The St. Joe’s Marauders have retired a Georgetown Cup in the past but they’ve never did it by winning three straight championships.
They’ll try to do that for the first time this season with a lineup that includes returning All-Western New York first team outfielder Philip Wells, a senior who has hit .438 or better since his sophomore season.
Two-time defending Catholic league baseball champion St. Joe’s is off to an 10-3 overall start and 6-0 in the league following last week’s walk-off win over longtime rival Canisius, last year’s playoff runner-up and Sunday’s doubleheader sweep of Bishop Timon-St. Jude.
Third-year Marauder Chris Falk had six wins last year and is a big-game pitcher. He won the Georgetown Cup clinching game two seasons ago and won Game One of last year’s final series, which St. Joe’s won via sweep. Second-year shortstop/pitcher Tyler Howard pitched a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts in a win over state Class AA runner-up Clarence. Sophomore Will Frank is up from junior varsity and figures to bolster the St. Joe’s rotation. Third baseman Matt Ruggiero is a power bat in the order and flaunted his skills last week with a walk-off grand slam in the eighth inning during a 9-5 win over Canisius.
“Our general mantra is to go out and be better than we were the day before,” St. Joe’s coach Paul Nasca said. “We try to keep a consistent level. We think we have enough pitching to be in every game. If our hitting follows we think we can be competitive all the way down the stretch.”
Meanwhile the Crusaders of Canisius are off to a somewhat slow start but have played a daunting schedule that included 1-1 stint at a Jesuit schools tournament in New Jersey and an 0-3 run in Florida, which included games against then unbeaten Clearwater Central Catholic (6-0 loss) and IMG (4-3 loss, eight innings). However, the Crusaders did pitch back-to-back no-hitters during a doubleheader sweep of Cardinal O’Hara a couple weeks ago.
Senior hurlers Connor Ryan (Mercyhurst) and Jose Alemany (Erie Community College) and junior pitcher Richard Miller will either pitch in college or have caught the eye of Division I scouts. Shortstop Colin Tenney is coming off a .342 season and is hitting even better this year. Andrew Skomra can pitch and hit.
While St. Mary’s lost stud catcher and potential Major League prospect J.D. Andreessen via transfer to Lancaster, last year’s regular-season champion has plenty of fight left as indicated by last week’s 14 inning win at St. Francis.
Center fielder/pitcher Marc Gonzalez is among the returnees for the Lancers, who were off to a 7-4 start overall, 3-1 in league entering Monday. Gonzalez, who is in fourth season, is 2-2, averages six strikeouts a game and has an ERA under 1.80. Brett Helmbrecht moves to catcher from third base and is hitting .429. Senior second baseman Lucas Sperduti is in his third season on the team. Starting right fielder Chris Nowak, a junior, is hitting .511 in the No. 3 spot in the order. Junior Charlie Hayes has explosive speed on the basepaths and is hitting .378. Junior Matthew Schneider is hitting .410 with 13 RBIs and is playing phenomenal defense at shortstop.
“He’s blossomed into a fantastic shortstop,” said coach Mike Wagner of the third-year player.
St. Francis’ top two hurlers are senior Matt Minnick (Mercyhurst) and Andrew Kwakowski (Niagara County Community College) and both will pitch in college. Returning All-WNY second teamer Ryan Stefaniak pitches and plays outfield, while infielder Brendan Haywood swings the bat well.
Nichols opened 5-0, while Cardinal O’Hara and Christian Central also can’t be taken for granted by the contenders in this wooden-bat league.
O’Hara served notice with a 7-4 win over St. Mary’s on Monday behind Zach Glowacki’s two hitter.