Margaretville, Roxbury baseball clubs gear up for competitive seasons
By Julia Green
Following are baseball previews for the Margaretville and Roxbury boys’ varsity teams. Andes will not have a baseball team this spring.
Margaretville Blue Devils
With 10 returners from last year’s squad, veteran Margaretville baseball coach Rick Funck is optimistic about the coming baseball season. Funck returns for his 26th year at the helm for the Blue Devils, who finished 7-8 overall last year and advanced to the sectional tournament, where they fell to Deposit.
Despite retiring last spring, Funck retained his coaching position when no one else who was in the school expressed an interest in taking over.
“Knowing who the returning players were, having a group of guys like this is a coach’s dream,” Funck said. “No attitudes, they’ll do anything you ask them to do – just a real nice bunch of kids. So it was easy for me to say yes.”
The Blue Devils return three seniors from last year’s roster – Brian Faulkner, Mitch Vankeuren and Nate Tuch – as well as junior starting pitcher Patrick O’Connell, who pitched a no-hitter against Windham last April.
Funck said that pitching will be a key to Margaretville’s success this year.
“You can go a long way with pitching,” he said, adding that he has been looking for someone on his team to step up and fill the role of the second dominant pitcher. “Every game Patrick started on the mound for us last year, we were in the ball game, but we were lacking last year with that second person to step up and be as dominant as him.”
Ten of Margaretville’s 14 players have been working on pitching in practice, so it remains to be seen who will rise to the challenge.
“We’ve got a lot of versatility this year, but I think the key to our season is going to be if one of those guys really steps up and gives us the competitive game Patrick has shown the last few years that he can give us.”
Funck is also counting on the strength of his infield to set the tone. Based on practice so far, he anticipates that Cody Fronckowiak and Ian Williams will handle shortstop, Mitch Vankeuren and Jake Brophy will take second base, and he has four separate players with an interest in playing first base. In addition, Funck has two solid returners behind the plate in John Fairbairn and Grant Cure.
“There aren’t enough positions in the infield for all the guys that want to play in the infield,” he said.
The outfield, however, is less certain. Due to the typically unpredictable late winter weather of the Catskills, the Blue Devils have yet to practice on their home diamond, and the outfield will be the primary area of focus when field conditions improve.
“We went out once to hit fly balls, but the footing out there wasn’t the best,” he said. “I think our two biggest challenges this year will be to find some guys to come in when Patrick isn’t in and dominate the other team, and to find some guys to fill those outfield positions for us.”
Faulkner was a mainstay at center field last year, while Vankeuren also put in some innings in the outfield.
The Blue Devils are scheduled to open the season with a home game against Downsville on Thursday; however, given the current field conditions, it is more likely that the game will be relocated to Downsville until Margaretville’s field can be rolled. The Blue Devils follow Thursday’s game with a nonleague game against Windham on Monday, after which they will face Davenport, Jefferson and South Kortright.
“They should be three of the stronger teams in the league,” Funck said, “so that’ll be a good test in terms of all these guys that have been pitching, and if somebody’s going to step up and be that dominant guy who can keep us in the game. We’ll be tested early with those three games.”
Ask Head Coach Greg Funck and he’ll tell you that this year’s Rockets baseball squad bears very little resemblance to the team that posted only one win last year.
With a strong core of returners, including seniors David Clark and Andy Merwin, juniors Jacob Liberatore, Garrett Hall, and Joey Camillone, and sophomore Kyle Ciaravino, and six new faces, Funck is anticipating good things from this year’s roster.
“It’s a pretty good mix of new players and experience,” he said, “so we’re pretty impressed right now. We’re looking like we can throw, catch and hit the ball.”
Rounding out the Rockets’ roster are sophomores Danny Bird, Dan Menne, Dakota Caronia, Spencer Hinkley, Nick Hamil and Derek Cowan.
A key strength of the Rockets that was somewhat lacking last year is what they can bring from the mound; among the returners who will be pitching are Clark and Ciaravino.
“We’re going to throw a lot of strikes,” Funck said. “We’ve been working a lot with the pitchers. Last year we had two pitchers; this year we’ve got six guys throwing for us. I’ve got options for pitchers this year… we’ve got six guys throwing and they can all throw strikes.”
Also key to his team’s success this year, according to Funck, will be mentality and team chemistry.
“We’ve got some good leadership qualities, and got some people taking on leadership roles, and that’s going to be key to our success this year,” he said. “With such a young team, we’ve got to keep everything positive, especially if we make errors. We’ve got to focus on keeping them up, picking people up; if we can stay positive, I think we’re going to have a successful season.”
In terms of his team’s offensive ability, Funck is also anticipating strength in the batter’s box. He refers to Liberatore as the “big bat” going into the start of the season, and is expecting Hall, Menne and Ciaravino to step up and be the meat of the order.
“Last year we ran the bases well when we got on base, but we were limited in getting on base,” he said. “We’re going to continue to be smart base runners and we’re going to hit the ball better, I think.”
In terms of the big picture, Funck said that if his team can play solid defense and make contact with the ball, he predicts a big difference in results from last year, when the Rockets averaged seven or eight errors a game.
“If we’re defensively sound, we’re going to win some ball games,” he said. “We’re going to put the ball in play and run bases well, but we’ve got to stop giving away free bases and we’ve got to throw strikes.
“They’re enjoyable to coach,” he added. “We’ve got 12 coachable kids, and you can’t ask for more as a coach.”
The Rockets are scheduled to open the season against the visiting JayHawks of Jefferson on Tuesday.