MCS softball team aims for title; young baseball squad rebuilding
Championship softball has become part of the Margaretville Blue Devil brand. The Blue Devils’ title run in the Delaware League’s Upper Division has reached four, and Margaretville has captured the overall crown two years in a row.
Margaretville Coach Bill Lonecke feels his 2012 team is positioned to keep the magic going.
“We’re looking to run the table. Our goal is five and up. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the speed. We’ve got kids that are hungry and want to win,” emphasized the Margaretville coach.
Lonecke lost two seniors, Sarah Batka and Oliva Todd, from last spring’s championship team, but has several key pieces returning. That starts with the Blue Devils’ senior battery, pitcher Danielle Hull and catcher, Amy Filupeit.
Hull, who lost both her soccer and basketball seasons to a knee injury, is healthy, primed, and raring to go. “Danielle has fire in her belly and is eager to make up for lost time,” noted Lonecke. “She’s a great pitcher, deadly when she’s on and unflappable.” Filupeit is the total softball package with catching experience, a strong arm, a lively bat, and fearless base running.
Three other seniors, Erin Filupeit, Sarah Fairbairn, and Sarah Hagakore return. All played in the outfield last year, but Filupeit is working out in the infield this spring. Lonecke likes the senior leadership and skills each brings into play. He calls Fairbairn a ‘smart ballplayer’ and is amazed with Hagakore’s outfield range. “Sarah has great speed and an arm that’s outstanding,” described Lonecke.
Junior Rachel Mathiesen returns at third base and is the team’s second pitcher. Lonecke is impressed with Mathiesen’s power potential at the plate. Lonecke expects Kellsey Buerge, a fearless junior infielder with good range and a smart contact hitter, to replace Batka at shortstop.
Another junior, Tess Svoboda, caught last season but is moving to second base. “Tess is a great athlete, very versatile, the kind of kid who could play competently in the other eight positions on the field,” laughed Lonecke. The Margaretville coach likes Svoboda’s power at the plate and calls his junior a ‘speed demon’ on the bases.
Alexis Molnar, Lonecke’s final returning junior, played some second base and outfield last year and is a versatile utility player.
Sophomore Cecilia Galatioto played first base last year for the modified, has a good bat, and decent speed on the base paths. Lonecke likes what he sees in sophomore Annette Hogan. “Annette hits well in and out of the strike zone and fields like a vacuum cleaner,” marvels the Blue Devils’ coach. “She’s got great speed and a super arm in the outfield.”
Analyzing his competition, Lonecke sees challenges in the DL Mountain Division. “Roxbury will be a handful this year. Jane does a spectacular job with her kids every year.” The Rockets toppled Lonecke’s squad, 9-5, in last week’s non-league opener, and the two teams will square off again tomorrow.
Gilboa, a team the Blue Devils battled four times last season and toppled in the DL championship game, returns their pitcher, and should be competitive again this year.
But, for Lonecke it’s not who you play but how you play that’s important. “We work to win games one at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time,” finished the Margaretville coach.
It would be hard to fault the Margaretville baseball team for looking back. No other Delaware League team lost as much to graduation as the Blue Devils. Four seniors, Patrick O’Connell, Cody Fronckowiak, Jake Brophy, and Jon Fairbairn, representing 17 years of varsity baseball experience, are gone. Those seniors were lynchpins in a baseball renaissance in Margaretville that saw the Blue Devils play for the league championship in each of the last two seasons, and win the title last year.
Even more telling, Margaretville lost their coach. After more than 25 years at the helm, Rick Funck retired from the Blue Devils’ sidelines and moved down the road to assist his son Greg at Roxbury.
“It was really odd seeing Rick decked out in orange and black over at Roxbury the other day,” laughed Funck’s replacement, John Bernhardt. “It’s really special he’s getting the chance to finish up a great run of baseball, coaching with his son,” noted Bernhardt.
The biggest part of Bernhardt’s challenge is to help his team think forward. Bernhardt is looking for leadership from a trio of seniors, Marshall Bouton, Ian Williams, and Daniel VanKeuren, to keep his team centered.
“In many ways this is their team,” explained Bernhardt. “This is their last chance to play a competitive high school sport. I understand the challenge this spring is enormous but these three guys have been great.”
To magnify his senior’s presence, Bernhardt borrowed a trick of Yankee manager Joe Girardi. Girardo started each day of spring training this season assigning a different Yankee to address the team. Using quotes, song lyrics, poetry, or vignettes of any kind, a Yankee player would share someone’s thoughts and what they meant for the Yankees. Bernhardt asked his seniors to work in kind. “We’ve heard Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, Satchel Paige, Babe Ruth. It’s been great,” Bernhardt added. “The seniors make really pointed connections and the guys look forward to starting each practice hearing what they’ve come up with.”
To compete in the Delaware League, Bernhardt says his Blue Devils must be ready, pitch smart, and play smart. “Practice concentration and focus is an issue. Our guys don’t really understand the importance of repetitions in learning to play baseball, but we’re gaining,” explained Bernhardt.
Bernhardt likes what he sees on the pitching front. Margaretville has had strong front line pitching in a scrimmage at SK and their first two games against Roxbury and Jefferson. Ian Williams and sophomore Kyle Short look solid in the Blue Devils’ first two pitching spots. Bernhardt is counting on Bouton and junior Mitch Hull to develop as quality back-ups. Freshman Matt VanValkenburg and junior Danny Goodell will need to eat up a few innings during those weeks when the Blue Devils play three games.
Bouton, the returning first baseman, is a solid infielder who hits well. Short and Williams are slick fielding shortstops who share the position when they aren’t on the hill. Hull covers a lot of real estate anchoring the defense in centerfield, with VanKeuren providing a big outfield boost in right.
Margaretville fills the remainder of their roster slots with players getting their first real opportunity at varsity playing time. Junior Danny Goodell is making great strides as the left fielder. Sophomore Brandon Bush is handling duties at second base and serves as back-up catcher. Two freshman, Cooper Reither and Matt VanValkenburg, are cutting their teeth at catcher and third base. And, sophomore Doug Brady is being tutored by Bouton to learn the trade at first base.
“We’ve has two very competitive games out of the gate,” noted Bernhardt. “Each time, a few big plays, a mental lapse here or there, have resulted in a big inning that took us out of the game. We’re really not that far away,” added the Blue Devils’ coach.