MCS, RCS boys of spring look ahead to diamond season
By Julia Green
Despite the lingering chill of the Catskill winter, spring is on its way, as evidenced by the ring of aluminum bats coming from baseball diamonds in local schoolyards. Area schools are getting into the spring swing of things as baseball, softball and tennis teams open the season this week.
Margaretville and Roxbury central schools’ baseball teams were scheduled to open the 2009 season yesterday, as Margaretville faced off with South Kortright and the Roxbury Rockets took on the Wildcats of Gilboa.
No scores were available at press time.
In his 25th season as head coach of the Margaretville Central School baseball team, Rick Funck is looking to balance experience with fresh blood as the Blue Devils prepare for the start of the 2009 season.
From last year’s team, the Blue Devils lost First Team All-Star selection Brian Conine, a pitcher, catcher and outfielder who batted about .340.
“Last year we were pretty much a sophomore team,” Funck said. “We had one senior on the team and two juniors on the team and we didn’t have a very big squad, and it was kind of surprising that we did as well as we did. We went into the last game of the season fighting for the league championship on our side. So obviously, by having nine guys who were sophomores or younger and getting most of those guys back this year, you’d hope that you could be right there again this year.”
Funck will be looking to senior co-captains Chris Costa and Guy Nobile to provide leadership for his team. Nobile, who pitches, catches, and plays elsewhere in the infield, hit about .300 last year and received honorable mention all-star recognition in the Delaware League. Costa, a second baseman and pitcher, has an on-base percentage of about .500 but is recovering from an ACL injury that sidelined him during the fall soccer season. Funck also identified sophomore Patrick O’Connell as a key returner for the Blue Devils. O’Connell, who plays third base and pitches, hit .330 last year and was a Second Team Delaware League All-Star selection and has been a varsity player since he was a seventh-grader.
Funck said he is expecting his returners and especially his captains to set the tone in terms of leadership.
“We’ve got eight guys returning from last year and those guys that are returning played the majority of the innings last year and got a lot of experience, so what I’m hoping for this year from them is the heads-up play, the leadership, and the support when I get the other guys in the game,” he said.
Funck will also be looking for some energy from newcomers Ian Williams, Grant Cure and Jake Brophy.
“The new guys, just because of their experience at the modified level – Ian has played at the modified level and during the summer, Matt Wickham played modified and during the summer, Grant played modified and during the summer and so did Jake Brophy,” he said. “I think five of those guys have had baseball experience not only at the modified level but at American Legion baseball. I could put any one of those guys into a position and feel very confident.”
A major unknown for the Blue Devils, however, could revolve around a lack of playing experience since the end of last season for some of Margaretville’s older returners.
“Not many of the players around here played during the summer, and if some of the teams we were close to last year had their guys playing during the summer, they would obviously start out the season with an advantage on us,” Funck said.
In terms of league competition, Funck anticipates heavy challenges from teams like South Kortright, which boasts a strong core of seniors, as well as Stamford and Jefferson. He added that much of it could come down to which pitcher the Blue Devils see when they face those top-tier teams.
“I think that’s one of the strengths we have, is that I’ve got 16 guys on the team right now and 12 different guys have been throwing in the gym this spring,” he said. “I would definitely say that, looking at the starting pitching we have, we have three if not four very strong starting pitchers. That should be something which, if those guys can throw strikes and we can make the plays behind them, that should be another major strength of our team.”
Overall, Funck said, he is excited by the prospect of the season.
“I’m really looking forward to this year and the guys’ attitudes are good,” he said. “They’re a great bunch of kids to work with. They’re enthusiastic, they want to take extra batting practice, throw a few extra pitches, so I just hope that enthusiasm goes over into the games and bleeds into the summer, because a lot of these guys can play summer ball, too. If you get a bunch of guys that work together and play together, you can have something special here.”
Funck will be assisted by his oldest son, Ryan, who helped coach the Blue Devils last year.
The Margaretville roster is complemented by Andes student Nate Tuch who played for the Blue Devils last year. The Andes Mountaineers are not fielding a baseball team this season.
Not too far down the road, another Funck is at the helm of a Delaware League baseball squad. First-year Roxbury baseball coach Greg Funck, son of Margaretville Head Coach Rick Funck, said that he anticipates something of a rebuilding year for his young Rockets squad, but that he is optimistic about the season ahead.
“It’s going to be a bit of a rebuilding year to get the younger kids going,” he said. “We have a few seniors back I’m hoping will take over and lead us to some victories. We have a lot of young, good kids who want to learn the game of baseball, which I’m really looking forward to. It’s going to be a rebuilding year, but I’m definitely excited because it’s just a great group of kids who want to learn.”
The Roxbury squad has a total of 12 players on its roster, eight of whom return from last year’s team. The Rockets return three seniors from last year, including Tim Douglas, who plays first base and pitches, catcher Jeff Piasek, and second baseman Owen Sanford. The Rockets lost to graduation Steven Hubbard from last year’s team; Hubbard was a 2008 First Team Delaware League All-Star selection.
“We have a few returning seniors and we lost a few key seniors last year,” he said. “Being a first-year coach here I don’t really know what I’m working with yet, but I’m looking for a few kids to step up and take a leadership role. I’m hoping Tim will step up and take control. He’s a great first baseman – he’ll play more first base than pitching – and I’m hoping he’ll be the guy we look to be our big batter in the lineup and take some younger kids under his wing and show them some hitting.”
Funck also identified junior David Clark and sophomore Jacob Liberatore as key returners from whom he is expecting a great deal.
“Those two I’m really looking for a lot out of,” he said. “They’re great players, they know the game, and I’m looking for some of these younger kids to latch on to them. They’re great leaders by example.”
Based on what he’s seen so far, Funck identified good fundamentals as his young team’s primary strength.
“I’m preaching fundamentals,” he said. “I’m a strong defensive coach, and strong on being a solid defensive team. Hitting will come around, but you have to be able to be a defensive team. I’ve stressed defense and base running, and I’m looking for these guys to show me they can win some ball games.”
Funck also highlighted first-year varsity player Kyle Ciaravino as a key cog in the Roxbury lineup. The freshman, Funck said, could play a key part in the Rockets’ season this year.
“I’ve seen what he has to work with and he’s impressed me the most out of our pitchers,” he said. “Being a ninth-grader, he could really take over and be the ace of the staff by the end of the year. It’s just a matter of how he adjusts to varsity. We’ll see how he adapts.”
At the outset, however, veteran David Clark will be on the mound for the Rockets.
“He’ll be our go-to guy,” Funck said. “He has the most experience, and I’m looking for him to be our leader in pitching.”
Looking toward the season and the competition the Rockets will face around the league, Funck already has a good idea of who will pose the greatest challenges to his team.
“We’re going to have to gear up for South Kortright and Margaretville,” he said. “Those two are our biggest competition. And Jefferson always puts a solid team together, and Hunter always has a good team, too. Those four are our toughest competition, and having South Kortright on our side of the league will be a tough battle.
“We’re going to be competitive and I think we have a chance to win every ball game, and if all our fundamentals come in, I think we have a real good chance of making sectionals,” he added. “There are some really strong teams in the league this year and I can’t wait to see what these guys can do against some of these teams.”
Father and son will square off when the Rockets host the visiting Blue Devils of Margaretville Central School at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday.