By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA – If pitching and defense are the keys to a successful season, it appears Oneonta High’s baseball team should be in good shape this spring.
Left-hander Brock Eichler and right-hander Matt Bitzer combined on a four-hitter and Oneonta’s defense made one error en route to a 3-0 Southern Tier Athletic Conference victory over Johnson City on a breezy and overcast Thursday in the season-opener for both teams.
“That’s the name of the game, right?” OHS coach Joe Hughes said of his team’s pitching and defense. “Brock Eichler pitched a very good game and Matt Bitzer came in and kept them off balance. We made some good plays. Our infield made good plays and it’s nice to end on a double play. It’s a good formula.”
Eichler was one of six sophomores who saw extensive playing time last season as the Yellowjackets went 14-7 and advanced to the Section Four Class B final, falling, 6-4, to Waverly.
“The year we were sophomores definitely helped,” Eichler said of the cast of current juniors comprised of Collin Neer, Conor Tavarone, Josh Garufi, Noah Sheehan and Bitzer. “We worked hard in the offseason to get better. Hopefully, that will help us for this year and next year.”
Hughes said he’s noticed a difference this season.
“It’s first time we had pre-game infield, outfield and we didn’t have to say much,” Hughes said. “They kind of knew what they were supposed to do, they knew the routine. They’ve been here and done it. I think they’re poised, and their confidence maturity showed today. I hope that continues.”
Early on, it looked as if might be a long day for Eichler. JC’s Colin Arvanitakis led off the first inning a sharp single to left. Eichler then walked Joe Hamden.
But Eichler responded with three straight strikeouts. He got Nick Chilson to chase high fastball for the first out, he caught Cam Gregory looking at a curveball for the second out and Tom Meaney missed a high fastball for the third out.
“The change-ups, that was what I thought I did best today, just mixing speeds,” said Eichler, who struck out five, walked two and allowed three hits over five innings. “I kept them off balance most of the time.”
Bitzer struck out one over the final two innings, allowing one hit.
With one out and a runner at first in the seventh inning, JC’s Matt Czeitner hit a grounder to short that forced Tavarone to range to his right. Tavarone made an accurate toss to second baseman Neer and first baseman Sheehan scooped the relay throw throw for a game-ending double play.
Offensively, the Yellowjackets struggled against JC’s tandem of Gregory and Arvanitakis, managing three hits.
OHS scored in the first inning without the benefit of a hit.
Neer and Tavarone walked off of Gregory to start the inning. Bennett Eggler then laid down a bunt that died about 2 feet in front of home plate. JC catcher Meaney had to time to get the runner at third, but his throw was way off line and went down the left-field line, allowing Neer to score the game’s first run.
The Yellowjackets made it 2-0 in the third inning, when Tavarone led off by sending a hanging curveball into center for a single.
Eggler then reached on a fielding error by second baseman Logan Baburchak as Tavarone advanced to second. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch and Tavarone scored when a 57-foot curveball from Gregory caromed off Meaney for a wild pitch.
Oneonta’s final run came in the fifth inning.
Eggler dropped a soft, opposite-field single just inside the left-field line with one out. Garufi followed by sending a bouncing ball to second. Eggler was running and Baburchak moved to cover the bag. He then had to back-track for the ball and couldn’t handle it. Garufi continued to third and beat Baburchak’s throw from shallow center as Garufi hustled into second.
With the infield in, Peter Brunetta hit a slow roller to second. Eggler took off on contact and Baburchak’s only play was to first as OHS took a 3-0 lead.
“I think we tried to put some pressure on them early,” Hughes said. “We bunted a little more than we might this year. We thought we tried to make them make some plays, because no one’s really been outside. We capitalized on some of their mistakes.”
Oneonta will travel to Windsor today.
Oneonta 3, Johnson City 0
Johnson City 000 000 0 – 0 4 3
Oneonta 101 010 x – 3 3 1
Cam Gregory (L), Colin Arvanitakis (5) and Tom Meaney. Brock Eichler (W), Matt Bitzer (6,S) and Peter Brunetta. 2B – Matt Czeitner (J).
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.