The formula for winning a state title sounds easy, and reads even easier.
All a team needs to win is quality pitching, sound defense and timely hitting.
Fredonia coach Vince Gullo got a chuckle out of that one.
So much so that one doesn’t have to be adept at stealing signs to figure out that was his if-only-it-were-that-easy laugh.
Gullo should know a lot needs to fall into place for a good team to just have a chance at playing for the title let along win the crown. The 13-year coach has guided the Hillbillies to four state final four appearances and to two state championships during his tenure, and they enter the season as the defending state Class B champions.
“We have a whole new group of kids,” said Gullo, noting that the Hillbillies have just four returning starters. “The boys have high aspirations but the boys who went on to college, we’ll miss them.”
All-Western New York first team outfielder and state Class B Player of the Year Nick Hart is among the graduation losses for Fredonia, which will rely heavily on junior Cameron Voss and senior Weston Ley.
Voss, a pitcher/first baseman/outfielder, tossed a one-hit shutout in the state final for the Hillbillies and is 17-0 in his three varsity seasons. He has four shutouts in his last six starts. The fourth-team All-State pick also is batting around .400.
Ley, who pitches and plays second base, is currently hitting over .600 after Monday’s 6-for-6 performance. The third-year varsity player also has a 10-2 career pitching mark.
The cupboard isn’t completely bare as Fredonia bolted to a 9-2 start, including 6-0 in CCAA West I.
Senior catcher Cody Smith is also back after a second-team all-league season in which he hit .323. Sophomore Jarod Burmaster moves from starting at third to shortstop. Senior outfielder Matt Sheridan, sophomore outfielder Mike Pucci and junior Noah Voss, Cam’s cousin, are all hitting .300 in their first varsity seasons.
“Our goal this year is to get to the sectional final game,” Gullo said. “We have a very young team, lots of new faces. … We’ll be happy to get to the B-1 final and then you never know.”
It seems like every season, a team from one of the CCAA divisions makes a run at the state championship.
If it happens again this season, it will be the 10th year in a row at least one CCAA member has reached the final four.
At least two CCAA teams have reached the semifinals six of the last nine seasons, including Fredonia and Pine Valley (Class D) last year and PV and Frewsburg (Class C) two seasons ago.
The last time a CCAA team failed to get past the Rochester-area Section V champion in either Class B, C or D was 2004.
“We play pretty good competitive baseball in Cattaraugus/Chautauqua County,” Gullo said. “The boys take this baseball very seriously and there are a lot of quality coaches.”
Including Dunkirk’s Frank Jagoda, who recently won his 300th career game with the Marauders and has a team that looks to contend in Class B-1. They’re 5-5 after an 0-3 start. As of late last week, catcher Nick Thompson has driven in nine runs and has a home run. Nathan Skubis is hitting around .340.
“Our kids play ball. They make a commitment to play baseball,” said Jagoda, who is in his 21st season. “Other schools in other areas, some are real big in football, some in basketball. … Ours just happen to be dominant in baseball.”
Bulldogs long in tooth
Hamburg (5-2, 3-1 in ECIC II) hopes experience can go a long way. The Bulldogs return 12 from last year’s Section VI Class A runner-up team, including top pitcher and ECIC III first-team all-star Kyle Sickau. He’s off to a 2-0 start. Fellow returning all-leaguer Brett Ross bats cleanup and is hitting .386.
Senior shortstop Justin LaRosa is hitting .367 in his third season on the team. He hit around .380 last year. Junior David Edie enters his second season as starting catcher and leads team with a .412 average. Cam Ringo will pitch, play second base and outfield. The junior third-year starter had a walk-off home run last year against Starpoint.
Newcomers include No. 2 pitcher Jake Mertowski, who is 1-0 with a win over Iroquois.
Iroquois, Starpoint, Williamsville East and Sweet Home are among the favorites in Class A.
“I was expecting to have a pretty solid group, pretty competitive group, baseball focused group. A lot of them are baseball only. Not a lot of them are 2 or 3 sport athletes,” Bulldogs coach Steve Chaffee said. “I think we can be competitive with anybody’s No. 1. … You play three or four games in a row you’ve got to do best.”
• Iroquois is searching for its sixth ECIC II title in seven years and will do so with a lineup that includes second baseman/pitcher Joe Kwasniewski, a versatile junior who played multiple positions for coach Marv Matteson last year. Junior shortstop Andrew Schaefer is hitting around .500, while Matteson calls third-year catcher Kyle Reid the team’s unsung hero.
• Lancaster figured to have one of the best pitchers in the area in Canisius-bound senior and returning second team All-WNYer Ryan Stekl to aid its quest of returning to the Section VI Class AA final. It could wind up having one of the best batteries in the area, too, with the addition of J.D. Andreessen – a second team All-WNY pick last year who also can pitch.
Other key returnees for Lancaster include co-captain Kevin Colafranceschi, a first baseman/pitcher who should hit around .300. Junior shortstop/pitcher Joe Preziuso begins his third season on the team. Eighth-grader Max Giordano and freshman Leugim Castillo will start at right field and left field/shortstop.
• Defending Section VI Class AA champion Clarence has three main contributors back from last year’s state runner-up squad.
