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Baseball outlook: Senior class goes deep

The season has just gotten started and already the Class of 2013 has distinguished itself.

Bob Kowal, who has spent 27 seasons in a varsity coaching box, has said he never remembers a year in which so many seniors will play baseball at a Division I college.

“I’ve never seen a class as deep as this. I’m trying to go back, some years we’ve had four or five, but not this many – ever,” said the current Lake Shore and former Empire State Games coach. “It says something about the talent in this area. It should be a great year for high school baseball.”

Kowal, who also serves as an ECIC sectional representative, said at last count he knew of 10 players from Western New York with Division I futures:

• Amherst’s Jonah Heim to Michigan State.

• Canisius’ Kyle Liszewski to Canisius College.

• Clarence’s Mark Armstrong to Pittsburgh.

• Iroquois’ Zach Trumpler to Canisius.

• Lake Shore’s Chris Conley to Canisius.

• St. Joe’s Matt Matre to Canisius.

• St. Joe’s Jared Baldinelli to St. Bonaventure.

• St. Mary’s Brian Dudek to the University at Buffalo.

• St. Mary’s Chris Kwitzer to UB.

• Williamsville North’s Tyler Green to Vanderbilt.

And three of those players, pitcher Armstrong, catcher Conley and second baseman Baldinelli, were first team All-Western New York last year.

Armstrong garnered first team All-New York State as well after going 6-1 with 87 strikeouts in 47 innings and a 0.46 ERA.

Conley just became the second player from his school to surpass 100 career hits. Last year he had 46 hits and finished with a .583 batting average. He was third team All-State in Class A.

Baldinelli was third team All-State in Class AA and was co-Offensive Player of the Year in the Monsignor Martin Association.

The other two players who are returning All-WNY first-teamers are senior shortstop Trent Thompson of Fredonia and DH Ryan Stekl of Lancaster. Thompson was also first team All-State and the CCIAA Player/Pitcher of the Year. He batted .538 and had a 1.24 ERA. Stekl made the team last year as a sophomore and was fourth team All-State after batting .491 for the Class AA champs.

Returning second team All-WNY picks are Green and pitcher Matre. The 6-foot-6 Green will pitch and has started for two years at first.

Georgetown Cup

St. Joe’s won its first Cup since 2005 after sweeping St. Francis in last year’s best-of-three final.

Baldinelli of the Marauders and Matt Michalski of St. Francis are back after sharing the Monsignor Martin Association Player of the Year award. St. Joe’s is also blessed with 6-4 first baseman Donny Kilian, who hit six home runs last year, and who hopes to walk on at UB.

The Marauders played several games in Orlando this spring and bring a 3-2 overall and 2-0 league record into today’s game at St. Francis. St. Joe’s is strong up the middle with junior catcher Alex Kovacs, senior shortstop Trevor Tumiel and Baldinelli at second. Junior Philip Wells is batting over .630 in his first five games and senior right fielder Jake Kopacz brings a big bat to the top of the lineup.

Coach Paul Nasca said he is looking forward to endless competition. “This is the most competitive the league has been in many years,” he said. “Most of the teams have at least two, many have three, strong pitchers. There are a lot of college players on these teams, a lot of guys in this league who can play.”

St. Mary’s was a final four team last year, losing to St. Francis. It had two signature wins over St. Joe’s. Another college-bound player joining Kwitzer and leadoff hitter Dudek is 6-2 right-hand pitcher Lucas Schaefer. He’s headed to Niagara County CC, which reached the NJCAA Division III national championship last year. Schaefer and Marc Gonzales keep batters off balance.

In a nonleaguer April 8 with defending Class AA champion Lancaster, the Lancers gave up two runs in the seventh in a 3-1 defeat.

St. Francis isn’t going to settle for just reaching the Georgetown Cup final this year. With eight returning starting position players and its top five pitchers back from last year’s 18-6 team, it wants to win it.

Canisius is off to 7-0 start, including two wins in the four-team Jesuit Liberty Tournament in Jersey City, N.J., last weekend. The Crusaders beat St. Peter’s Prep of Jersey City, 9-5, in the final.

