BY DAVE RICCI firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — There is no talk of retooling. Just returning to the Class B title game.
As the Tonawanda Warriors baseball team heads into the 2014 season, they know they will be without some of the key components that have been its foundation in recent seasons. But as coach John Frank said, the graduation of starters is something all teams deal with. And the true test of a program is how they move forward.
“When given the opportunity, players have to take advantage of it,” said coach Frank. “I tell them when you get a chance to get in the game, give me a reason not to take you out. The opportunity is there for several players this year. We do have a strong core coming back from last year and our goal is to maintain that high level of success that we've had the past several years.”
Winning the Section VI Class B-1 title last season, the Warriors playoff chase ended on a tough note when they lost the Class B title game to eventual state champion Fredonia. Seeing Fredonia go on to win states, after losing to them by one run, was a tough pill to swallow for the Warriors. But Frank said he and his team have put that behind them and are focused on 2014.
“I think it was a good experience for all those last year that are still on the team,” he said. “But yeah, it was last year and you have to move on. It was unfortunate, we did have our chances in that game to win it, and we just came up short.”
Leading the way for the Warriors will be seniors Ben Stich (SS/P), Tim Barnard (OF), junior Cody McGregor (P/2B/SS) and sophomore Bret Kelly, who now takes over for Steven Warthling behind the plate as the Warriors' starting catcher.
Tonawanda must also replace its one-two combo on the hill of Nick Pullo and Jared Zellner, who were so very crucial to winning sectionals. That chore will fall on the shoulders of Stich and McGregor, who both saw significant time on the mound last season.
Junior Andrew Ball brings speed in the outfield and base paths, while sophomore Cody Diaz (OF/INF/P) and freshman Zach Stapf are among the bright prospects who can contribute in a big way. Though the Warriors face the challenge of guys having to step up, fill holes and play bigger roles, Stich pointed out that younger guys in the program have a history of stepping up and pulling their share of the weight.
“We've had young guys step up in the past,” said Stich. “Bret last year and me a couple years ago. So I think a couple games in we'll be fine. We'll be right back into it.”
While most team have been stuck indoors throughout March and most of early April, thanks to the new turf field at the new Small Stadium the Warriors have been able to get in some quality time outside.
“Just the sun along kind of gives you a little bit of a sign of spring,” Frank said. “Obviously it's a real advantage, being able to get out on the turf field (as opposed) to a parking lot or inside for the entire spring. We've been out a good half-dozen times.”
The Warriors, like most teams in WNY, are contending with missing scrimmages and non-league games that would have gone a long way in solidifying players in certain spots and helping them gain continuity as a team in the field.
Stich, Diaz, Ball and Kelly appear to have locked down the top four spots in the Warriors batting order.
Josh Large (OF) Cody Kisiel, Erik Ellman, Tyler Gomez and Garrett Gardner round out the Tonawanda roster.