2013 H.S. Baseball Preview: Ready to Play

Although the majority of local high school baseball diamonds are still under snow, the teams are fired up and ready for the 2013 spring season.

“Being inside has set us back a little,” Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips said. “We have been going over everything we can like situation hitting in the batting cage, but we have not had the chance to execute the wide stuff because we can’t get on a field.”

The Hilltoppers finished with a 16-3 overall record and were crowned co-champions in the Western Athletic Conference North, sharing the title with Saratoga Catholic.

The Hilltoppers and Saints are scheduled to play their May 3 WAC North game at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College. The game is one of six Section II high school games hosted by the Tri-City ValleyCats as part of their “Friday Night Lights” fundraising event dedicated to Coaches vs. Cancer.

Fort Plain and Saratoga Catholic will play at 4:30 p.m. in the opening game of a double-header, while Columbia will take on Saratoga at 7:30 p.m. Other games in the double-header showcase include Ballston Spa taking on Burnt-Hills Ballston Lake and Shenendehowa against Shaker on April 26, while Guilderland and Bethlehem play on May 10 along with Christian Brothers Academy and Troy. Admission for the games will be $5.

Fort Plain will honor former standout athlete Bo Baker on May 4 by retiring the No. 19 jersey he wore as a member of the Hilltoppers. The ceremony will be part of the newly-named Bo Baker Tournament featuring host Fort Plain, Dolgeville, Hoosick Falls and Hannibal Central School from Section III.

“It should be a good tournament,” Phillips said. “Hannibal went to the state semis last year, while Dolgeville and Hoosick Falls have improved.”

Fort Plain and Dolgeville will open tournament play at 9 a.m. followed by Hannibal and Hoosick Falls at 11:30 a.m. The consolation game is slated for 2 p.m. followed by the championship game at 4:30 p.m.

The Gloversville Huskies also will host its annual tournament April 12 and 13 at Husky Field featuring teams from Fonda-Fultonville, Broadalbin-Perth, Schuylerville and host Gloversville.

The Huskies return an experienced team featuring seven seniors to the diamond this season. Chris Rockefeller, Mike Fancher, Kyle Casimiro, Kevin Johnston, Mike Murray, David Vandenabeele and Ben VanNostrand return as the Huskies look to get back to postseason play after not qualifying last year.

“We have a good returning core of players that we are expecting good things from,” Gloversville coach Mike DeMagistris said. “We have very good team speed this year. The Foothills Council will be extremely competitive but we feel that our returning players and our group of new guys will allow us to be very competitive.”

Broadalbin-Perth also returns seven starters from its 2012 team that pulled a first round upset over Hudson as the No. 13 seed in the Class B tournament before falling to Catskill in the quarterfinals.

Luigi Magliocca, Joe Zarecki, Tim Gordon, Anthony Visco, Mike Visco, Patrick Brown and Anthony Payne all return for the Patriots.

“Good senior leadership and solid defense should give the Patriots a chance to be competitive in the difficult Foothills Council,” coach Dan Simonds said. “We return five pitchers from the 2012 staff and also all three starting outfielders. The loss of R.J. Pingitore [graduation] is big, so this year’s squad will have to collectively contribute to replacing all of his and other outgoing seniors’ contributions.”

The Johnstown Sir Bills will blend a talented group of newcomers into a seasoned group of veteran players this season as the look to improve on an 11-9 overall record in 2012.

Joe Nellis, Josh Brown, Matt Crankshaw, Mike Everest, Pat Morrison and Matt VanValkenburgh return for the senior seasons along with juniors Ryan Auty and Matt Szurek.

“Joe Nellis is coming in to the season in the best shape I have seen him in and should be solid for us on the mound,” Johnstown coach Aaron Mraz said. “Our pitching will be strong and offensively will be an unknown factor. It is going to be a matter of gaining experience. We are going to be young this year because we lost a lot to graduation.”

With a solid core of returning players, Fonda-Fultonville coach Rick Palumbo believes the Braves will be in the hunt for a Colonial Council title.

“This is an extremely hard working team,” Palumbo said. “We are very athletic and quick. If our hitting keeps improving, we will be a formidable team. Pitching and defense looks strong and will have to be if we are to be at the top of a very strong Colonial Council.”