The Crusaders went 3-0 and had three scrimmages in St. Petersburg, Fla., this spring. Canisius’ next start is today against Williamsville South at Delaware Park at 4:15.

Catcher Jack Trotman is a three-year starter who has signed with Division II UMass-Lowell.

Pitcher/shortstop Colin Tenney was second team All-Catholic a year ago. Liszewski mans second base and junior Connor Ryan looks to have a big year on the mound.

Junior left-hander Zach Glowacki will keep Cardinal O’Hara in games.

Defending champs

CLASS AA: Two of Lancaster’s top pitchers are back: lefty Ted Wilson (also plays center field) and Joe Preziuso (second base), who is coming off a monster freshman season. Ryan Bonafede fills the opening behind the plate. Stekl, the All-WNY DH, batted .500 in league games last year. Ben Haefner is poised to have another all-star season. Lancaster defeated Niagara Falls in its opener.

Lancaster (17-6, 11-3) beat Niagara Falls in the Class AA final last year for its first sectional title since 2000. It shared the ECIC I crown with Clarence and won the WNY Coaches large school poll title by a one-point margin over Class A champ Grand Island.

CLASS A: Grand Island had a memorable season going from a No. 6 seed in sectionals to reaching the state final, losing the title game to IX-Cornwall, 9-7.

CLASS B: Fredonia: Before the Hillbillies can entertain any state tournament aspirations, they must survive the yearly challenge from rival Dunkirk. The teams have met for the Class B overall title each of the last two years. Dunkirk won in 2011, Fredonia last year.

Their games in CCIAC I are just as fierce as they split their two meetings last year. The laurels last year went to Fredonia, which finished as the No. 1 small school in the WNY Coaches poll and was CCIAC I champion.

Fredonia, with seven starters back, is off to an 8-0 start. Shortstop/pitcher Trent Thompson is planning to walk-on at NCAA Division II Azusa Pacific University outside of Los Angeles. He was 6-2 on the mound last season and batted .472.

The Hillbillies have the talent and experience to go deep into the postseason with three-year starters center fielder Nick Hart (38 runs scored), catcher Zach Buckley (26 RBIs), and outfielder Jude Gardner (21 runs scored). Junior pitcher Weston Ley was 4-0 last year and sophomore left-hander Cam Voss 5-0.

CLASS C: Frewsburg made its third appearance at states in four years, losing in the semifinals to undefeated Lansing, 6-3. They’ve won 20 games in four of the last five years and have been sectional champs for six years in a row. They will be led by junior pitchers Tage Johnson and Trevor Spicer. Spicer had shown nice command of the strike zone and gives the team athleticism. Frewsburg played in the Mingo Bay Classic this spring in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

CLASS D: Pine Valley made its first trip to states since 1997, where it lost a tough, 1-0 decision to III-Oriskany. The sectional title was its fourth in a row and sixth in the last seven years.

Team chatter

Lake Shore switches divisions for the fourth consecutive season, landing in ECIC III from II. Conley will finish as the Eagles’ No. 2 all-time hits leader, behind Jason Radwan (St. Bonaventure). Second baseman Billy Pinter, first team all-state last fall in volleyball, led last year’s team in RBIs.

Shortstop Tyler Mascio has had an interesting junior year. He quarterbacked Canisius to an 11-0 record in the fall and transferred back to his home district of Lake Shore in February “It’s nice to have him back as a junior,” said Kowal. “When they leave I always tell them that they’re welcome back.”

The Eagles went to Myrtle Beach last month, played two games and four umpired scrimmages.

Clarence is anxious to reclaim the Class AA title from ECIC I rival Lancaster after owning it the three previous years.

Still haunted by a loss in extra innings to Grand Island in last year’s Class A-1 final, Williamsville North is ready to go. Kyle Zurak and Luca Bechakas lead a deep pitching staff.

First baseman Dan Lumadue (.419, 26 RBIs) and center fielder Brandon Schick (.481, 37 hits, 26 runs scored) are among 14 players back for Williamsville East.

