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Valley Sports Report
After a successful season a year ago, the Elmira Pioneers are back hoping for more this year.

“I can’t wait. You build a roster for 10 months,” coach Andrew Drum said. “They are bringing that experience from the playoff run last year. We have a lot of good D1 (Division I) guys that came in, we have some good pitchers that came in, so it should be a good summer.”

Through the first two games in the Perfect Game Baseball League, both against Batavia, the team was off to a 1-1 start, winning 11-9 at home and falling 5-4 on the road.

In the opener, Rey Hernandez went 4-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored and Hernandez then hit a home run in the second game.

Two locals played roles in the two games, with Corning gradate Zack Nelson throwing a scoreless inning in the opener and Notre Dame graduate Erik Charnetski scored a run in the second game.

On Tuesday, the Pios beat Newark, 8-0, to move to 2-1. Sayre grad Nic Ficarro was one of three pitchers combining on a four hitter for Elmira. Ficarro threw two innings of one-hit relief.

Drum is excited coming into the season as he brings a roster of players who have a lot of at-bats this past spring for their college teams.

“We have guys that have a lot of at bats this spring, so they are brining a lot of experience to the table,” Drum said. “It’s not like they are going to need two weeks to get used to things, they are going to get right out there and get rolling.

“I think there are seven or eight guys that had 150 at-bats this spring. We have a lot of sophomores and juniors, just a lot of experience, which is nice. A lot of times we have a lot of freshmen and high school kids so this is great.”

The team is building chemistry each day as they start the season.

“They are a little quiet right now, but that usually happens the first week of the season,” Drum said. “Everyone is trying to feel each other out, they are almost competing with each other, but they are starting to loosen up a little bit. The music is getting louder in the clubhouse, so they’ll be rowdy soon enough.”

There are some locals on the team this year like Charnetski, Nelson, and Ficarro, along with Williamson’s Erik Berkan, and Bradyn Coletta of Addison.

“Erik Charnetski is great,” Drum said. “Nic Ficarro, I mean I have known Nic since he was two or three years old. I played high school baseball and football with his brother, Mike, so it’s awesome having these guys around.

“He’s (Berkan) our only high school kid, so it’s going to be a great experience for him. He’s basically going to get a full season of college ball under his belt before he steps on campus at Elmira College next year.”

It’s special for many of the local guys to get a chance to play for the Pioneers.

“A lot of them played at The Dunn Field Classic playing travel ball growing up, so they had the experience playing at Dunn Field, not in front of the crowds they are going to see this year, but they have the experience playing at Dunn Field.

“I think it’s going to be rocking over there for the first few games, it should be a lot of fun.”

Sayre grad Nic Ficarro returns to the Elmira Pioneers ready to contribute on the mound this summer.

“It’s always good to have a big summer, we have a great team here and I think we are going to do very well,” Ficarro said.

This past year, Ficarro played at Alvernia after transferring from Mansfield.

‘It was alright, had some struggles with injury, but overall I felt pretty good,” Ficarro said.

The Sayre grad is ready to be back home playing near his family and friends.

“I am very excited,” he said. “Especially being back with the Pioneers, being close to home and being able to have my family come out to games. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be nice,” Ficarro said.

There is a big group of players back from last year, which is special for the Pioneers players.

“Bringing the camaraderie we had last year, and even with the new guys, it’s been nice,” Ficarro said.

Ficarro knows a lot of the guys on the team well.

“Especially me and Char (Erik Charnetski),” Ficarro said. “Me and Char go way back. We played with Brian Jones over at Senecas and now with him coming back again, and it’s going to bring good camaraderie.”

And, Ficarro is excited to get to know the new guys on the team.

“It’s been very nice, we have a guy from Wisconsin, (a guy) from Ontario. It’s crazy how many people around the world come to play for us,” Ficaaro said.

It’s also fun having another NTL player, Erik Berkan of Williamson, on the team.

“I hope more people come here, it’s great to stay local,” Ficarro said. “Especially in the summer with baseball, it should be fun.”

Ficarro knows he’ll have family and friends coming to his games.

“They are excited,” he said. “Especially with night games, they can come out to every game, it’s going to be fun.”

After dealing with some injuries during the college season Ficarro is feeling good, and he’s bringing much of the same repertoire on the mound he had last summer.

“Same things I brought back last year,” Ficarro said. “I raised my arm angle a little bit, still side-armed, but it’s fastball, splitter, slider, everything is the same.”

Growing up Charnetski always loved Dunn Field and it’s special for him to be back this year playing for the Pioneers again.

“I’m through the moon,” he said. “It was such a great experience last year playing for the first time. I always idolized Dunn Field. It’s such a historic park. Playing there was always a treat for me, so being able to play there everyday was an absolute gift.”

Charnetski feels like his time with the Pioneers last year made him a better player.

“Drum did a great job with me last year, he kind of worked me through a slump, cleaned up my bat path a little bit,” Charnetski said. “Just pretty much getting the reps now and I have all the confidence in the world.”

The Notre Dame graduate, who plays collegiately for St. John Fisher, knows that it helps his game to play for the Pioneers.