Kevin Twardzik, Zak Shaw and Brandon Baker lead a veteran group of returners that also includes Lucas Calkins, Dan Valachovic, Connor Rose, Richard Bagley and Clyde Sammons.

The Braves posted a 14-9 overall record and finished 9-6 in the league before falling 5-2 to Albany Academy in the Class B semifinals last year.

St. Johnsville is preparing to play its final season in the WAC as the Saints as the merger between St. Johnsville and Oppenheim-Ephratah takes place before the start of the 2013-14 school year.

“In the last season for the St. Johnsville Saints, prior to the merger, St. Johnsville will be looking to make their final year a memorable one,” said Darin Lynch, who coached the team to a 10-10 overall record last year.

The Saints’ lineup includes three seniors, Brandon Campione, Alex Hart and Kyle Smith, who returns after playing on the combined Dolgeville-Oppenheim-Ephratah team last year.

The St. Johnsville lineup also includes seven sophomore, five freshmen and no juniors. Two of the freshmen, Dylan Klock and Payton Johnson, were WAC All-Star selections in 2012.

“We have a young pitching staff,” Lynch said. “Ninth-graders Dylan Klock and Brad Smith, 10th-grader John Vicciarelli and seniors Brandon Campione and Alex Hart will share the mound duties.”

Matt Ellithorpe takes over the reins of the Mayfield Panthers this season who are coming off a 4-13 season.

The Panthers look young with Matt Messina and Jordan VanNostrand the lone players returning with varsity experience.

“With just a few returning starters, we will be looking to the newcomers to step up and play competitive baseball,” Ellithorpe said. “These young men have shown the ability to play well as a team.”

The Canajoharie Cougars have a solid core of players returning from last year’s 8-9 squad, including Zach Bowerman, Karl Gustafson, Kevin Shannon, Joe Winsman, Zach Ruzkowski, Tyler Belmonte and Ed Anderson.

Coach Phillip will build on his Section II-best 676 career victories and 21 league titles with an experienced lineup that features seven seniors who all started as juniors. The senior Hilltoppers include Zach Sweet, Trent Douglas, Chris Hanifin, Marcus Failing, Tim Wolfe, Joe Ray and Dakota Nemecek.

“Our pitching is our strength,” Phillips said. “Marcus Failing’s velocity has picked up this year and Chris Hanifin is looking strong. Trent Douglas, sophomore Alex Bleichner and freshman Jesse Heroth are nice additions.”

The Northville Falcons will not field a team for the 2013 season.

Brian Spagnola returns to the dugout for the Amsterdam Rams as they vie for the Big 10 championship.

The Rams look strong with veterans filling key spots up the middle of the diamond.

“With our top two pitchers returning and our second baseman, shortstop and center fielder all returning we look solid on the mound and up the middle,” Spagnola said. “Our offense is made up more of singles/doubles guys with speed.”

Senior right-handers Zach Dufel (2.12 ERA) and Dylan Angelo (3.50 ERA) return to anchor the Rams pitching staff. They are joined by junior shortstop Andrew Rouse, junior second baseman Kolbie Glionna and senior center fielder Ayden Healy (.321 avg.)

Veteran coach Bob Stoddard recorded his 400th career victory at the end of last season with the Wells Indians and he has the complete lineup back this year.

“We should be very competitive,” Stoddard said. “We have good depth, good speed and strong pitching. We should see improved hitting and fielding this year.”

The Indians feature seniors Jake Earley and Caleb Hayes and junior Seth Weaver. Earley led the team with a .371 average and had 14 stolen bases. Hayes hit .343 last year with one home run. Weaver, a Mountain and Valley Athletic Conference MVP nominee, hit .333 and recorded three wins on the mound while allowing only 11 hits, striking out 70 and walking 18 with a 1.49 ERA. All three players received MVAC all-star honors in 2012.

The Dolgeville Blue Devils are looking to put last year’s 0-10 Center State Conference record behind them and have a break out year.

“We have a lot of players returning in key positions,” second year coach Joel Walrath said. “We are still a young team but, hopefully, the experience they had last year will start to pay off. Our goal is to be competitive in our league and reach the sectionals.”

The returning Blue Devils include junior Alex Johnson (.393 avg.), and sophomores, Daniel Fox, Johann Doerrer and Dakota Walrath.