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SUMMER BASEBALL: PLENTY OF LOCAL TALENT TAKING FIELD FOR PIONEERS ON OPENING NIGHT (2022-06-03)

By BRIAN FEES
The Sports Reports
ELMIRA — The Pioneers will have a very local flair as they take the field tonight for the season opener.

The team has a number of local athletes, including one athlete each from Horseheads, Corning, Elmira, Edison, Notre Dame, Troy, and Sayre.

“A lot of these guys grew up in this stadium, watching the independent pro league team and then the college league team over the years,” Pioneers manager Andy Drum said.

The guys from the five local schools on the roster are Horseheads grad Frank Wayman; Elmira’s Zach Odum, Notre Dame’s Erik Charnetski; Edison’s Xander Burch, current Corning senior Mason Smith, Sayre grad Nic Ficarro, and Troy grad Hunter Kendall.

“I am thrilled,” Odum said. “I’m happy to be home with my friends and family. I’m really excited to get going with the Pios. I watched them my whole life. It’s exciting to play for them this season.”

The team had expected a couple other locals, but an injury will keep Max Odum from playing, and Notre Dame senior Owen Stewart has to miss the summer to prepare for his college season with George Mason next year.

For Zach Odum, it was a special school year with his brother at Wells College, and now he’s ready to carry that into the summer.

“Both me and my brother did really well this spring,” Zach Odum said. “Hopefully, it comes over to the summer. I’m really excited.

“He (Max) had an injury later int he year, so it’s just me this summer, so he’s going to be cheering me on.”

For Drum, it’s fun having so many locals on the team.

“Zach Odum is going to be in the outfield for us,” Drum said. “We’ve got a bunch of local pitchers. Brayden Colleta (of Addison) is here. We have a lot of local guys I’m super excited about. A lot of these guys came through the facility I work at up in Corning — the Sandlot, so I’ve seen a lot of these guys grow since they were 10-11 years old and now I’m starting to feel old that they are playing for me here with the Pioneers.”

For the local players there is a lot of history being around the Pioneers program.

“I would love coming (as a kid), messing around off to the side, watching the games, rooting them on,” Charnetski said. “We used to play wall ball here at games between innings. That’s what it’s all about, that’s why we have this team.”

And, now it’s special for Charnetski to know he’ll be on the field while little kids are watching him play.

“There is certainly going to be a moment where everything is surreal, for sure,” Charnetski said. “I can’t wait to take it in and kind of reflect on it and I look forward to having a great summer.”

For Burch, it’s just a magical thing to have a chance to play for the Pioneers, a program he grew up watching, especially while his uncle, Matt Burch, coached the team in the past.

“I am just getting excited talking about it, this is going to be awesome,” Burch said.

Drum knows that a lot of the guys grew up watching the Pioneers, and that the community will be ready to embrace this team.

“A lot of these guys grew up in this stadium watching the independent pro league team and then the college league team over the years, so I think a lot of these kids have dreamed of playing here in front of 3,000 people and now they are going to get that opportunity.

“The local kids are very excited, and it’s just kind of cool how all of the local guys are in college at the same time. It should be an awesome experience. I know the local people in Elmira are really excited.”

For Drum there is a special energy with this group that includes so many local athletes.

“Everything looks great so far,” he said. “The energy here has been different so far. Sometimes you get guys here, D1 guys who are almost forced to be here by their coaches. We have a group of kids who all want to be here and it shows in the way they have practiced all week.

“The pitchers show up, they go to work every single day. The hitters just a great approach at batting practice. It’s been a different atmosphere this year and I love it.”

The players are all excited for tonight as the season kicks off.

“I am so excited for it,” Charnetski said. “Last summer I played in Auburn, N.Y. which is like an hour away, which is nice. But, being able to be home, be with my family and have people from the community be able to come and watch and support the game is such a better feeling. It’s going to be such. Great summer.

“Even though it’s only an hour away, it’s a huge commitment when we are there. You are at the field all day, playing games deep into the night and being able to be home and have people that live like 10 minutes away from the field (come and watch) it’s awesome.”

And, being home for the summer has some benefits for the local athletes.

“I am not going to lie, I did miss the home cooking, so having that this year is really huge,” Charnetski said.

One of the benefits to having so many local players on the team is that many of them have played together for years.

“There are a lot of guys on this team I have played with my whole life, definitely excited,” Odum said.

“When I saw some of the names on the list I was thrilled because some of these guys like Zach Odum and Xander Burch, I’ve been playing with these guys since Little League or since Middle School so being able to play with them now is awesome.

“We have a great group of guys here, they are all super talented. I’m looking forward to winning and getting to know these guys better.”

For Burch, it’s been a long time since he’s even played near home. An injury cost him his last two seasons at Edison, so he’s extra excited to be back pitching in Elmira.

