By Mike Meiler firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Niagara-Wheatfield baseball coach Jim Hagerty said his goal for the 2014 Falcons is to improve from 2013’s team.
After finishing fourth in the Niagara Frontier League last season at 8-6, an improvement could push the Falcons into the upper echelon of the league.
Hagerty sees that as a possibility as he breaks down the league schedule, which pits each team against every opponent twice.
“I like to think we have a chance to be better than we were last year,” Hagerty said. “I just want to be the team that is threatening at the end. The goal is to beat everybody once and see what we can do the second time around.”
Leading the way this year will be a strong class of returning senior, headed by speedy shortstop Bailey Cadwallader.
Cadwallader led the NFL with 19 steals as a junior, playing second base and playing lockdown defense in the middle of the field with then-senior Nick Matos.
Cadwallader swings over to short with Matos lost to graduation. He’ll play a key role in the Falcons’ up-the-middle defense, which Hagerty expects to be a strength.
Angelo Vilardo gets the nod as Cadwallader’s double-play mate at second base. Fellow junior Matt Anderson returns at catcher, while smooth senior Andrew Connolly returns to centerfield.
“Defensively I like our spine,” Hagerty said. “We’ve got a pretty solid catcher, a solid middle infield and a centerfielder (who) runs like a deer.”
The questions for the Falcons will be of pitching and hitting. N-W lost three pitchers — Doug Litwinski, Brendan Gilewski and Caleb Kish — and the middle of its order — Mike Parise and Jon Liberti — from last season.
Mike Markelonis, who became the Falcons’ ace during his junior season, returns to head the pitching staff as a senior.
“He doesn’t throw gas,” Hagerty said. “He’s a pitcher as opposed to a thrower. He’ll change speeds and hit his spots.”
Joining Markelonis in the rotation will seniors Anthony Tardibuono and Dylan Cobernus, while juniors Andrew Doricko, Matt Bourque and Nick Previte will see relief time. Sophomore Casey Gruarin, brother of former N-W stars Kevin and Chris Gruarin, could also see time on the hill.
On off days, Tardibuono and Gruarin will man the corners in the outfield. Senior Jack Travers will see time on the outfield grass, as will Doricko, Bourque and Previte.
Cobernus will replace Parise at third base and be backed up by junior Mike Jacob, who is up from junior varsity. Senior Dan George, who served as a designated hitter, steps in for Liberti at first and as the cleanup hitter. Senior Matt Kostiw and junior Zach Glaser will fill utility roles, with Glaser backing up Anderson at catcher.
“The question is will we throw enough strikes to not give away runs for free and will we score enough,” Hagerty said. “Defensively I like how, if we throw strikes, I think we’re going to make out.”
The Falcons are scheduled to take on Starpoint in a non-league game today, then play five league games in five days next week because of last week’s rainouts.
Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.