A great start to the season is one thing. Maintaining that momentum is another.
That’s the challenge at hand for the Albany Dutchmen as they prepare for the upcoming Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League season.
“We’ve had great starts the last two years. We went 9-0 and 8-1,” said manager Nick Davey. “One of the things I put a lot of effort into this year is, who do we get more consistent the rest of the season?”
Albany has parlayed those hot starts to two straight playoff appearances, but the Dutchmen have barely made the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the five-team Eastern Division each time, as injuries and losses mounted.
“Players were getting hurt, and players were leaving to go to summer school (last year),” said outfielder Sean Aspinall, one of three returning players. “I was pleased with how our season went. Our pitchers never gave up and kept throwing strikes, and we kept getting the runs we needed when we needed them.”
Aspinall was one of Albany’s most consistent hitters last season. The California native led the Dutchmen in batting average (.336), hits (50), doubles (12), RBI (26) and games played (43) on his way to being selected for the PGCBL All-Star Game and earning the team’s Player of the Year award.
“I’m coming back with a vengeance. I’m going to win the PGCBL title with the Albany Dutchmen and have the best season that I can,” said Aspinall.
“The best thing is he’s a great kid,” said Davey. “He has high expectations for himself. He had some injuries during the school year, and I don’t think he felt that he had that good of a year (for Azusa Pacific) because of it. I think he’s looking forward to getting back on the field and getting back after it.”
The rest of Albany’s lineup will feature a group of newcomers who can pull the ball – something Davey said he focused on during his off-season recruiting.
“I think we have more power than we’ve had. In past years, we needed to string three or four hits together in order to score runs, but this year we have guys who can drive the ball,” said Davey.
One of the offensive players Davey landed is Bethlehem Central High School graduate Eric Mueller. The University at Albany sophomore outfielder was third on the team in batting average this season (.279) and led the Great Danes in RBI (22).
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Mueller, who is playing his first season of collegiate league summer baseball. “I like it because it’s local.”
Mueller said he was disappointed with his stat line after batting .435 with Hudson Valley Community College in 2014 as a freshman, and he’s looking to get his swing back with the Dutchmen.
“Just get better in every facet of the game. I had a bit of a down year at UAlbany, so I want to get better,” said Mueller.
“I thought he had a pretty good year at SUNY, and I’m glad to hear that he has high expectations of himself,” said Davey.
Section 2 talent dots Albany’s roster once again. Besides Mueller, the Dutchmen have Niskayuna’s Chase Crawford, Rotterdam’s Chris Amorosi and Averill Park’s Nick Cioffi, who is pitching for his third collegiate league summer baseball team.
“I played in the PGCBL with Oneonta (in 2012) and in the New England Collegiate League with Saratoga (in 2013),” said Cioffi. “I took last year off because I had a sore arm.”
Davey tabbed Cioffi to be his opening day starter when the Dutchmen hosted Elmira Tuesday, June 2, at Bob Bellizzi Field (see Dutchmen notes for results from the game).
“As one of the older players on the team, we’re going to lean on him to be not necessarily a captain, but as a leader on this pitching staff,” said Davey.
Cioffi said his goal is to help his fellow pitchers improve as the season goes on.
“You just pick things up in summer ball because it is a grind. You don’t have classes to break up your day. You’re either playing or practicing,” said Cioffi. “You have to keep your arm healthy, and you have to get your work in.”
Other players to watch this season include Jack Weiller, who Perfect Game ranked as New York’s top collegiate shortstop prospect; Tristan Rojas, who was Perfect Game’s No. 1-ranked outfielder prospect in 2014; Dominic DiCaprio, who is considered to be the top catch-and-throw catcher in Florida; and Mike Reticheck, who was a first team All-Ivy League pitcher this season at Pennsylvania after posting a 1.72 earned run average over 57.2 innings.
“I think it’s a great group; I think it’s a complete group,” said Davey. “In past years, I’ve said maybe we’re a little more pitcher heavy … but once everybody is in town – we still have some people playing in NCAA regionals right now – we should have a complete group.”
The Albany Dutchmen began their season with a 3-1 victory over Elmira Tuesday, June 2, at Bob Bellizzi Field.
Cioffi was sharp in his Albany debut, as he pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out eight Elmira batters. Zak Spivy and Liam Conboy pitched the final two innings, with Conboy picking up the save.
Aspinall had an RBI single and scored a run for the Dutchmen. Mueller had a pair of hits, and Chase Crawford added a double.
Associate editor/sports editor