Ready to defend its title

Having long stretches of time between playoff games is something the Westfield Wolverines baseball team has become accustomed to over the last couple of seasons.

Last year, the Wolverines had a week off after they defeated North Collins, 5-0, for the Section VI Class D title, then had another week off before facing Section V’s Webster Christian in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Far West Regional, a game they won, 10-1.

This year, after Panama opted out of the playoffs, Westfield was given a bye into the Class D semifinals, where they will face either No. 5 Clymer, or No. 4 Franklinville.

“I guess one advantage is, obviously, the pitchers are going to be rested,” Wolverines’ head coach Doug Kaltenbach said. “The reality is it’s going to give us more time to work on the things that we need to work on.

“I’m really not making a big deal about it,” Kaltenbach added. “There’s nothing we can do about it, and we’re really looking forward to the practice time and working on the things we need to work on.”

If Thursday’s 6-1 loss to Frewsburg is any indication, the Wolverines have plenty to work on, especially on the defensive side, as they committed six errors.

“We’re making too many lackadaisical errors,” Kaltenbach noted. “We really haven’t practiced much at all this season, because the season has been so compressed the last few weeks. We had a couple of practices last week, but before that, I couldn’t tell you the last time we had a practice.”

Westfield has beaten Clymer twice already this season, including a 17-0 drubbing on May 10. It has not, however, seen Franklinville this year.

“I think Franklinville is a very good team,” Kaltenbach said. “Chances are, we’re probably going to face them. They gave Frewsburg every thing they could handle, they have a good pitcher and the top of their order can really hit the ball.”

After finally getting the blue Sectional title patch that had eluded his teams, Kaltenbach knows that the Wolverines have a huge target on their backs.

“They’re kidding themselves if they don’t think there is a (target on their backs),” Kaltenbach said, referring to his players. “Absolutely there is. And that’s the way it should be. We’ve been very successful over the last number of years and that kind of comes with that. So, how we deal with that, is how far we will likely go (in the playoffs).

“We’ve played with that (target on their backs) for so long, that I think we play better when we realize that,” Kaltenbach added. “I know we play better when we deal with situations (rather than avoiding them).”

After losing Nolan Hunt to graduation last June, many in the area didn’t think Westfield would have enough to repeat as Sectional champions. Everyone, that is, except the Wolverines.

“No one can fill his shoes,” Kaltenbach said, referring to Hunt. “Nolan was, maybe, a once in a lifetime player for us. But we’ve been dealing with this all year, too. We’ve heard from other teams that we were a one-man show, which wasn’t true. We’ve been dealing with that all year.”

Taking over as the ace of the Wolverines’ pitching staff has been senior Greg Schroeder, while Jonathan Wilson has been a capable No. 2.

“They’re such a good combo together,” Kaltenbach noted. “And I believe (having Wilson as the No. 2), it helps Greg, because he knows he doesn’t have to do it all by himself.”

To repeat as Sectional champions, Westfield will likely have to get past Brocton – a team they have beaten handily twice – and North Collins, which they have not seen this year. Both teams are ranked in the New York State Sportswriters Association Class D Top 20, with the Eagles (11-5) coming in at No. 17 and the Bulldogs (12-3) at No. 19. The Wolverines, on the other hand, are ranked No. 5, behind No. 1 Fort Ann (17-0), No. 2 Hancock (17-2), No. 3 Heuvelton (11-2) and No. 4 Oriskany (16-2), which the Wolverines defeated, 3-0, in the NYSPHSAA Class D semifinals a season ago.

“I know about (Brad) Zielinski and I know, from talking to other coaches, that they like to play on that turf,” Kaltenbach said of the Eagles.

“They’re a very good team,” Kaltenbach added of Brocton. “They have really good pitching, but I don’t know if it’s more of an advantage beating a team twice, or losing to them twice.”

In 2014 Westfield defeated Cassadaga Valley twice during the regular season, but fell to the Cougars in the Class C title game. Kaltenbach is hoping his team does not suffer the same fate if they meet the Bulldogs for the Class D title next weekend at Russell E. Diethrick Park, in Jamestown.

“I used them both,” Kaltenbach said, referring to Schroeder and Wilson, who both saw time on the hill when Westfield met Brocton in CCAA West 2 play this year. “I didn’t use just one of them exclusively. That’s how we lost to Cassadaga Valley two years ago, because they saw Nolan three times.”

Whether or not Westfield repeats as Class D champions, or is upset in the semifinals, or loses in the finals, Kaltenbach is confident – regardless of the team’s loss Thursday – that his team at least has what it takes to help him get his second blue patch in as many seasons.

“You want to head into the playoffs playing your best baseball,” Kaltenbach said. “And I don’t think we are at the moment, but I have faith in these guys. I’ve been with them for so long that any time there is a problem, they have been able to overcome it, and I anticipate they will do that again.”

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