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FROM THE PRESS BOX: CRYSTAL BALL FORECASTS STRONG SEASONS FOR VALLEY BASEBALL TEAMS IN SPRING OF '22 (2022-08-11)

The 2021 baseball season was closer to normal than anything else in this wacky 2020-21 high school sports year.

It would have been completely normal had it not been for New York’s completely asinine decision to cancel the spring sports championships in mid-November (more than six months in advance), but that’s a topic for another day.

Three of the four Valley schools posted winning records, with Sayre’s 21-2 mark and third District 4 title in four seasons leading the way.

Waverly was 15-5 and reached the Section IV, Class B semifinals, while Athens was 12-9 and reached the District 4, Class AAAA semifinals. A young Tioga team went 6-7 against a very tough schedule.

The “Battle at the Border” was a classic, with each of the four Valley teams going 1-1.

Now the question is, what does 2022 have in store? With the season still 7 1/2 months away, the crystal ball is still a bit murky, but:

Athens Wildcats: The Wildcats return virtually en tact in 2022, including their top three pitchers in juniors Mason Lister, Lucas Kraft, Carson Sullivan, and Gage Warner.

They also return their top hitters in seniors Kaden Setzer, Karter Rude, Sullivan, and Caleb Nichols.

Second-year coach Charlie Havens will also have some re-enforcements from the JVs, as well as from a 15-2 junior high team.

Prediction: Lister, Kraft, Sullivan, and Warner each had good years on the mound as sophomores. If they take the expected step forward, the Wildcats should be in good shape on the mound. … With a full year to get healthy, I expect Caleb Nichols to blossom into one of the best players in the NTL. … Two things this team needs is to develop a little more depth in its line-up, and to shore up its defense, which did improve as the 2021 season progressed. … 2022 RECORD — 16-5 and District 4, Class 4A finals.

Sayre Redskins:
The Redskins lose a couple of key seniors in on-base machine Jake Burgess and Zach Moore, but bring back virtually everyone else from a team that scored 281 runs in 23 games and had a team batting average of .367 and a team on-base percentage of .501.

Division I commit Brayden Horton returns for his senior season, along with junior pitching ace Lucas Horton, junior shortstop Zach Garrity, junior first baseman Kannon VanDuzer, and junior OF / P David Northrup — all of whom hit .368 or better.

Lucas Horton and Northrup return to lead the pitching staff, and VanDuzer was solid on the mound as well, but coach Jamie VanDuzer may need to groom another arm or two.

Prediction: This team should score a lot of runs again next year, and will be very tough to beat when Lucas Horton or Northrup is on the mound. … The Redskins will be the favorites to win the NTL Small School and District 4, Class AA titles, but Canton looms as their biggest threat in their efforts to repeat. … 2022 RECORD: 20-3 and District 4 title.

Tioga Tigers:
The Tigers lose three starters, including their top power hitter in Derrick Gage, but have plenty of athletes to fill in the holes.

Tioga only returns two hitters (Bryce Bailey and Cobe Whitmore) who hit .300 or better, but freshman Conlan Taylor (.295) and sophomore Ethan Perry (.250) should take a big step forward next season.

Coach Kevin Evanek will need some of his role players to step up, or grads from a JV team that went 9-2 to win jobs and produce.

Taylor and Bailey will return to lead the pitching staff. Once again, Evanek will need to groom more arms.

Prediction: The Tigers are in a brutal division with Edison, Lansing, Trumansburg, and Newark Valley. They will need to find arms, and lengthen their line-up, but I believe they have some young players capable of producing. … This is a team that is a year away from being very good. … 2022 RECORD: 10-9 — Class C quarterfinals.

Waverly Wolverines: The Wolverines lose just one senior, and have a chance to be very good in 2022.

Waverly returns seven players who hit .338 or better, including senior Caden Hollywood, junior Ty Beeman, and sophomores Joey Tomasso and Jay Pipher.

Hollywood, Derek Seymour, Pipher and Tomasso return to lead the pitching staff, and longtime coach Kyle McDuffee will have several other arms to choose from as well.

On top of that, McDuffee will get re-enforcements — both offensively and on the mound — from a JV team that went 11-2.

Prediction: The Wolverines should score runs, and feature a pretty good pitching staff. … Notre Dame, especially when Owen Stewart is on the mound, will pose the biggest threat for the Wolverines in its division, but they have to be the odds-on-favorite to win a division title. … Waverly could also challenge for the program’s second Section IV, Class B title. … 2022 RECORD — 18-4 Class B finals.

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