BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — The roster for the Niskayuna baseball team returns a bevy of solid hitters and slick defenders, but head coach John Furey’s squad enters its 2015 campaign knowing its pitching staff is very much a work in progress.
“That’s our challenge,” he said at a March 18 practice. “But we have a lot of really solid baseball players to do it with.”
The Silver Warriors return a strong core from a 2014 squad that went 12-7 and won a sectional playoff game. Senior center fielder Garrett Whitley — widely considered one of the nation’s best high school players — is Niskayuna’s top returning player and he will lead an offense that averaged 7.4 runs per game last season.
“Last year, we started off the season hitting around .400 as a team,” said Whitley. “We cooled down a bit from there, but we have six or so returning starters in the field and everyone can hit.”
That’s why building a pitching staff and a defense to support it are so important for Furey’s squad. Many of the club’s position players will also pitch this season, such as senior third baseman Joe Apkarian. The second-year varsity player said the coaching staff has told the club’s potential pitchers that any of them could serve as a starter, middle reliever or closer.
“Or, I could not pitch at all,” said Apkarian. “It’s all in the works right now.”
Defensively, things are shaping up for Niskayuna. Whitley will lead the team’s outfielders, while senior shortstop Pat O’Brien returns after a junior season in which he was an honorable mention to the Suburban Council’s all-league team to anchor the Silver Warriors’ infield.
O’Brien said he expects Niskayuna to field a strong defense, but that it has been tough to fully gauge considering the club’s preseason has been spent in gymnasiums and parking lots — rather than baseball diamonds — because of the area’s heavy blanket of snow.
“But we’ve looked good in the parking lot,” he said. “If you can field in a parking lot, you can field anywhere.”
“And, it was definitely tough out there today,” Apkarian said at the club’s March 18 practice. “It was freezing cold, but we bundled up and got through it.”
As of March 22, Niskayuna’s first game of the regular season is scheduled for April 7 against Ballston Spa.
Before then, Furey said the squad will get to see its potential pitchers in scrimmage action against some Section II foes and Niskayuna teammates during live batting practice sessions. With the action at those final days of preseason practices, Furey said he expects to really start to be able to put together his pitching staff.
“We’ll find out a lot more about that then,” he said.