By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
WAVERLY — In the face of the new pitch-count rules, Waverly baseball coach Kyle McDuffee is hoping to ride a “deep pitching staff” to a successful 2017 season.
“We’re pretty lucky, we have a lot of pitchers this year,” said McDuffee, who is entering his 13th season.
Juniors Eithan McEnulty and Tyler Croft, and sophomore Bradey Roney return to lead the pitching staff.
McDuffee says senior Brendyn Stillman will occupy “a closer’s role,” while returnees Nate Bennett, Devin Garrison, and Mike Shaffer, and newcomers Grant Caplan and Hunter Bodine will also see time on the mound.
“Bradey Roney is developing into our power arm, that horse I’ve always liked to have, like we’ve had in the past with Pat Bronson, City Cron, and Marc Kuzma,” said McDuffee.
“I’m also really excited about the way EIthan McEnulty and Tyler Croft have been throwing.
“I’m very happy with our pitching depth, especially with the addition of seniors Hunter Bodine and Grant Caplan,” added McDuffee. “I think the depth of our pitching is going to be a big strength for us.”
McDuffee isn’t as concerned with the new pitch-count rules as many of his contemporaries are.
“I understand the frustrations other coaches have concerning the new pitch-count, but I think we’re ready for it,” he said. “We’ve basically followed those rules since Day 1, now they’re just written.”
One thing McDuffee is frustrated about is the IAC’s refusal to incorporate a “mercy rule.”
“I’d really like to see a ‘mercy rule’ implemented,” he said. “I put it up for a vote in the IAC and it was voted down. I think it goes hand-in-hand with the pitch-count rules.
“We’re going to have those weeks where we play five games, and one or two of those could end up 20-2, where you’re facing a kid who has never pitched before,” noted McDuffee. “It can get really ugly. I really think we need it.”
The Wolverines have some position battles still under way as the first game approaches.
Jason Morales will handle the catching duties, while Zach VanHouten and Roney are “battling it out” for the first base job.
Dylan Cooney will start at second base, while Bodine will play shortstop with Stillman also seeing time there, and Croft, McEnulty, and Cole Jenner are vying for time at third base.
Stillman will roam center field for the Wolverines, while Devin Garrison, Nate Bennett, Paul Girolamo, Caplan, and Ty Dudash are vying for time in the corner outfield spots.
McDuffee is hopeful the Wolverine offense will help out their pitching staff.
“I think the top four spots in our batting order is going to be a real strength for us.”
I’ve seen a lot of good things early on from this ball club,” said McDuffee. “Brendyn Stillman has been tearing the cover off the ball, and Zach VanHouten has been hitting the ball well in the cage.
“I know we’ve only been in the cage, but I’ve seen a lot of good swings from our guys,” added McDuffee. “From top to bottom, I think we’re going to be a pretty good hitting team this year.”
He’s also hoping his hitters will use the pitch-count rules to help the team.
“I want these guys to work the pitchers, make them throw strikes and use the new rules to our favor,” said McDuffee. “We need to get ourselves into good hitting counts, don’t do the pitchers any favors.”
McDuffee’s biggest concern is his defense, which struggled mightily at times in 2016.
“We definitely struggled fielding the ball last year,” he said. “I think with the different guys in the line-up this year we’ve improved in that area, but it’s hard to say because I thought the same thing last year heading into the season.
“We all look good taking grounders on the turf at the football field, or in the gym,” noted McDuffee. “Now, it’s a matter getting out here and getting some reps on the field.
“I do think with the guys we have on the field this year, when they get the glove on the ball, they’ll make the play,” McDuffee added.
McDuffee is looking forward to the challenge the IAC South Large School Division always presents.
“I’ve always said our division is probably the toughest around, definitely in the IAC,” he said. “The proof of that is that when Sectionals roll around, our teams play for a long time.
“Edison and Notre Dame are going to be there as usual this year,” noted McDuffee. “And, I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Newark Valley and expect them to be pretty good this season.
“And, that’s a good thing, the better our division is the more it helps us come playoff time.
“Union Springs is probably the team to beat in the North, and Lansing and Trumansburg are going to be very good as well,” added McDuffee.
The veteran Waverly skipper has beefed up his non-league schedule with Athens, Sayre, Vestal, Trumansburg, Union Springs, and Dryden.
“We challenged our guys,” said McDuffee. “We’re going to play Athens, Vestal and U-E — some bigger, very, very good programs.
“That’s what baseball is all about — play up, play big and see what you can do,” he noted. “We need to play these games, that’s where the (Sectional) points are. We don’t get a lot of points playing the smaller schools in our league, so we have to get those back by playing a tougher non-league schedule.”
Waverly opens the 2017 campaign this afternoon when it hosts Athens. Game time is 4:30 p.m.
IN PHOTO: Waverly’s Brendyn Stillman.