The Kenmore East Bulldogs Baseball team was hit hard with the injury bug last season.
The injuries and inconsistent defensive play throughout the year gave the Bulldogs a record of 6-15 in 2016, last in the Niagara Frontier League. After an upset win over Starpoint in the sectional quarterfinals, the Bulldogs were blown out in the Class A-2 semifinals to Amherst, 15-1.
“It was pretty rough,” senior Dominic Germano said. “We were young so we got some experience under our belts.”
A new emphasis was placed on fitness and stretching over the off-season. The Bulldogs hope it will help prevent the strained muscles and sore arms that held them back last year.
“We were banged up all last year,” head coach Leslie Simon said. “A lot of guys were in the gym all winter. We also put a better focus on stretching this year.”
It looks like the hard work has paid off.
The Bulldogs enter 2017 healthier, especially on the mound with returning senior P Ryan Williams. Williams was one of the top pitchers on the Bulldogs’ staff in 2015. However, Williams got a knee injury during basketball season last year and was out for most of the baseball season.
“I’m just happy to be back,” Williams said.
Senior Dylan Creasey is happy to have him back as well.
“It should literally double our win total,” Creasey said. “I am glad he’s healthy again.”
With Williams at ace, Simon has high hopes for his pitching staff which includes returning starters in Creasey and Germano, and now junior Mario Ruggiero.
“We feel that we have four pitchers that can throw,” Simon said. “We need Ryan and Dylan to be our hammers and then we like our chances with Dominic and Mario.”
A strong deep pitching staff will be key with the new pitch count rules adopted by the NYSPHSAA. Under the new rules, a pitcher can throw a maximum of 105 pitches in a game and must have four nights or more of rest before going back on the mound. If a pitcher throws 66-95 pitches in a game they cannot pitch for the next three nights, after 31-65 pitches they must take two nights off and 1-30 pitches means they must take the next night off.
So the Bulldogs, like every other team, will be watching their pitching staff closey.
“I’m very protective of arms,” Simon said. “The hope is that your starters will give you length. You will need your fourth or fifth guy to be able to get some strikeouts.”
Creasey lead the staff last year and had a complete game in the Bulldogs’ 7-1 upset win over Starpoint in the playoffs. Germano will play a lot of first base and be expected to have a big bat for the Bulldogs.
Williams, Creasey and Germano will also be in key spots in the batting order this season.
The Bulldogs will have a big hole to fill at catcher with the loss of Cullen Smyth to graduation. Smyth was also a captain.
“He’s one of the best captains I’ve ever worked with,” Creasey said. “He would always get the job done no matter what.”
It’s a leadership void that Creasey, Germano and Williams know they must fill.
“Creasey, Williams, (Tyler) Horn and I all came together before the season realized that we need to step up and take the bigger roles that Smyth and the other seniors had,” Germano said.
The catching position is the biggest question mark for the Bulldogs heading into the season. Senior Tyler Horn and junior Vincent Lodestrio are vying for the spot behind the plate.
“One of them has to step up and take it,” Simon said.
Senior Ben Shotwell and junior Dan Spors will be key in the infield.
Junior Joe Watson missed most of last year. He will start in center field this season for the Bulldogs.
Ken-East is looking for some big contributions from junior Paul Ferrell and senior Isaiah Reyes.
Juniors Brandon Baker and Jamel Cash, senior Austin Kowalski, and freshman John Scardino round up the opening day lineup.
The Bulldogs plan to open the season on March 28 at the Charter School for Applied Technology in the Eagles’ NFL day view.
The Bulldogs see last year as a bump in the road and look to get back to the sectional final in 2017.
“We want to punch through,” Simon said. “We plan to compete for the NFL and get back to the Sectional final.”