Sizing up WNY's talent
Few people have a better grip on the better players in Western New York than Bob Kowal. Not only is he baseball's Section VI co-chairman and the Lake Shore coach, he coached last summer's Empire State Games team, something he's enjoyed doing for the last eight years.
That ESG team included three players with Division I futures in college baseball. Eric Stolzenburg of Williamsville East has signed with Canisius College, Zach Lauricella of Clarence has signed with St. John's of the Big East and Josh Vacarro of Canisius High School is ticketed for Hartford.
Other returning players from the bronze-medal-winning ESG team are: Mike Orlowski of Iroquois, Rohn Pierce of Newfane, hard-throwing Angelo Harkins of JFK, three-sport athletes Vinny Bomasuto of Dunkirk and Phil Stasiak of Williamsville South, Christian Bringham of West Seneca East, Chris Kruska of Gowanda and juniors Thad Johnson of Frewsburg and Rich Hopica of Alden.
Canisius on the defensive
In what is traditionally a wide-open league, Canisius beat St. Francis in their best-of-three series, 2-0, to win last year's Georgetown Cup. The Crusaders are in St. Petersburg, Fla., this week playing a series of scrimmages and having two-a-day practices. They got two games in before leaving town, beating St. Mary's, 3-2, and falling to Williamsville South, 20-18.
The ace of the staff is the Hartford-bound Vacarro. "He really came on strong last year, won a couple playoff games for us," said coach Bryan Tenney. "He's got some velocity. I don't believe in putting guns on kids, but he's in the low-to-mid 80s, and he's a competitor."
SS Sean Tenney of Canisius and 1B/P Mike Wagner of St. Francis are the only returning first team All-Catholic players. Pat Maxwell has some nice range in CF for Canisius. St. Francis should challenge for another title with Nick DiRenzo and Austin Zakroczemski.
St. Joe's tabbed 1986 graduate Paul Nasca as its new coach, taking over for Rick Mariano. Nasca, who began coaching the freshman and junior varsity for the Marauders in 1990, had been Mariano's assistant for 15 years. Tyler Ferretti leads a talented lineup. The Marauders started the season beating defending NFL champion Grand Island.
St. Mary's made the most of workouts in South Carolina and is ready to take on the big boys in the Monsignor Martin. Keys this season will be third-year player Nick Galenti and sophomores SS Brian Dudek and P Lucas Schaefer.
Timon/St. Jude returns Wednesday after playing five games in Sarasota, Fla. The Tigers' roster is mostly sophomores and juniors. The team is off to a 3-1 start led by junior C Zach Hayes, P Bill O'Niel, 2B Dan Hall and P/SS Kevin Fitzgerald.
Joining the league will be Christian Central Academy.
GI looks for four-peat
Niagara Frontier League: Grand Island is the three-time defending NFL champ. The Vikings have three three-year starters, all seniors -- P/3B/OF Brian Brink, OF/P Nick Kellner and 3B Ben Tomkins. A.J. Jasek and Dylan Kelly have earned spots in the starting rotation. Back for his second year in LF is CJ Fadal. Jon Voyzey started at SS last year as a sophomore.
"Obviously pitching is more important than anything, and we have some pretty good depth," said coach Dean Santorio. "We might not have that one dominant guy, but we feel confident throwing five different guys that they will do a nice job."
Niagara Falls has a solid rotation with all-star Cam Carney, who has signed with St. Bonaventure, along with Derek Mort and Andrew Dewitt.
Clarence has been to the Section VI Class AA final four years in a row and has won three. P Zach Lauricella returns for his third varsity season. His only two losses in two-plus seasons on the mound were last year's regional game against McQuaid and last week against Orchard Park. Hit .465 with 12 extra base hits and 31 RBIs last year.
Sean Wolf will play at Division III Ohio Northern next year. P/INF Brandon Bielecki and P/INF Mike Elwood will play at NCCC next year.
Orchard Park will be in the thick of the ECIC I race with All-WNY OF Charles Mosey, 2B Dave Crowley leading off, Ryan Lindstrum at short and junior P Jim Fitzgerald, ace of the staff.
Bob Barrows enters his 50th season as an Orchard Park coach, 39 as the head coach and the last 11 as the 1B coach.
A Lancaster starting pitching staff that goes six deep is led by George Weber and Kyle Taylor.