Williamsville South returns eight starters, including Damian Powers, a Division II LeMoyne College commit. Mike Calandra and Tyler Piasecki give the Billies a trio of returning ECIC II all-stars to build around. Calandra is a two-time league all-star catcher and Piasecki has more than 40 varsity starts at shortstop.

Jeff Baron, Jon DiPasquale and Tyler Graham are among seven returning seniors who took Maryvale to the Class A-2 final last year.

Look for Olean to do some damage in Class B. The Huskies not only return eight starters, they have seven players who can pitch. “I realize how baseball is pretty good in this part of New York, and even within our own league, there’s definitely nothing you can take for granted,” said coach Matt Threehouse, who was an All-WNY pitcher for Olean in 1988. “Hopefully the boys are ready to play every day.”

The Huskies return league all-stars Ben McGraw and Brad Painter, along with outfielder/pitcher Pat Scholla.

Olean played four games in a wooden bat tournament in Camden, S.C. this spring. Threehouse said he welcomed the competition against larger schools, most of which had played 15-16 games. Junior pitcher/outfielder Luke Hennessy looked sharp, collecting five hits in nine at-bats and pitching a five-inning shutout in a 10-0 win.

Olean beat Dunkirk twice last year in CCIAC I before losing to the Marauders in the Class B-1 final. Dunkirk lost all-league pitcher Alex Kubera to a torn labrum.

Defending Niagara-Orleans League champion Albion has won sectional titles in each of the last three years. Seven starters graduated, so the Purple Eagles are counting on junior John Warne, who has started behind the plate since he was a freshman. Two top pitchers are back, senior Chris Reed, who led the team in ERA, and junior Connor Barleben, who got the win in last year’s sectional final.

Akron’s seven starters include junior pitcher Tommy James (3-1, 1.08 ERA), who threw the team’s first no-hitter since 1975 in a 2-1 win over Medina on April 13. Also back is senior center fielder Austin Mietz, a Connolly Cup finalist in football, who hit .378 with four HRs in 2012.

Hamburg played three games in the Mingo Bay Classic and is off to a 3-0 league start. Four-year starter Brian Castonguay and three-year starter Tyler Shaw can draw on the experience of having won Class A-1 in 2011.

Sophomore pitcher Cameron Ringo will lead the rotation. He hit a two-run walk-off HR in the league opener against Starpoint. Sophomore catcher David Edie and senior Josh Palisano provide big bats and junior Justin Larosa has locked down the shortstop position.

Medina’s Adam Hoot is batting .409 through eight games and has a 1.75 ERA. Sophomore Jason Hellwig is 3-0 and began the season without allowing a hit in his first 10 innings.

Newfane junior right-hander Josh Kneeland has recorded 17 strikeouts each in his last two starts.

Depew was hit hard by graduation. It is led by last year’s batting leader Sean Driscoll (.444), Justin Crawley and Tyler Wangler.

East Aurora’s Ian Allen is a two-time All-WNY honorable mention, who is batting .666 with three pitching wins. Last fall he signed with Division II East Stroudsburg University.

Cheektowaga’s hopes rest with four-year player Matt Stroud (second base) and three-year players Ed Kerber (pitcher/catcher) and third baseman Michael Crissy.

West Seneca East’s first league win was a big one, 4-2, over Iroquois. The Trojans graduated only one player. The rotation is intact with Austin Spindler, Alex Pacer, and Corey Fermo. Sophomore catcher Brian Wasilewski is off to a fast start with seven RBIs in five games. East went 2-1 in Myrtle Beach this spring.

Hutch-Tech has won four straight Cornell Cup titles and five of the last eight. Among its talented players are Isiah Shadwick and Antaney Brinkly.

Left-handed pitcher/first baseman Tom Samar of City Honors will continue his career at Division III Clarkson. Center fielder/pitcher Yusef Burgos, a three-sport athlete, looking to continue his career at UB. Honors beat Tech, 16-8, in their only meeting this season.

DaVinci will ride the arm of All-High pitcher Joe Denecke.

Gowanda’s Matt Kruszka has a bright future. Juniors Ryan Boutelle and Walker Cygan are both in their third year on the varsity.

Franklinville pitcher/third baseman Christian Bigham is batting .455 with two homers.

email: mmonnin@buffnews