BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Brandon Roberts didn’t pitch in a game for the final month of his sophomore season.
That was fine with him. An apprentice to then-senior pitchers Ian Anderson, Ben Anderson and Nik Malachowski on Shenendehowa’s varsity baseball team, Roberts soaked up everything he could.
“I got to sit in the shadows of those guys — Ian, Ben, Nik — and it was a blessing to be able to watch those guys,” Roberts said. “Just to see the way they do things, the way they prepare and carry themselves.”
Roberts learned well. After serving as a spot starter last season when Ian Anderson — now pitching in the Atlanta Braves’ organization — missed several weeks with an illness and then an injury, Roberts is the new ace of the Plainsmen’s rebuilt pitching staff. In his first start of the 2017 season, Roberts earned that distinction, tossing a no-hitter last Thursday against Averill Park in an 8-0 win.
“He had a lot more pitches that were competitive that game, as opposed to when e was a sophomore and was still trying to figure out his strengths and weaknesses,” Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu said.
Roberts, a junior, struck out 11 batters and walked two that day. He threw 68 of 102 pitches for strikes, using his mid-80s fastball and off-speed pitches to keep hitters off-balance.
“That’s his forte,” Shenendehowa pitching coach Keith Lansley said.
Roberts made three starts last season for Shenendehowa and showed flashes of his
potential. His first varsity outing came against then-reigning Class AA state champion Mamaroneck, and Roberts responded with six innings of work in which he allowed one earned run. Two league starts followed, finishing with a strong showing against Niskayuna in which he pitched 6 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
Then, Roberts became a spectator as the Plainsmen marched through the postseason to their first-ever state championship.
“I was just hanging out,” Roberts said with a laugh.
But, really, he did more than that. The habits Roberts picked up from his veteran teammates last year, Christodulu said, were worth more than the JV innings he could have thrown. Roberts was a willing pupil and he had great teachers.
“They handed the baton off. They showed the younger guys how to do it,” Christodulu said of his 2016 seniors. “Brandon saw their success and got into it.”
Roberts received congratulatory texts from those mentors after his no-hitter, the first for Shenendehowa since Malachowski threw one in 2015.
“Welcome to the club,” is what Roberts said Malachowski texted.
Lansley said the Shenendehowa coaching staff isn’t worried about how such an impressive season debut will affect Roberts.
“He’s a level-headed kid,” Lansley said. “He just wants to compete.”
Roberts’ next start lines up for later this week, perhaps Saturday against Ballston Spa. The junior right-hander said he’s not expecting to throw another no-hitter — he’d never thrown one previously at any level of baseball — and knows few starts will be as charmed as his first of 2017.
“But I just want to get back out there,” Roberts said. “I know I just have to work that much harder to keep the momentum going.”