By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Last season almost everything went right for the Tonawanda baseball team.
The Warriors went a perfect 18-0 during the regular season and were unbeaten in ECIC IV play, winning 12 in a row. It was the first time in school history that the team entered sectionals undefeated.
But in the semifinals of last season’s Section VI B-2 playoffs, the Warriors’ season was ended in disappointing fashion by Olean. Several key cogs on that team (Joey Warthling, Kyle Gallivan, David Battel and Jake Spencer) graduated last spring and coach John Frank said that the team lost about 50 percent of its offensive production from last season.
So lowering expectations would seem to be the reasonable option heading into this season, but Frank instead has raised the bar for his players in 2013.
”You might say it’s hard to improve on 19-1, but we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal of winning a sectional,” Frank said. “We accomplished the division and this year we’re looking to do that and a little bit more.”
The Warriors are out to a 1-2 start after a pair of losses to Kenmore West and a win over Springville.
Behind the plate, Steven Warthling — a three-sport standout in football, wrestling and baseball — leads the Warriors defensively and in the batter’s box.
”Steve is a natural leader,” Frank said, “He is looked up to and respected in all aspects — on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
Senior Tyler Hughes in the outfield and pitcher Nick Pullo are both captains and team leaders along with Warthling.
Frank said the players who led in the past taught this year’s group of seniors how to be leaders, and the team’s experience last year in big games will help them as they face adversity this season.
Pullo is going to log a lot of innings for the Warriors, Frank said.
”He works hard. He worked all off season and completely dedicated himself, not only to the sport, but to getting better,” Frank said. “He spends a lot of time in the offseason working with a pitching coach. You can totally tell because the results are there. He’s calm under pressure, he never seems to get rattled and he’s just an overall good kid.”
Pullo is a pitcher that relies on accuracy and hitting his spots. He went 6-0 last season and also hit over .400.
The Warriors’ No. 2 pitcher, Jared Zellner, helps form one of the best one-two punches in ECIC baseball. The senior went 5-1 last season.
At shortstop, junior Ben Stich has been one of the best Warriors in the batter’s box early on this season. He’s making the switch from third base and Frank said he impacts the game in every phase.
”In the non-league games so far he might be the hottest player on our team as far as hitting wise goes,” Frank said. “He’s a very good leader in the infield. He’s total hustle, he’s hustling everywhere for us and he’s always a threat on the bases.”
Freshman Bret Kelly, sophomore Cody McGregor and sophomore Andrew Ball will all contribute for the Warriors, Frank said. Ball will bat eighth and play center field, McGregor is at No. 9 and at second base. Kelly will bat second and spell Warthling at catcher.
Pullo and Zellner anchor the Warriors at the plate in the No. 3 and clean up spots. Warthling bats fifth and Hughes will be in the seven-hole.
Batting sixth is senior Tim Barnard, who will play some at second base and some at third base, and his versatility is something that’s impressed Frank.
THS begins conference play today at home against JFK at 4:30 p.m. Projected Tonawanda Lineup: 1 -- Ben Stich (SS) 2 -- Bret Kelly (C/OF) 3 -- Nick Pullo (P/3B) 4 -- Jared Zellner (1B/P) 5 -- Steven Warthling (C) 6 -- Tim Barnard (2B/3B) 7 -- Tyler Hughes (OF) 8 -- Andrew Ball (OF) 9 -- Cody McGregor (2B/P) Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.