By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — The New York Collegiate Baseball League regular season lasts just under two months. With the way the Niagara Power's season finished, their promising start to the 2013 season may feel like an eternity ago.
It certainly proved to be a test for the Power's players and coaching staff alike. Just one year before, they were competing for the NYCBL championship. This year, they're looking back on a season that started with promise but quickly went south, ending with a last place finish.
"Last summer everything seemed very easy because we won," said head coach Josh Rebandt. "We won our division, we made it to the league championship and everything just seemed to come easy."
At the start of June it seemed it good fortune might again come with ease. In three preseason exhibition games, the Power went 3-0 and outscored their opponents by a total of 23-7. After two consecutive rain delays, the Power finally began their regular season on June 8 with a 6-3 win at home over the Rochester Ridgemen, then went on to win five of their first six games.
Then it all turned.
The team went 2-4 in their next six games. After a 12-7 win at home against the Geneva Red Wings on June 21, the team would not taste victory again until July 5, when their 6-3 win over the Olean Oilers ended an eight-game losing streak.
"The first thing I told the guys in the first week (of the season), I said 'the horse is made ready for battle but victory rests with the Lord Himself," said Rebandt, quoting from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. "I still hold true to that. I think that there were certain things that, even though we lost, we still knew that God was in control."
The Power, as an affiliate of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, looked to character tests as part of their players' overall development. There were several game situations throughout the season, Rebandt admitted, when individuals were being put to character tests.
In addition to a handful of multi-game losing streaks, the team's character was also tested, Rebandt said, by this season's often wet weather. In addition to delaying the start of their season, the Power found themselves postponed by rain almost the entire final week of June.
"I remember we went to Hornell and got rained out, we went to Olean and got rained out. Didn't even get a chance to warm up," he recalled. "Those bus rides will take a toll."
But from this season's adversity came some standout performances. Rebandt offered special mention to two players.
"Scott Gillespie, he was one of the core guys," said Rebandt of the Power outfielder. "He was a NYCBL All-Star. He competed every day. He never took a pitch off. He was battling a couple of small injuries, not anything serious, but never complained about playing a doubleheader, never asked to get taken out."
Gillespie finished with a batting average of .315, appearing in 31 games andf 34 hits in 108 at-bats. HIs batting average was bettered only by Buddy McCoy's .328.
Rebandt also offered special mention to pitcher Josh Schulman.
"He came on late in our starting rotation. I'd go to war with that guy any day, and I told him that because he knows how to compete," he said.
With the 2013 season and a 13-27 record in the books, Rebandt will take some time off and travel to Michigan to be with family before heading south to Florida, where he's the baseball coach at Clearwater Christian College.
Although they play in a short baseball season, Rebandt and Power president and general manager Cal Kern will be at work as early as August recruiting players for next season. Summer collegiate baseball, he explained, does not have a quiet offseason. Many college coaches like to have their players set with the next summer's collegiate ball team by the end of September or early October, and there are plenty of collegiate leagues besides the NYCBL looking for players.
"There's the New York (Collegiate Baseball) League, the Cape Cod League, the Northwoods League and all these teams are trying to get certain players.
"I know from our case that we try and have things filled typically by Christmas..."
Which by then will be the time both Power management and fans will hope the gifts of the season will include more success in 2014.Follow Niagara Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at @MrozGazette.