Hudson; 7-Schuylerville at 2-Catskill.
8-Fonda-Fultonville at 1-Hoosic Valley; 5-Hoosick Falls at 4-Granville; 6-Tamarac at 3-Coxsackie-Athens; 7-Stillwater at 2-Voorheesville.
8-Corinth at 1-Greenwich; 5-Whitehall at 4-Maple Hill; 11-Canajoharie at 3-Lake George; 10-Greenville at 2-Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons.
8-Doane Stuart at 1-Fort Ann; 5-New Lebanon at 4-Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville; 6-Mekeel Christian Academy at 3-Fort Plain; 7-North Warren at 2-Germantown.