After a brutal winter, the sun is shining and baseball season is right around the corner. Niagara Falls High School coach Joe Contento and the Wolverines are ready for the season with new faces ready to replace 10 graduated seniors (six of whom were starters for two or more years).
"It's hard to lose that many players, but the players coming up have learned from those seniors and have fed off their work ethic and they understand what's expected," Contento said.
In order to find the correct replacements, Contento said positions will be won in the non-league games and he will judge who belongs where. When it came to pitching, Contento was satisfied naming his starters. The three-man rotation includes junior captain Justin Beyer, who will man the mound as the team's ace, followed by senior captain Taylor Huntsman and sophomore Matt Grace.
Beyer will return to the pitching staff after having a 1.62 earned run average and striking out 26 batters through 26 innings last spring as the third starter for the Wolverines. Huntsman and Grace will follow giving the Wolverines three hard-throwing right-handed starters.
"I expect our pitching to be our strong point," Beyer said. Huntsman added, "They can expect the same hard work and dedication that we put in year and year out."
Huntsman and Beyer have been on varsity for three years, making them the most experienced players on the team. Contento spoke very highly of Huntsman.
"It's his team and, when I'm not around during drills, I expect Taylor to be the coach and run things fluently," he said.
"To be a captain means a lot, because this lets me know that coach entrusts me with this team, and I look forward to leading this team of great ball players," Huntsman said.
Alongside Huntsman and Beyer, the team also returns outfielders Brett Delles, Jaylan Smith and Dalton Wentz (who started in left field last spring). Also, infielders Andrew Stanek and Christian Miller will come back this spring.
The team starts its difficult non-league schedule March 26 against Canisius High School. Canisius is always at the top of the Monsignor Martin division. After that, it's St. Francis, another tough Monsignor Martin team; Albion, last year's Niagara-Orleans division champ; ECIC power Clarence; and reigning Section VI title winner Lancaster.
"We schedule the best for our non-league schedule," Contento said "We do that to see where we stand with the best and see how we do versus better competition."
Huntsman and Beyer agreed with their coach. They said the scheduling definitely prepared them for the regular season. It gave them knowledge on where they stood as a team, and gave the players a glimpse of what they were up against.
Contento said he would rather face better competition versus better programs in the non-league schedule than padding the team's winning percentage scheduling weaker teams.
When the Wolverines take the field against Canisius, Contento said he'll be focused on getting hitters live at-bats and having pitchers throw to live batters to gain some experience to help prepare the team for the league schedule.
Once the Niagara Frontier League schedule kicks in, Contento said his team is going to be sold short because it lost 10 seniors. That is an aspect Contento loves about this bunch: He thinks this will help the team win big ball games during the season.
"The work ethic is incredible. These kids come and are ready to work everyday and, as a coach, that's exactly what you want out of your team," Contento said.
The season begins at 4:45 pm Thursday, March 26, versus Canisius High School on the old artificial turf fields behind Niagara Falls High School.