Niagara Gazette —
Down four players who'd been staples of Wilson baseball in recent history, the Lakemen have jumped out to a 4-1 start this season, thanks to a commitment to defense and some solid pitching.
Led by seniors Brad Schlosser, Cam Sidote, Pat Diez and Tyler Strassburg, the Lakemen finished third in the Niagara-Orleans league last season. They won two games in sectionals, including a 12-inning marathon over JFK, then saw their season end in a blowout loss to league rival Roy-Hart just one day later.
"We played until it was dark (against JFK)," Wilson coach Mark Kurtz said. "Then we got Roy-Hart, and they just crushed us. They played really well, so I couldn't say we would've beaten them (if we were rested), but it probably would've been closer."
The quartet will be replaced by a trio this season. Chris Reid, Mike Thompson and Taylor Thilk — all four-year varsity players — will serve as captains and Kurtz's go-to guys. Thilk and Reid will handle most of the pitching workload, while Thompson leads the defense from shortstop.
"(Thilk) had a really good year last year at the plate, and he's a guy who can play everywhere," Kurtz said. "He's even caught a couple games.
"This year, he's pitching, and he's been great. He shutout Starpoint (in a 3-0 win) and came in for the fifth inning and shut down Albion (in Wednesday's 9-5, come-from-behind win)."
Kurtz has a total of seven seniors on his 11-man roster. Joining Reid, Thompson and Thilk are Dan Nugent, Derek Martin, Joe DeLisi and Ryan Hecko.
Nugent will plug in and play everywhere for the Lakemen ("When you only have 11 kids, you don't really have a choice," Kurtz quipped.), while Martin forms a lethal defensive tandem playing second base next to Thompson.
"In all the years I've coached," said Kurtz, now in his 13th year at the high school level, "they've probably turned the most double plays out of anyone. They make a great tandem up the middle."
DeLisi replaces Strassburg at first base, while Hecko gets the unenviable task of filling Sidote's shoes behind the plate.
"He's really done a great job so far," Kurtz said.
Filling out the roster are four outfielders, junior Rich Ruble and sophomores Hunter Howland, Joe Littere and Jarret Johnston.
The Lakemen are 4-1 early on, including 2-0 in N-O play. They won non-league games over Starpoint and last year's Section VI Class A champion, Grand Island, and lost to North Tonawanda. They erased a 5-0 deficit to beat last year's N-O champ, Albion, on Wednesday, and were awarded a win by forfeit over Newfane following the arrest of seven Panthers while on a spring break trip.
Kurtz said his team has its sights set on the league title.
"The goal always is to win the Niagara-Orleans league," he said. "That's always our goal, no matter what, and that's what these guys want. They've been focused so far and want to do the best that they can.
"They've looked good in practice and do all the little things we've been able to teach them. It's been a really fun season so far with a very coachable group."Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.