Weekly Feature

2018-04-12 / Sports

Versatility found during East baseball’s trip south

West Seneca East’s baseball team has made it routine as of late to kick off its season with a trip to South Carolina to participate in the annual Mingo Bay Tournament. It offers East – which does not have an artificial playing surface – the opportunity to get away from the cold, soggy conditions of Western New York, if even for a week, and work on the discovery process that would otherwise be hampered by the conditions back home.

This season’s trip proved particularly fruitful for coach Dave Giancola and his players, since Giancola hadn’t really seen nearly half of the 14 players who came along for the trip in any type of live action. And though the Trojans – who were marking their first time outdoors this season when taking on schools that had already played double digits’ worth of games – might not have collected many wins in their opportunities down south, they were able to come back to Western New York with something much more valuable: feedback from actually stepping onto a diamond for the first time as a collective group.

“Some teams go down there and play scrimmages only, but we play real games – and sometimes that means we’re playing teams that are further along than we are, like the one time a few years ago when we were going up against a team that was playing its 23rd game of the year when we had yet to be outside one time,” Giancola said. “But, even with us not getting out before the trip, I still feel like we really only had a couple of bad innings in the four games that we played in four days. A lot of the guys are playing on their own travel teams and just generally going in their own direction during the summer, so a trip like this is good for building up that team chemistry.

“The bottom line is that we got to play real baseball for four straight days instead of looking out the gym window for four straight days,” Giancola continued. “We went down there looking to experiment with guys in different positions, and to face some live pitching in the batter’s box and have our pitchers face live hitters. But the biggest takeaway, for me at least, was that we discovered some versatility from players that I wasn’t quite sure we had. With a couple of extra JV players down there too, that meant I really hadn’t seen half of the group in real game action and hadn’t been able to coach them in a real game before the trip.”

Among the revelations the South Carolina trip presented was that East should be potent on the pitcher’s mound – though to be fair, Giancola was already a believer in his staff even without seeing them face live hitting. Leading the charge on this year’s staff will be senior co-captains Josh Sheehan and Vinny Cenname, along with sophomore Cam Wytior, all of whom Giancola calls “number one-caliber guys who, when they’re on, are going to be tough to beat.”

Sheehan, a fourth-year varsity player and two-time ECIC II First Team all-star left-handed pitcher, averaged just under two strikeouts per inning in league play last year, which helped also elevate him to Honorable Mention All-WNY all-star status last spring. Sheehan, who will play either first base or an outfield position if he isn’t the designated hitter when not pitching, is currently slotted to appear somewhere in the top half of the batting order.

Cenname, a third-year varsity player and reigning ECIC II Second Team all-star, gives East another left-handed hurler in its rotation. Giancola noted that Sheehan and Cenname, who will play first base when not pitching, “are going to be key to what we want to do this year” and “are going to be very tough to face at the top of our rotation.” Wytior, an ECIC II Honorable Mention all-star pitcher who plays either third base or shortstop when not on the mound, is slotted to be up there in the rotation as well.

“Vinny and Josh both throw hard and mix their pitches well, and Cam – who’d probably be the top pitcher on a lot of the other teams in our division – has one of the best change-ups in the area,” Giancola said. “If our starting pitching can perform the way we expect it to, we should be able to contend for the top of the division. Other teams in our league are aware of who we can send out on the mound, and they know we’ve got some solid depth on the mound. If we can deliver on the mound, we can definitely be a contender in our division, which is really good.”

Another senior, Tyler Giczkowski, will give the Trojans additional depth on the mound. The righty with good off-speed pitches missed most of his junior year due to injury, so Giancola was pleasantly surprised to see how Giczkowski – who bats left and can also play either of the corner bases, as well as the outfield – performed in Myrtle Beach.

East’s big senior class also includes Adam Stradtman, Alex Yunke, Cole Lewis, Dylan Denecka and Dom LaGambina, each of whom stands out from the crowd in their own way. Stradtman, a third-year player and ECIC II Honorable Mention all-star last season, has the versatility to move around the infield defensively and will be among the team’s top four hitters at the plate. Yunke, who like Giczkowski missed out on last season due to injury, will spend time either behind the plate, at third base or in the outfield, while Lewis, whom Giancola sees mostly in the outfield but who has the versatility to play elsewhere, will most likely hit somewhere in the middle of the order.

Denecka, a returning part-time starter who missed the spring break trip due to a prior college commitment, “will be able to contribute defensively,” while LaGambina, “our unsung hero last year who played everywhere in a pinch,” has a knack for putting the ball in play – particularly when he’s down two strikes.

Rounding out this year’s team will be junior Adam Wojciechowski, along with sophomores Mark SanFilippo and Austin Meidenbauer. Wojciechowski, who stepped into the starting catcher’s role once Yunke got hurt, has a strong arm that makes him just as valuable in the outfield as he is behind the plate. SanFilippo, who is an outfielder when not on the mound, did well in limited varsity action toward the end of last season, while Meidenbauer has the versatility to catch, play second base or man one of the spots in the outfield.

“A lot of it comes down to playing good fundamental defense to where you’re not giving teams four or five outs,” Giancola said. “We’ll find ways to score runs with our veteran bats in the top and middle of the order, so if we can support our defense, we’ll be tough to beat. Even though we’re a small team this year in terms of our roster numbers, we have some good depth at spots where we’d want to have that depth. We certainly don’t want to give teams freebies from walks, errors or hit batters, so if we can play solid defense, we should be a tough team to beat and shouldn’t have to score seven, eight or even nine runs in order to win.”

East’s return to game action was supposed to begin Monday against Timon, but field conditions forced that game to be postponed to the middle of May. The status of the Trojans’ clash with Williamsville South on Wednesday, meanwhile, was up in the air as The Bee went to press.

If Wednesday’s game did not take place as planned, East will next attempt to play its first game in Western New York on Friday, when it is slated to host Williamsville East.

“If we’re going to have a good year, we need Adam [Stradtman], as well as Vinny and Josh, to have the seasons we believe they can have for us,” Giancola said. “I really will be looking to them to lead the way for us. With only 12 guys on the roster, though, we’ll need contributions from everyone. Now that we took care of some of the more vanilla things – like hitting and running – in Myrtle Beach, we know the areas where we need some work and where we maybe need to spend some extra time in practice. Those things wouldn’t have been revealed if we didn’t go on trip. Some we can work on in gym, though there’s nothing like being outside on 90-foot diamond.

“You really don’t know what you’ve got or where you need work until you get outside.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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