Hamburg moves from ECIC I to II and Lake Shore drops from ECIC II to III.
Williamsville East in is South Carolina looking to add to its 4-0 start. The rotation boasts one of the best pitchers in Western New York in Stolzenburg, four-year starter who was 4-1 last year. A solid infield includes Peter Elliott, Tom Styn and Jon Fleischauer.
All-star and team MVP Matt Notaro is out for the year after suffering a shoulder injury in hockey.
Kraig Kurzanski, the football coach at Williamsville South, takes over as baseball skipper.
Iroquois looks to defend its ECIC II title led by the solid hitting of catcher Alexio Medina and all-star 2B/P Patrick Quinn.
Lake Shore is in Myrtle Beach for eight days to play two games and four umpired scrimmages. Kowal, the coach, said left-handed hitting catcher Christ Conley, second team all-league as a freshman a year ago, could give Jason Radwon's records a chase. CF/2B Nick Caboot and P Ben Senior and LHP Bryan Barry look to have big years.
Depew's baseball team will rely on the arm of Aaron Ertel, hoping it will pay off like it did last fall when he quarterbacked the football team. League all-star Josh Martin will bat cleanup and Brandon Kuczmarski looks to have a big year after being hurt last year.
Maryvale builds around Michael Kaelin and Dan Fox.
Tonawanda looks to recapture some of the magic from last year's 21-3 team that reached the state semifinals. Seven starters return including SS and leadoff batter Steve Stich, a three-year starter and captain. Jordan McGregor, senior captain, plays CF and bats second. The top starter is senior Shane Foster, a three-year starter and captain.
Tonawanda's Class B Sectional title was its first since 1981. "We arguably had the best season in Tonawanda baseball history last year. Our motto this year is 'One more game,' " said coach John Frank. "We played on the last possible day you could play baseball last year and fell one game short. We're eager and want to return to the same place this year."
Holland returns junior SS Jordan Farrant, an league all-star a year ago who batted .495. Backing him will be junior C Sean Connelly and senior P Ryan Dombrowski.
JFK is off to a 3-0 start led by P Angelo Harkins.
Alden handed Tonawanda one of its three losses last year.
Pierce is Newfane's ace
Niagara-Orleans: Newfane P Rohn Pierce got off to a hot start this season, pitching a no-hitter against Medina on its turf. The 6-3 Canisius-bound right-hander threw 72 of his 89 pitches against the Mustangs for strikes while striking out 18. Pierce throws all of his three pitches with control and has been clocked at 92 mph.
He's a kid who can bring it," said coach Jeff Kneeland, whose team is 3-0. "We're heavy with seniors, they're solid. It looks like it should be our year like it was Albion's last year or we can have a nice run like Tonawanda last year."
Albion's Class A title last year was its first since 2004.
Newfane senior C/P Stephen Kneeland is ticketed for Cedarville College (Ohio). Senior CF/P Dan Hambruch and OF Steve Gertz were both N-O all-stars last year. The Panthers are expected to return Saturday after training in Myrtle Beach.
Roy-Hart looks to give Newfane a run with a core of senior Mike Porter, sophomore Judd Jamieson and junior Ryan Metz. John Grzymala, the JV coach last year at Tonawanda, takes over as the head coach of the Rams.
Pitcher Zach Jordan of Akron, a N-O League all-star, held Newfane to four hits earlier this year. He'll be supported defensively by SS Ryan Carberry.
Wilson will field a veteran team with four-year starter Jordan Thilk and three-year starters Cameron Sidote and Jeff Robinson.
Bruce Blanchard takes over as the coach at Albion succeeding Gary Mannella, who retired last year after 21 seasons.
Around the horn
Two ideas being kicked around by the baseball braintrust: resurrecting baseball's season-ending all-star game and naming a WNY Player of the Year, with the winner being announced at a dinner, much like football's Connolly Cup.
North Collins returns eight from last year's team that was Section VI Class D finalists while finishing with a school record 19 wins against two losses. Mitch Williams and Vinny Sherman of the Eagles shared CCAA III East Player of the Year honors. Kyle Sherman and Trey Bley are a pair of juniors who will be counted on heavily.
Frewsburg made it four Class C titles in a row and Pine Valley has won three out of the last four in Class D.
Clarence (large) and Frewsburg (small) are the defending Coaches Poll champions.