Wed, Apr 4th 2018 05:05 pm
Wolverines replacing eight seniors, including three starting pitchers
By David Yarger
In 2017, the Niagara Falls High School baseball team had a consistent lineup with names all of Western New York knew about. After running 10 to 11 guys out on the field consistently last season, coach Rob Augustino said 2018 would be completely different.
Coming off a season where the Wolverines finished 11-6, the team must replace Matt Grace, a Niagara University baseball commit; Patrick Sisler and Dustin Newman, who compiled eight complete games pitching; Michael Laurrie, the team's everyday first baseman; and big bats in the lineup Ross Pochatko and Jon Orfano. Augustino, in his second year as the varsity head coach, said the team is really going to have to come together in 2018.
"We replaced, whether we had a designated hitter or not, six or seven seniors and three of our top four pitchers. So, we're not talking about just a few pieces, we're talking about replacing the core of our team and majority of our pitching staff.
"Going through preseason and seeing what we have and how guys responded, it's going to be more of a collective effort. ... This year I think we're going to be OK pitching; we do have arms. We have to beat teams 4-3 now. We can't wait till we hit a three-run homerun or have five hits in one inning; it's going to be more of a collective effort and we're probably going to use more of our players. Last year we maybe used 11 players. This year we're going to be using everybody," Augustino said.
This season Augustino will run out a roster with six seniors, eight juniors and two sophomores. With youth on the roster, Augustino gave the captain's roles to four seniors - Anthony Coty, AJ Kinney, Jason Walker and Brian Hutchinson.
"Of the six seniors, three were major contributors last year and (this year) all six are starters. They're doing a better job this year of including everyone in lessons and drills and figuring stuff out, compared to last year where they didn't have to. Last year we knew who our top-10 guys were and how we were going to roll through and ... it was more kind of knowing what we had. The captains are doing a great job, ... they try to keep everything moving and make sure everyone understands what's going on," Augustino said.
Augustino added that he expects big things from a few players.
"Brian Hutchinson - if you want to talk about someone who needs to take a bigger role, it's him. Not only is he stepping into an everyday player role, he's a captain, he's a middle of the order guy; he's batting fifth. ... He's a kid that will take all the equipment, he'll make sure everything is picked up, he'll ask if we need anything extra; he's that kind of kid and that's the type of kid we want as captain.
"I expect more out of Jason Walker. With JJ, he's still playing shortstop, which he did 90 percent of the year, ... but now he's up in the order. Last year, when he wasn't being hit for, he was batting eighth or ninth. Now he's batting second in the order, so he's someone we're looking for more from, especially offensively," Augustino said.
Augustino noted role changes for Coty, who will adjust from catcher to first base, and also junior Dom Geracitano, who is moving up to third in the batting order in his second year of varsity.
Augustino also noted changes in his coaching style for this season and said he learned a little bit last year in his first full season as skipper for the Wolverines.
"The game is different than JV," Augustino, who coached the JV program for 13 years, said. "On varsity, especially at smaller schools, their talent is spread out over the course of four years. So, you might have four 10th graders up. ... We might have one or two, but we mostly have our juniors and seniors, so our JV team is loaded with sophomores and some freshman, where others are loaded with freshman and eighth graders.
"The game here is the best of the best, every team has two pitchers. It's not like one is an ace and the rest throw, every team has at least two good pitchers. So, understanding that and learning the personnel of every team is something I'm trying to do a better job of, because we try to matchup a little bit. ... We have to be able to mix-and-match and do the best we can trying to produce wins."
The Wolverines saw last season cut short in the Section VI Class AA quarterfinals versus Williamsville North, 6-1. Losses like that may leave a sour taste in the mouth of returning players, but Augustino said the loss hasn't seemed to bother them.
"Talking with the guys about what our goals are for this year and what we need to do to obtain them or improve from last year; Will North didn't necessarily come up. It was all about winning the league and by that we'll accumulate points for a better seed. We'd be facing lower seeds and at home. ... Every year, every team in any league should say they want to win the league, then win the section. Every team should have those goals," Augustino said.
So far this season, the Wolverines have had the liberty of playing three games at their artificial turf facility. The Falls has started strong at 3-0, with wins over Canisius, league rival North Tonawanda, and Wilson. Augustino has seen bright spots in the first three games, but noted there are still a couple things to figure out.
"Our top three pitchers are fine. It's trying to find where you're going to get those other innings, because there's going to be those games where you're up a lot or down a lot, or just because of rain it'll be all mashed up, so we're gonna have to use these extra pitchers. So trying to figure out who No. 4, 5, 6 and 7 are in our rotation (is one thing)," Augustino said.
As of now, Augustino penciled in junior Treavor Janese, Kinney and, "most likely," junior Michael Uhrich as his three main starters.
Augustino also praised the job sophomores Mason Hilliard and Zach Brydges have done early in the season. Brydges spent time with the varsity last season as a freshman.
"I'm happy with my sophomores at the plate. It's almost like they have a plan, because we've talked about counts, what pitchers do and how to attack them and understand what they're going to throw on certain pitches. ... So, some guys at the plate look like they got it ready and I'd say it's definitely the two sophomores and Geracitano has looked good at the plate this year. ... I'm happy with where the sophomores are at and I have three full years with those kids," he said.
The Wolverines will look to increase their record to 4-0, as they continue their season at noon Friday versus St. Francis.
Senior AJ Kinney gets ready to swing. (Photo by David Yarger)
Senior Anthony Coty settling into his new position at first base. (Photo by David Yarger)
Senior Jason Walker gears up for a pitch versus Wilson Tuesday. (Photo by David Yarger)