BY JIM SCHILTZ
Chris Bianchi said he is in a comfortable spot as Niskayuna’s new varsity baseball coach.
Being with the program for quite some time and knowing the young men in it helps. Having a senior-filled roster in his first go-round as the Silver Warriors’ lead man does, too.
“We’ve got a veteran team with lots of Suburban Council and sectional experience,” Bianchi said. “Where we lacked a little bit, we’ve picked up a little ground.”
Niskayuna features 11 seniors, four of them committed to play college ball, and a pair of tested juniors to lead a team looking to make waves rather than a small splash. The Silver Warriors snuck into the Section II Class AA tournament the last two years and lost early both times.
“We want to win the [Blue] division championship and be in the thick of things for the sectional championship,” Bianchi, who has taken over for John Furey, said. “With a senior-led team, I think we have the capacity to do it.”
Niskayuna won eight games last season and posted nine victories in 2015. Furey’s final game in a head coaching career that spanned over two decades, a Class AA first-rounder against Saratoga Springs, resulted in a 5-0 loss. Niskayuna’s 2015 campaign also ended with a 5-0 loss to Shenendehowa in the quarterfinals after the Silver Warriors opened the sectionals with a 5-1 victory over Albany.
“It’s important to have been there before,“ Bianchi said. “Getting bounced out of the sectionals the last two years early, that has them motivated.”
Niskayuna lost only four seniors from last year’s edition. The returning cast includes many players who helped Niskayuna reach the semifinals of the 2013 13-year-old Babe Ruth World Series under Bianchi’s direction.
“We’ve very solid all around,” senior Jake Phillips, a Niskayuna pitcher and outfielder, said. “We have depth at each position and a lot of clutch players. We’re going to do the best we can and go as far as we can.”
Niskayuna made four sectional semifinal appearances from 2007 through 2014.
“We’ve got a couple of three-year players,” Bianchi said. “We’ve got an established pitching staff. Hopefully that experience helps us when we get to crunch time.”
Niskayuna’s senior cast includes college commits Matt Toy (catcher, Union College), Tyler Senecal (first base, Coker College), Angelo Spataro (second base, SUNY Brockport) and Nick
Insognia (pitcher, outfield, Stony Brook University). Juniors Ben Funyak (shortstop) and Alec Ritzenthaler (pitcher) — who started last year’s sectional game — lead the underclassmen.
“We want to focus on our first game. After that, our next game,” said Bianchi, Niskayuna’s varsity pitching coach the last six years and a 16-year member of the school’s baseball staff. “Our first goal is to win enough games to get into the playoffs.”
Bianchi said along the way he will be pushing the same things that Furey did in his 21 years at the helm in terms of playing hard, hustling at all times and displaying sportsmanship.
“We’re working to maintain that,” Bianchi, a middle school science teacher, said. “As far as the day-to-day activities, I am introducing some new elements. If you put 10 different people in charge of a program they will run it 10 different ways.”