Tonawanda News

Local Sports

April 5, 2011

Warriors look to defend Section VI title, return to state semifinal

— — One more game.

Tonawanda baseball coach John Frank recently dubbed that phrase as the Warriors’ motto for the 2011 campaign.

And if they live by it, Frank said he’s confident his squad can pick up right where they left off.

The Warriors return eight seniors from last season’s unforgettable Far West Regional championship team that reached the state semifinal in Binghamton.

“It was arguably the most successful season in the history of Tonawanda baseball,” he said. “I think we have a highly talented team this year, and we did lose a couple of players.”

Perhaps the two most important pieces of the team, which captured its first Section VI crown in nearly 30 years.

“You don’t replace two guys like that,” Frank said of former starting pitchers Jesse Zellner and Mike Tolsma, who were on the mound for all six postseason games to help lead the Warriors to a 21-3 overall record.

“They were my No. 1 and No. 2 for four years,” he said. “They were a large reason why we had the success that we did and the big turnaround that we had from their freshman and sophomore years to their junior and senior years.”

This year, however, the Warriors expect a much different lineup, one in which will rely on a deep order and rotation.

“I think we have a lot more depth than we did last year,” Frank said. “There’s a lot of competition for playing time right now and I firmly believe that competition breeds success.”

Senior and three-year varsity player Shane Foster is forecasted as the Opening Day starter.

Frank said he liked what he got out of Foster last season.

“(Foster) could have been anybody’s No. 1 and No. 2 last year,” he said. “He threw a lot of innings for us. He’s really excited to have that role of No. 1 this year with Mike and Jesse off to college.”

This season Frank said he has six or seven guys that can man the mound.

CSAT transfer David Battel is also expected to step in the No. 2 role, while Joey Warthling will pitch in relief and in non-league games.

Senior catcher Brian McCarthy will assume his position behind the plate, a spot he has held since his freshman year. Steve Stich will occupy shortstop, while John Schwab will play first and Battel will play third. Ryan McInnis, Jordan McGregor and Kyle Gallivan fill out the outfield.

All nine, plus a solid bench, should provide steady bats this season, Frank said.

“I have nine, 10, 11 guys that you could just put their names in a hat, shake it up and pull them out one by one, and they would get the job done,” he said. “Last year we relied heavily on Jesse’s bat, which was obvious from the numbers, but we’re going to be more by committee this year. Anybody can do the job at any time.”

Though Tonawanda boasts a senior-laden lineup, the pressure of last season’s success may put a damper on how far the Warriors can go. Frank doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s more motivation. I don’t think there’s any pressure,” he said. “Last year’s team not only was a successful one for the baseball program, it brought the community and school together. You saw that by the backing that we had with ‘The Tribe,’ not only at home games, but for away games — sectional games and regional games and state games.”

Stich added that although the Warriors will be without their “two top guns” from a year ago, he’s excited about the depth of the current squad and is hopeful it can make another run.

“If everybody does their part and not try to do it themselves ... we’re motivated to try and get back (to the final four) and win another game and play in the state final game,” Stich said.

Before the Warriors can think about baseball in June, Stich said that league play will provide a true test.

“It’s going to be tough to win the division again with JFK, Alden and Eden,” he said. “But we’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder and prove them wrong and do it again.”

Contact sports editor Brandon Koch at 693-1000, ext. 117.

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