“Having the opportunity to play, especially with such a diverse group of guys is great,” Charnetski said. “We have guys from all over the place, all kinds of different talent levels. We all just kind of make each other better. We show up to the field, get our work in and carry on and we are trying to win and at the same time we are trying to develop ourselves.”

This past season Charnetski, who had primarily played outfield in college, worked and started some games at catcher. It just gives him more chances, especially to get into the lineup at Fisher with a talented roster.

“I definitely have options,” Charnetski said. “I can definitely play the outfield, I can catch, if needed to I could play first a little bit. It gives Drum an opportunity to move me around a little bit, give a bunch of guys at bats and I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great season.

“St. John Fisher, they have such a great group of of talented kids. All of us deserve an opportunity to start, so I really think putting myself out there and working on my catching game as opposed to outfield play gave me an advantage to try and work my way into the lineup for sure.”

Catching is something that Charnetski has done since high school and he just saw it as a chance to make himself more versatile.

“I started catching in high school, it’s always something I had in my back pocket,” Charnetski said. “I love the outfield. I would never replace the outfield, but being able tow work, especially with some good coaches at Fisher, and some other good catchers as well to be able to develop my game is just something that I was able to do.”

This past collegiate season included a chance to start a game as catcher back home against Elmira College.

“I had a bunch of family and friends at that game, so that was a great time of course and especially being able to play Elmira, they are such a great squad,” Charnetski said. “Coach (Anthony) Goncalves has done such a great job over there with them. It was a lot of fun.”

Now, Charnetski is excited to play back in his hometown all summer, giving family and friends a chance to watch him.

“I can’t wait,” Charnetski said. “I have had people all over the community, family and friends and neighbors telling me we are looking forward to it, we are going to bring our kids to watch the Pioneers.”

A year ago Zack Nelson played some for the Pioneers coming right out of high school.

This year things are a bit different. He’s coming off a season in which he started, and was a captain at Corning Community College.

“The college experience definitely helped a lot,” Nelson said. “Even though, honestly, we didn’t hav ea great year at Corning, but it’s definitely going to help a lot.”

CCC had a brand new roster, after not fielding a team the previous year, with a lot of local guys making it a fun time for Nelson and his teammates.

“It was a brand new team, we were a little raw, mostly local guys, it was fun,” he said.

It was helpful in college having friends on the team with him at CCC.

“Having some friends on the team definitely helped me get through the year,” he said.

It was nice for Nelson to get a chance to play all year in his hometown.

“It was definitely fun, having my family there was definitely the best,” Nelson said.

The experience in college last year, plus playing for the Pioneers now, is something Nelson thinks will just make him better next season.

“I think my confidence is definitely going to go up,” he said. “I was a team captain last year and I think my experience is going to help me into next year.”

Nelson is ready to get back to work for the Pioneers this year.
“Really excited,” Nelson said. “We had a good team last year, I think we can be an even better team this year.”

This summer is a time that Nelson feels like can improve his game.

“It’s really important, working out all summer is definitely going to help with opportunities and getting better,” Nelson said.

There is a lot of excitement for Nelson to enjoy the atmosphere at Dunn Field.

“I am definitely excited, should be some great crowds this year,” Nelson said.

Erik Berkan just wrapped up his high school season at Williamson and now he’s preparing for his first collegiate season at Elmira College by playing for the Pioneers.

“It’s a great feeling,” Berkan said. “I was worried about where I would be playing this summer, but I’m glad (coach Andrew) Drum gave me a call and asked if I would pitch for the team. I was happy to do it, it has always been a dream of mine to play for the Pioneers at Dunn Field. Such a historic field and just a great feeling to know I’ll be playing this summer.”

It’s nice for Berkan to play near home for the summer and be nearby for his family to watch him.

“About a half hour from my house, so not a bad drive,” Berkan said. “They (the family) are stoked. They are ready to watch some real good baseball and they are ready to see me grow and learn with these guys.”

For Berkan it’s special playing for a Pioneers team that he grew up watching.

“Every summer I’d come to a couple games and just hang out and enjoy some good baseball,” Berkan said. “It was a dream of mine I achieved getting on the team.”

Berkan saw former NTL players compete for the Pioneers and he’s happy to follow in their footsteps.

“It was good to see people in the NTL make it to such a nice league for the summer, so it feels good to play ball this summer,” Berkan.

This summer Berkan is excited to play with some top level players as he prepares for college.

“In this league you have a bunch of Division I and Division II guys, so it’s good competition,” Berkan said. “Just getting there and getting more experience with better competition is going to prepare me for next year.

“You’ll learn a lot and you’ll grow and that’s all you can do if you want to get better.”

The Perfect Game Baseball League has players that Berkan will play against in college, and there are also guys who will play with Berkan at Elmira College.

“It will be good to play against some of the rivals I’ll have in college, and then I have two guys who will be at Elmira with me next year, so that’s just a great feeling to build that chemistry with them,” Berkan said.

“It (college league baseball) will be a good test for me, but I think I can hang with these guys and I’ll just learn and grow with this support from good coaching here in Elmira.”

It will be a special feeling playing for the Pioneers this year after growing up watching them.

“It will be a surreal moment, I’m really looking forward to it,” Berkan said. “Going from being a fan to now a player, I’ll have to take it all in. It will be a lot of fun.”


IN PHOTO: Sayre grad Nic Ficarro.

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