“It’s awesome, it’s been almost three years, I can’t wait, it’s finally here,” he said.

After pitching in prep school last year, Burch’s arm is feeling good as he heads into the summer.

“It was good, it is still rebuilding,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working throughout the summer and by the time I get to school next fall it will be good. Still my throwing program, long tossing and now it’s go time.”

Burch is ready to pitch as a starter, reliever, whatever the Pioneers need.

“I’m going to do whatever, I’m going to make a couple of appearances a week and do whatever they need me to do.

“I just want to make sure my arm is in shape and take care of that first and foremost and try and help this team to make the playoffs and win a championship here.”

The players expect a big atmosphere.

“We expect a big crowd and it’s going to be amazing,” Burch said.

And Burch is happy to have some guys he knows with him on the team.

“It is cool, I was thinking about it today,” he said. “I played with half these guys and played against half of them and the new guys coming in, we are all getting ready to work this summer and hopefully get a championship.”

For the players playing in perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League helps them improve as players.

“Having the summer season to kind of hone my skills and take a step back and look at what I need to do and what I need to work on and translate that over to school ball is a huge tool and I think last year it really helped me out a lot in the transition from high school ball over to college.

“We have a great group of guys here, they are super talented. I’m looking forward to winning and getting to know these guys better.”

Getting a chance to play in front of a packed house, like is expected for today’s opener, is special for the players.

“I have never played in front of a crowd this big before, so I’m definitely excited to hear the crowd,” Odum said.

This summer will help Burch get ready for his new team next year as he’ll play for Bryant & Stratton College, a Division II Junior College in Virginia Beach.

“It’s very exciting, relieving I found a good spot for me,” he said.

Burch is ready to get playing at the college level.

“I went down and pitched for those guys and they bring it to, they went to the conference championship this year so it’s good competition,” Burch said.

This year’s roster will include a lot of talented players. Here’s a look at the roster:

AIDAN BLAKE (Inf, UMASS-Boston)

Started 43 games for the Beacons with a .311 average, six home runs and 34 RBI.

ALEX SWEENEY (RHP, Northern Essex CC)
Threw 38 innings with a 7-0 record, with a 1.42 ERA and 41 strikeouts. Helped the team make their 8th NJCAA World Series with a 41-2 record.

BOBBY MARSH (1B, Florida Atlantic)
The Florida Atlantic Commit hit .304 with 25 RBI for the Pioneers last year.

BRADYN COLLETTA (LHP, Niagara Community College)
The Addison graduate was 2-0 in 4 games for Niagara CCC and he struck out 11 in 6 1/3 innings.

BRODY BARTENSTEIN (C, Washington & Jefferson College)
Played in five games, primarily on defense. Had a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage.

CHRIS BEAR (Inf, Northern Essex CC)
Played in 35 games en route to the NJCAA World Series. Slashed .420/.458/.534 through 131 at bats, with 35 RBI and two home runs and was 19 of 19 on stolen bases.

COOPER SMITH (OF, Seton Hill, Entering transfer portal, Fr.)
Comes from Holy Angels and IMG Academy before going to Seton Hill. Hit .488 at IMG.

ERIK CHARNETSKI (OF, St. John Fisher)
The Notre Dame grad played in six games last year, staring one. Had a .600 OPS. Scored three runs. Was named the Empire 8 Sportsman of the Year.

ETHAN ERRERA (OF, RHP, UMass-Boston)
Played in 33 games, starting 20. Hit .290 with an .824 OPS. Also pitched in 12 games, throwing 16 innings with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP, holding teams to a .196 batting average against him. Also had a 21 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio.

FRANK WAYMAN (INF, UMass-Lowell)
The Horseheads graduate played in 17 games, starting 7 for the D1 team. He finished the year with a .340 on-base percentage and stole two bases.

GIL MEROD (C, Ithaca College)
Started and played in 44 games with a .297 average and a .761 OPS in 158 at-bats. Walked 20 times to just 13 strikeouts. Had 2 home runs and 20 RBI.

HUNTER WILICHOSKI (DH, RHP, Franklin Pierce)
Played in 42 games, hitting .317 with a .928 OP. Had 6 home runs and 29 RBI. Also threw 1 2/3 innings, allowing a signal run and striking out three. Previously played at Northern Essex CC, where four of his teammates on the Pioneers currently play.

JA’NAI M. VAUGHN (OF, 1B, BROOKDALE CC)
Played in 20 games with 37 at-bats. Had three home runs among his eight hits. Also had 8 RBI. Had a .488 slugging percentage.

JAREK PODEST (P, ELMIRA COLLEGE)
A senior at Vestal High School. Had a 2-1 record with 23 strikeouts in 23 innings. Throughout his high school career he’s kept a sub-three ERA.

JOE MUNZIO (Inf, Eckerd College)
Played in 20 games, starting 14. Finished with a home run and 9 RBI and didn’t commit an error.

