As the North Tonawanda Lumberjack baseball and Lady Jacks softball teams hit the diamonds this spring the coaching staffs are trying to hit on two key points of interest. Remind their players that both programs have a history of success and you are connected to that history. Two, even more importantly, you will have to work extremely hard everyday to make your chapter in that history book a successful one.
The Jacks return nine seniors from a squad that went 10-10 last season. Which was a positive step forward in the process after winning seven games for head coach Neal Turvey in his first season.
Turvey says they are definitely making heading in right direction. The is everyone has to remember that improvement is a never ending process.
“Everything that we do as a program was geared towards changing, the word culture gets used all the time,” said Turvey. “Changing the attitude. The mindset around the program and really it’s good to see, but 4-10 in the NFL last year, 10-10 overall we’re not there year. We’re not ready yet. We’ve got to prove something.”
Pitching, like for every team in Western New York, will be key for NT. Seniors Collin Rambler, who has a team best 1.89 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, and Antonio LaBarbera are looking to make an even bigger impact this season after strong junior seasons.
“I think we’re starting to see our potential and every day we come here and we work hard and see that we can actually be something,” said Collin Rambler.
“So every time we come in here and get a little better it definitely helps the confidence.”
With the new pitch count rule that has been implemented this season Turvey said everyone will essentially be on call to pitch, but he will try to keep it as organized as possible by defining some guys as starters and others as relievers. So they can better understand their overall place on the team.
Chris Pauline (1B) and Joe Dotterweich (LF) will come out of the bullpen, while Colin Hebeler will be that “swing man” in the rotation who will be needed to start and throw relief.
NT also returns Zach Archibald (catcher), Dan Smolka (2B/3B), Joe Kish (CF), Ben Kolbe (SS) and Michael Krawczyk (3B/2B).
“We want this year to be our year and make it far (in sectionals),” said Joe Kish.
Danielle Frye, after spending the past three seasons as the Lady Jacks JV coach, now takes over the varsity program after the departure of previous coach Samantha Rajski.
Frye, who played college softball at St. Bonavenutre, comes from a winning culture at Kenmore West where she made varsity as an eighth grader.
Frye, and her assistant coach Michelle Maggard who played at Niagara-Wheatfield, competed against the Lady Jacks when they were a top power in WNY under coach T.K. Murphy.
A team that, according to Frye, was who the Blue Devils looked forward to playing because they knew they would be tested against great talent.
“NT was a power house team,” Frye said. “You would get excited for NT games. We loved coming here because it was another great program. So that’s just kind of the mentality. When I come here not only am I thinking like a Blue Devil, but I’m also thinking about how (NT) used to be when I played them.”
Frye said she understand that times change and some players may not be aware of the history of success the Lady Jacks have, but things like mental toughness and a strong work ethic are timeless.
Frye will have plenty of softball talent to work with as the Lady Jacks return key players like co-captains junior Erin Sammarco (SS) and senior Savannah Haner (catcher).
The Lady Jacks will also count on Laney Wieclaw (CF), Bridget Wilson (1B), Jessica Dean (LF), Melissa Divirgilio, Ashley Wesolowski (RF), Kyra Lettieri, and third baseman Kaylee Haner who will bat fifth behind her sister Savannah, giving NT perhaps the best 1-2 pop in the NFL.
Bailey Fleischuaer will step into the pitching circle. Bailey Crampton and Riley Wisniewski complete the Opening Day lineup.
“Honestly, I’m so excited,” Erin Sammarco said. “I’m so excited to be playing with my friends again. All my girls. It’s just great because I know we can be so good.”