BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — He laughed because, really, how else is head coach Greg Christodulu supposed to handle a query regarding his plans to replace an irreplaceable player?
“Nobody,” he said, “is going to replace Ian.”
That’s Ian Anderson, the Shenendehowa baseball team’s superstar pitcher from last year’s run to a Class AA state title who now pitches in the Atlanta Braves organization. Before becoming a multimillionaire as the third pick in last year’s MLB amateur draft,
Anderson dominated to the tune of allowing three earned runs across 42 innings during a senior season in which he struck out 55 batters. In the postseason, Anderson went 4-0 without allowing an earned run in 28 innings.
So, yeah, nobody’s going to replace him.
But the Plainsmen still have a 2017 season to play.
“And it’s going to be different,” Christodulu said.
That’s what struck senior catcher Kyle Douglas at one of this year’s team’s first workouts. Looking around, Douglas — who scored the game-winning run in the 2016 state championship — was a little stunned. Ian Anderson wasn’t there . . . but neither was his twin brother Ben Anderson, who is now pitching at Binghamton University. Kevin Huerter was absent from center field, too, busy now playing college hoops for Maryland. An assortment of other 2016 Shenendehowa stars — Richard Drum, Joe Fraser, Nick Jacques, Nik Malachowski and Frank Pizzo to name a handful — were also absent after graduating this past spring.
“But I think all of our underclassmen and our returning players are using that as inspiration,” Douglas said. “We have a lot of slack to pick up because we lost a lot of talent, so that’s our motivation to work harder each day at practice — because we’re going to need to.”
“We’re working hard to get back to where we were last year,” said Shenendehowa senior pitcher Kurt Forsell, whose 22 2/3 innings pitched last season are the most for any returning Plainsmen player.
While many of the players on his roster are varsity rookies — 16 of the team’s 24 players are juniors, some of whom saw varsity action last season — Christodulu said he again has high expectations for his squad, whose first scheduled game this year comes April 5 at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
“In a way, it’s refreshing because these guys are eager to achieve and work hard,” Christodulu said. “Last year’s group set the tone about the level of work and preparation that needs to be put in to be successful, and these guys have taken that and are working their butts off. That’s a compliment to last year’s group and to this year’s group.”
Another lesson learned from last year’s team: It takes more than stars to win at a high level — and this year’s Shenendehowa roster is a reminder of that. Besides Douglas, two of the Plainsmen’s biggest state title-game heroes from last year are back in senior utility player Joe Palko and senior pitcher John Cady. Palko produced the game-winning hit to complete Shenendehowa’s 7-6 comeback win against Webster Schroeder, while Cady made Palko’s heroics possible with 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
“So,” Palko said, “just because we don’t have the big names doesn’t mean we won’t be competitive this year.”
Cady, who projects as one of Shenendehowa’s top pitchers this season after tossing only 12 innings during the 2016 regular season, said the Plainsmen know they’re not viewed as a prohibitive favorite to win this year’s Section II Class AA title, a trick they’ve pulled in three of the last four seasons. While Shenendehowa expects success from itself, Cady said he knows his team has its doubters after losing so many key players from a year ago.
“And that’s what we want,” he said. “We want to prove people wrong.”