Second Team All-WNY second baseman Bryan Jost hit .375 last year, while senior Evan Harof takes over as the ace of the Red Devils’ staff. He’s 4-0 with a 0.58 ERA in 24 innings over the course of his two seasons. He saw more time in the field than on the mound last year, belting three homers and batting .309 as the starting first baseman.
Senior Alex McGlue returns for his third season as catcher, while Clarence will rely on key reserves from last season to slide into starting spots – including seniors Zach Darlak (first base), Brock Delgato (shortstop) and Justin White (center field).
• It appears to be a rebuilding season at Lake Shore, which graduated eight players off last year’s division-winning team. Bob Kowal said he’s coaching his youngest team in 28 seasons as a varsity coach.
Twins Collin (shortstop) and Corey (top pitcher) Fiutko not only are his best players, but the two three-sport athletes both carry a 97 average in the classroom. Sophomore Alex Whipple is in his second season starting at third base.
• State Class A runner-up Williamsville South has had difficulty playing games this season. After a 1-0 start, the Billies had their next seven games rained out. They finally got to play another game last week, beating Sweet Home, 5-3, before more rain moved into the area and wreaked havoc with all teams’ schedules.
“I think we have enough talent to compete for the A-1 championship,” said coach Kraig Kurzanski of South’s chances in sectionals. “It depends on how our pitching holds up. More than anything, I think the best team will win. Everyone’s going to have to contribute. You can’t just ride one arm like we did last year.”
South’s top returnee is junior Division I prospect Billy Hartford, a catcher with a terrific arm, power and hit .425 last year while serving as the DH/third baseman. Steve Zaprowski, a second-team all-state as a junior, is South’s top pitcher and shortstop. He went 7-1 last season, the loss coming in the state final.
• Springville doesn’t expect to sneak up on anyone after reaching the Class B-1 final last season, especially now that the Griffins are an A-2 school.
Keys to leading 9-3 Springville on another run include Andrew Scharra (shortstop/pitcher), who hit .412 last year and Kyle Crotty, a pitcher/third baseman/shortstop who is now batting .380.
Around the horn
• Niagara Falls entered Monday as the model of perfection in the Niagara Frontier League, boasting an 8-0 league mark. Junior college-bound seniors Mike Colosi opened 2-0 and is coming off a season in which he hit .500, while Joe D’Angelo hit .460 at third base. He too will go to NCCC. Falls, Lockport and Grand Island figure to be among league and sectional title contenders.
• Newfane pitcher Josh Kneeland will follow in the footsteps of older brothers and play for Division II Cederville (Ohio). Kneeland has struck out 35 in 20 innings this year. He has a 1-3 record but a 2.06 ERA on a rebuilding Panthers crew. Last year, he went 6-1 with 84 strikeouts and 10 walks in 40 innings.
• Albion, Akron and Medina all have beaten each other once and figure to duke it out until the end of the Niagara-Orleans season.
Albion, which has won a sectional title three of the last four seasons, returns catcher John Warne, a fourth-team all-state pick in Class B, and ace pitcher Connor Barleben.
Adam Hoot is hitting around .360 for Medina and also tied the school record for strikeouts in a game (18) in an April 25 win over Wilson.
Tom James recently earned his 20th career win for Akron, which also returns juniors Zach Pfentner and Connor Riggs.
• Pine Valley has reached the state semifinals in Class D two years in a row but to get there a third straight year, it will have to find a workhorse pitcher. Candidates include third-year man Thomas Raiport (pitcher/catcher) and senior classmate Winfred Nelson (pitcher/shortstop, .340 average). Alex Kelly, who didn’t pitch last year as a varsity rookie, is pushing the other two for time on the hill.
• Defending Cornell Cup champion City Honors looks to follow in the footsteps of predecessors Hutch-Tech and McKinley and string together multiple championships. Returning juniors hoping to do just that include lefty Caleb Lee, who is 3-0 and swings a nice bat when he serves as the Centaurs’ designated hitter; battery mate Peter Rakowski, who is batting around .345 out of the No. 3 hole and shortstop John Seitz who’s solid defensive and brings the speed on the base paths batting leadoff. Honors is 7-0 in league and 7-1 overall.
“DaVinci’s been close the last couple years, too, so they’ve got a good chance,” Honors coach Frank Dileo said.
DaVinci has already split with Hutch-Tech and hopes to make a run at either the league or a sectional crown.
Key returees from last year’s Class C sectional semifinal team include infielder Conor McGrath, who is solid defensively and is one of the top hitters on the team. Senior Chris Ferril is a returning All-Cornell Cup pitcher and has a 2-1 mark this year, and classmate and fourth-year man Josh Denecke also swings the bat well. He was a Cornell Cup All-Star last year. Sophomore transfer Jon Dref has struck out 20 batters in 16 innings for the Dragons, who are 2-2 and had eight of their first 10 games rained out.
• The wet weather has pushed back the start of the Cornell Cup I playoffs. Orignally slated to begin May 14, the postseason will be pushed back until after the Section VI Tournament, according to daVinci coach John Barberio. The top four finishers in Cornell Cup I battle for the city playoff title.