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April 4, 2013

OHS to defend state title with young roster

By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star

---- — In the spring of 2010, Oneonta High sophomores Sean Getman, Conor Youngs and Mike Calkins helped the Yellowjackets to a 12-10 baseball season.

Last spring, those three, along with a host of other seniors, were holding a plaque commemorating OHS’ Class B state championship.

It would appear Yellowjackets coach Joe Hughes is about to partake on another three-year plan.

With Getman, Youngs, Calkins, Daily Star and Class B state player of the Year Ben Moxley, Mark Giallanzo, Zach Pidgeon, David Wright, Ben Payton and Ryne Rivino graduated after winning the program’s first state title, this year’s edition of OHS will feature many new faces.

In fact, six players on the Yellowjackets’ 16-man roster are sophomores. Hughes said he’s never carried that many 10th-graders in his 28 previous seasons with the Jackets, who will open the season at 4 p.m. Friday at Cobleskill.

“I kind of think it’s the same blueprint,” Hughes said of having a young roster. “It’s a good group of sophomores and juniors. They have the same work ethic (of the kids who led OHS to a state title last season). They like baseball. They play in the offseason and they play in the summer.

“The sophomores need to get comfortable at the varsity and they need to grow and get stronger,” he continued. “As they keep playing as juniors and seniors, they’ll be a good core group of players.”

They’re also following in Frankenstein-like footsteps.

Oneonta went 44-4 over the last two seasons, winning a pair of Southern Tier Athletic Conference titles to go along with the 2-0 state-championship victory over Briarcliff at Conlon Field in Binghamton.

“I think we mentioned it once and that’s it,” Hughes said of last year’s accomplishments. “We’re proud of what happened last year. There were a lot of great memories, but this is a new year with new faces.”

One starter remains from last season and he might just be the best returning position player in STAC. Senior center fielder Chris Pindar will begin his third varsity season after being arguably the Jacktets’ best hitter the past two springs.

“He’s a quality hitter, for sure,” Hughes said of Pindar, who also will see some time on the mound as a reliever. “He certainly ranks as one of the top hitters in our program over the years and I expect another good season from him. He has a lot of tools. He can hit, he has power, he can run, field, has a good break on the ball and a decent arm. That’s what him an all-state player and a college-bound player.”

The other seniors who were around last season are left fielder Jon Vega, catcher/outfielder Zach King and left-handed pitcher Mason Montgomery.

Hughes said Vega and King will hit in the top half of the lineup, and Montgomery will be one of the top pitchers in the starting rotation.

The best of the Yellowjackets’ juniors appears to be first baseman/pitcher Kevin Smith, a right-hander.

“In our scrimmage against Valley Central, he looked as good as anyone (on the mound),” Hughes said. “He throws hard, has a good breaking ball and has been very impressive on the mound.”

Outfielders Mike Wolstenholme and Wilson Wells, catcher Peter Brunetta, infielder Tyler Horne and right-handed pitcher Kragh Delello round out the juniors.

As for those sophomores, Hughes said he’ll entrust them to man both middle infield positions and third base this season.

Though Hughes said he’s not certain who will play where, Conor Tavarone (likely at third base), Josh Garufi (likely shortstop) and Colin Neer (second base or shortstop) will play those positions.

Hughes also said right-hander Noah Sheehan and left-hander Brock Eichler will be in the pitching rotation, and Matt Bitzer also will pitch as well as play almost anywhere in the field.

“There will be times this year when we’ll have six sophomores in the starting lineup,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he expects Sheehan, Montgomery, Eichler and Smith to be his top four pitchers.

“There are a lot of untested guys,” he said. “Not a single one has had a varsity start. Every pitcher will be their first varsity start, so we’ll be young.”

Because the Yellowjackets likely won’t have pitchers who’ll strike out 10-15 guys a game, Hughes said defense will be pivotal.

“(Opposing hitters) will make contact,” he said. “If we can field it and throw it, we’ll be pretty good.”

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.