JONATHAN HAINES (RHP, Inf, Washington & Jefferson)
During his college career has a .400 average with three RBI.

JONATHAN ‘JOHNNY’ WALL (Inf. Roanoke College)
Led Roanoke College with a .436 on-base percentage. Had 24 walks compared to just 20 strikeouts on the year. Played in all 42 games, hitting .331 with 5 home runs and 34 RBI. Helped turn 10 double plays.

JOSEPH OLSAVSKY (Inf, John Carroll University)
Started all 38 games and led the team with a .377 average and a 1.105 OPS. Led the team with 7 home runs and 34 RBI. Drew 18 walks compared to just 12 strikeouts and stole 24 bases on 28 attempts. Was named to the 2022 All-OAC First Team.

JUSTIN HANLEY (Inf, John Carroll University)
Played and started in 21 games with a .282 average and a .838 OPS. Finished the season with a perfect 100% fielding percentage.

HUNTER KENDALL (RHP, Houghton College)
The Troy, Pa graduate had a 5.43 ERA for Houghton, third best on the team, in 54 2/3 innings. Struck out 71, more than double as many strikeouts as anyone else on the Houghton Staff. Started 10 games and went 3-4. In April he struck out 11 and surrendered just five its for a complete game win.

KEVIN SERRANO (RHP, Util, Corning CC)
Played for Corning in 2021, striking out 42 in 45 innings. He also hit .296 and stole 9 bases.

KYLE CHMIELEWSKI (INF, Lafayette College)
Played in 39 games, starting 38. He hit three home runs and drove in 14. Helped turn 12 double plays. Hit two home runs in a game against VMI.

LOGAN SCHNEIDER (INF, Washington & Jefferson)
Played in 32 games, starting 21. Had 2 home runs, 13 RBI and a .722 OPS. Made the All-PAC second team as a third baseman and was the hitter of the week on May 3.

LUCAS BERUBE (C, Northern Essex CC)
In 39 games this year, he hit .302 with a .859 OPS. Ha only one error all season as a catcher, throwing out 50% of all base runners in league play. On the base paths he was 9-for-9 in stolen base attempts and he hit a home run and drove in 23.

LUCAS PHELPS (SS, Florida Atlantic)
The High School senior is committed to Florida Atlantic. This year, with the Newsome Wolves as a senior he hit .441 with a 1.127 OPS and two home runs, stealing 9 bases.

MASON SMITH (RHP, 3B, Wells College)
The Corning senior is committed to play for Wells College.

MAX MANDLER (INF, OF, Seton Hill)
Played in 43 games, starting 39. Had a .245 average with a .755 OPS in 134 at-bats. Had 5 home runs and 17 RBI.

MIKE SOKOL (RHP, Chipola College)
Pitched in 16 games, going 26 innings with 23 strikeouts. Had a .450 ERA and a 2-0 record.

NIC FICCARO (LHP, Mansfield, in the Transfer Portal)
A PSAC Scholar-Athlete at Mansfield in 2021. Will be looking to transfer for next season. Played high school baseball at Sayre.

NOAH HAJDU (OF, 2B, Lafayette College)
A High School senior who is committed to Lafayette. He received a ‘9’ PG Grade meaning he has the potential to be a top 10-round MLB Draft Pick.

TRISTIAN CIAMPA (RHP, Northern Essex CC)

In 19 inning he struck out 30, while walking just six and having an ERA of .95. Had a 2-0 record.

XANDER BURCH (LHP, 1B, Bryant & Stratton)
Played at the Combine Academy Prep School last year. The Edison graduate was coming of a Tommy John Surgery and missed his last two years of college. Struck out 10 in five innings for the Combine Academy.

ZACH ODUM (OF, Wells College)
Played in 37 games and led the team with 145 at-bats. Hit .297, second on the team, with a .799 OPS. Had 21 RBI. Was 14-for-14 in stolen bases. Had just one error all season on the field.

ZIV GAR (RHP, Molloy College)
Has a 2-2 record in 9 appearances, with four starts. Finished with one complete game, against Lynn.

In a release Pioneers owner Robbie Nichols, noted how exciting it is to have so many locals on the team this year.

“This is the most unique and exciting season for the Pioneers ever,” he said. “To have 10 players who grew up watching the Pioneers their whole lives, played against each other in Little League, and then against each other in High School to now be Elmira Pioneers is incredible.

“This just goes to show the area has a lot of talented players in the area who are representing their community well. Myself, my wife, and our staff are so excited to be bringing back the Dunn Field Classic, see what upgrades the city has coming to Historic Dunn Field, and bring back all the fun summer memories of Pioneers baseball. Thank you again to all our great sponsors and we will see you at Dunn Field this summer.”

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IN TOP PHOTO: Edison’s Xander Burch. . . PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES

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