BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — As the Shenendehowa baseball team worked its way through a situational drill involving infield defense and base-running at a recent practice, it also seemed like head coach Greg Christodulu was setting his team up for a different kind of teaching moment.
During a brief pause in the drill, Christodulu told his Plainsmen — the two-time defending Section II Class AA champions — how he’d like to see his defensive players handle a given situation because “that’s what good teams will do.”
“We’re a good team,” one of the Plainsmen said.
Without missing a beat, Christodulu was ready with his response.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Shenendehowa returns enough talent, especially in its pitching rotation, that it will be a surprise if the Plainsmen are anything but a contender to win another sectional crown this season. Christodulu and his players, though, are unwilling to accept that the team’s past success counts for much in 2015.
“We’re not defending anything,” said Christodulu. “We’re out to pursue another championship with a new group of guys.”
“We’re setting the bar high and keeping it there,” senior pitcher Bryan Warzek said.
Nowhere are there more expectations on the baseball diamond for the Plainsmen than on the pitcher’s mound. Shenendehowa has several pitchers expected to log major innings this season, and that starts with junior Ian Anderson and Warzek. Anderson, who has made a verbal commitment to pitch in college for Vanderbilt University, went 6-0 with a 0.42 ERA as a sophomore; meanwhile, Warzek signed to play next season at the University of New Orleans after a junior season in which he went 8-0 with a 1.40 ERA.
“Our big thing is to throw strike one and play defense,” said Christodulu. “We believe the offense will develop as the season goes along.”
While pitching is the club’s unquestioned strength heading into the season, which is scheduled to start with a Suburban Council contest April 7 at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, the Plainsmen still have a lot to figure out when it comes to their defensive alignment and batting order. The team lost several key position players from last season — such as infielder Justin Yurchak, now starring for Wake Forest University — and Christodulu said versatility, not star power, is the key attribute for this year’s group of infielders and outfielders.
“This year, we may very well have 20 different lineups for 20 games,” he said.
“We’ve got confidence that we’ll figure it out, though,” said Plainsmen senior shortstop Josh Hayner. “We’ve got a lot of good hitters on this team. We’re going to be fine.”
Hayner is the squad’s top returning hitter after collecting 17 RBI to go along with a .421 batting average last season. Outfielder Connor Douglas — .288 and 24 runs scored in 2014 — said the Plainsmen don’t mind a little bit of lineup uncertainty at this juncture, even knowing other squads around Section II will try to make a statement against the Plainsmen whenever possible.
“We do have a target on our backs, and we know it,” said Douglas. “We have to work twice as hard as everyone else in the league because of it.”
“It’s going to be tough,” said Warzek. “But nobody said it was going to be easy for us.”
The schedule for the Shenendehowa baseball team, subject to change. All home games are at the high school, unless otherwise noted:
- April 7: at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, noon
- April 9: at Saratoga Springs, noon
- April 13: hosts Ballston Spa, 4:15 p.m.
- April 15: hosts Bethlehem, 4:15 p.m.
- April 17: at Colonie, 4:15 p.m.
- April 18: hosts North Rockland at Joe Bruno Stadium, 1 p.m.
- April 20: hosts Columbia, 4:15 p.m.
- April 22: at Mohonasen, 4:15 p.m.
- April 24: hosts Niskayuna, 4:30 p.m.
- April 25: at CBA, 1 p.m.
- April 27: at Shaker, 4:15 p.m.
- April 29: at Averill Park, 4:15 p.m.
- May 1: hosts Guilderland, 4:15 p.m.
- May 6: at Ballston Spa, 4:15 p.m.
- May 7: hosts Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, 4:15 p.m.
- May 8: at Troy, 7 p.m.
- May 11: hosts Saratoga Springs, 4:15 p.m.
- May 13: at Niskayuna, 4:15 p.m.
- May 14: hosts Shaker, 4:15 p.m.
- May 16: hosts Queensbury, 5 p.m.