By Bryce Moore and Nate Mascellino
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Coming off of their first conference tournament appearance in 12 years, Niagara University baseball gears up for another promising season. The Purple Eagles, who finished 24-27 last season, had strong senior leadership that will be missed this upcoming spring. They lost eight seniors, one junior to the MLB draft, and had three players transfer. This spring the team will have a new look with a mix of veterans and a large batch of freshman. The Purple Eagles will have 12 new faces in uniform, including eleven freshman and one transfer.
The list of newcomers include:
- Marty Cole (San Francisco)
- Cole O'Connor (Hamburg)
- Alex Zulia (North Tonawanda)
- Tommy Bednarski (Lancaster)
- Jacob Bruning (Lockport)
- Max Giordano (Lancaster)
- Bryce Moore (Syracuse)
- Cal Theal (Niagara Falls, Ontario)
- Joey Battaglia (Williamsville)
- Yohn Zapata-Baez (Bani, Dominican Republic)
- Drew Patton (Dallas, Pennsylvania)
- Josh Marchese (Burnaby, British Columbia)
Taking a more in-depth look at the 2019 squad, take a closer look at the profiles of some key newcomers. Shortstop Max Giordano, first baseman Josh Marchese, catcher Joey Battaglia, right handed pitcher Tommy Bednarski, and right handed pitcher Yohn Zapata-Baez are expected to make an impact this spring for the Purple Eagles. But Giordano, who comes from Lancaster High School, is primarily a shortstop, also plans on getting innings on the mound this spring.
Prior to Niagara, Giordano was a First Team All-Western New York selection as well as being selected to the First Team All-State in his senior season at Lancaster High School. Giordano, in his senior year, composed a .392 batting average with five doubles, two triples and three home runs. On the mound, Giordano held a 3-0 record through 29 innings pitched. He struck out 44 batters and had a .483 earned run average. Giordano had a strong showing this fall showing off all five tools to be a successful early on contributor. He will have big shoes to fill replacing MLB draft pick Greg Cullen.
"Max is a very athletic kid who works hard and continues to improve every time he steps on the field. He's been open to learning new things, taking advice, and adding it to his game. He's got a ton of upside and will hopefully be a big part of our team this year." said junior infielder Mike Gabriele.
Hailing from British Columbia, heavy hitting first baseman Marchese comes to Niagara. He comes to Niagara from the Langley Blaze, known as one of the top teams in all of Canada. Marchese compiled a .374 batting average with 12 doubles and two home runs in the British Columbia Premier Baseball League. Marchese's .374 average was the second best in league play. He showed off signs of being a major power threat, showcasing tremendous bat speed and the ability to drive the ball to all fields in the fall.
Battaglia coming to Niagara has a little bit of a different story from the rest of the bunch. At Williamsville High School, Battaglia was primarily a middle infielder. As he arrived at Niagara, he was converted to a catcher. Throughout the fall, Battaglia excelled behind the plate and will have an impact at the position for the team in the spring. Before Niagara, Battaglia hit .333 in his senior season with 15 hits. He was an All-Western New York Honorable Mention his senior season.
Bednarski looks to make an impact on Niagara's pitching staff early in his career. Coming from Lancaster High School and the Full Circuit Power (a local baseball organization), He has been working with some of the most trusted trainers and coaches in Western New York for years. Bednarski sports a lively fastball, and his velocity is the best in his class. He performed well during the team's fall season, and has even garnered praise from some of his upperclassmen teammates.
"He can be kind of a goof, but he fits in around here. As long as you come in and work hard every day, you're going to get along with the rest of the guys. But that hard work is showing in how he plays, and I'm amped to see what he does this year." says fifth-year pitcher James Walker. With the loss of left handed pitcher Cody Eckerson, the team's leader in innings pitched last season, there will be opportunities available for Bednarski to showcase his skills on the mound.
Another hard-thrower added to Niagara's roster this year is Zapata-Baez, a junior right handed pitcher transferring in from Niagara County Community College. Zapata-Baez was born in the Dominican Republic and spent his early childhood there. However, his family would soon move to the Bronx where he has lived ever since. Holding leads late in the game has been a struggle for Niagara pitchers in past years. Zapata-Baez has an electric delivery that could easily overpower Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) hitters. He will be quite the useful asset for Head Coach Rob McCoy in late innings for the next two seasons.
The Purple Eagles roster will have a considerably new look this coming season. Despite all of the players whose college careers have come to a close, a few players are taking the game of baseball to the next level. Greg Cullen, the team's starting shortstop in 2018, left the program a year early after being selected 442nd overall in the MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves. Cullen found success in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, but his junior campaign was a true breakout performance. Cullen led all of NCAA Division 1 baseball players with a .458 batting average, and was second in the nation in on base percentage with .556. In addition to these two stats, he led his own conference in hits and slugging percentage. Head Coach Rob McCoy discussed how he is handling the loss of his best player.
"Statistically, he's irreplaceable, there's just no way around it. What Greg did last season left me speechless every time we went out and played. I kept thinking he was going to cool off and he just never did. He had six hits in six at bats his first game of the season and just never looked back. But with that being said, that doesn't mean we'll struggle at shortstop this season. Michael Gabriele has shown elite skills at the plate and Max Giordano is a special talent defensively."
Cody Eckerson was the other member of the Niagara squad to move onto pro baseball after the season. His entry into the pro scene was a little quieter than Cullen's. Eckerson went unselected in the 2018 draft, but was soon after offered a contract by the Los Angeles Angels. He is an all-time great amongst Niagara's pitchers, setting records for games started (47), strikeouts (264), shutouts (5), and innings pitched (258.1). His presence in the starting rotation will clearly be missed next season.
The Purple Eagles are not only welcoming a plethora of new players, they also welcome a new pitching coach, Sean Stacy. This is Stacy's first time gaining experience as a pitching coach, but he has been around the game of baseball his whole life. He comes from the state of Texas where he was a pitcher for Cisco College (2013-15) and University of Texas at San Antonio (2015-18). Not far removed from his playing days, Coach Stacy brings a youthful presence to the coaching staff and relates well with the players. He has even been proactive in procuring new technology for the program that helps pitchers monitor the health of their arm more accurately.
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