Veteran-laden group fuels VVS baseball team

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VERONA — Vernon-Verona-Sherrill returns 10 players to the varsity baseball team from last season, and when one of them, Brady Carver, actually returns from a football injury will be a big factor in how well the Red Devils do this season, according to head coach Chad Hodkinson.

The team went 7-7 last season, with an 11-8 loss to Marcellus in the quarterfinals of the Section III Class B-1 playoffs.

This season’s opener was washed out Friday so the team will not start until the Red Devils travel to Utica Notre Dame at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Tri-Valley League.

Last year’s top pitcher, Kyle Burback, and best senior hitter, Evan Kirkpatrick, have graduated so the team has a few roles to fill, noted the 13-year head coach. “With Kyle he was a bulldog type of guy on the mound. Not that we don’t have that guy now but he was who we went to last year.” Kirkpatrick was a middle-of-the-lineup guy who was always good for one or two hits every game, the coach said.

The team returns six of the players who started in the playoffs for VVS last year. Carver, a senior, is recovering from a torn labrum suffered during football and is not back in action yet, but he should be back in a few weeks, the coach said. He’d be a hitter at the top of the lineup and a middle infielder.

The likely leadoff hitter is Bryce Palmer, with Carver, Keshler Norman and Jarrett Herzog behind him as last year’s top hitters back for their senior years. “He’s a really good player, a really great athlete with speed to go along with his intelligence,” the coach said of Palmer. Junior Tyler Shantal and senior Connor Tiffin didn’t have many at bats last year but seem primed for productive seasons this year, he said. “If those guys can hit like I think they can, we could have a pretty good lineup.”

On the mound, Palmer and senior returners Jackson Horodnick and Rex James should anchor the starting rotation. Shantal “looks pretty good in the preseason along with Jackson and Rex,” Hodkinson said. Tiffin could also earn his way into the rotation.

“Hopefully those will be the five guys we can count on on the mound.” VVS won’t use a closer, at least not at the start of the season, defaulting to a committee of relievers rather than one pitcher to handle the final inning when the team has a lead “I don’t necessarily think we have a shutdown guy but we can use a committe over two or three innings to give (opponents) different looks.”

Also capable to throwing some innings are a few players new to varsity: senior Tristen Cole (back to baseball after taking time off) and juniors Sean Fuller, Daniel Nagel and Haydon Ostrander.

Defensively, “we do have to find a replacement in the middle infield,” the coach said. Palmer is the team’s shortstop, but Carver would start at second base. That role will probably go to Nagel and Fuller in the meantime. First base is probably going to be handled by a group of players, depending on who is pitching and in the outfield that day. Horodnick played there last year but will probably also see time at second and outfield so Norman, Ostrander and returning senior Joshua Lennon are in the mix. Tiffin will be at third. Herzog is the starting catcher.

Shantal is in the outfield and is the backup catcher. James will also be in the outfield as a top defensive asset. Ostrander and returning senior Tyler Sgarlata will get innings out there as well.

Senior Logan Vanderhoof returns to baseball after some time off. “He’s going to find himself a spot in the lineup. He’s a big, strong kid,” the coach said. He’ll have a utility role that includes some catching. Cole and Fuller can also play all over the field.

“I think we’re going to be able to hit the ball, to catch and field the ball. The guys on the mound I think will be the ones to give us three or four wins either way,” Hodkinson said. “It’s no secret. Pitching is the name of the game.”

“We play in probaly the toughest league in Section III, maybe other than the (Class AA) in Syracuse,” he said of the Tri-Valley League. “The TVL is ridiculously competitve.” He continued: “My goal is to be as competitive as possible.”

He added: “We’re a proud program. These kids are used to winning,” so a league title is always a goal.

“Our seniors, they’re athletes and competitiors. They’re coming off decent football and basketball seasons. I think they can win some baseball games as well,” the coach said. “If we can have somebody step up among the first five pitchers to be an ace, to be a leader, that will be the difference for us, if we can give them the ball and know we have a great shot of winning the game.”

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