Niagara Gazette —
After and up-and-down 2012 season that saw his team double its number of wins over the previous year but get blown out by Sweet Home in the Class A-1 playoffs, Starpoint baseball coach Tim Racey believes he's got his Spartans trending in the right direction in 2013.
Despite losing team MVP Matt Miller and all-league pitcher Steve Cooper to graduation, and even though they number only 12, early signs point to this year's Spartans playing spoiler in one of Western New York's most competitive divisions.
"With only having 12 guys, health is going to be No. 1," said Racey, now in his eighth year coaching the team. "As I told the kids, we may not have numbers, but the quality is very good. It's been a bit of a struggle since we moved up to ECIC II (in 2009), but if we can stay healthy, I think we should be toward the top."
To get to the top, Starpoint will have to exact revenge on Sweet Home, as well as fellow division rivals Hamburg, Iroquois, Williamsville East, Williamsville South and West Seneca East. Hamburg, Iroquois and the Williamsville schools perennially field some of the top Class A teams in Section VI.
Leading the way so far are pitcher Austin Speaker, who's committed to Monroe Community College, and shortstop Alex O'Donnell, an All-WNY honorable mention last season.
"So far, his fastball has been pretty untouchable," Racey said of Speaker, who struck out 15 in a one-hitter of Lockport early this season. "He has great command of his curveball, and he's comfortable throwing it from behind (in the count), which is a huge advantage."
Speaker is joined by Andrew Rankie, Zach Monell and Bobby McKeown as part of a small but strong senior class. Rankie, who also plays football and basketball, plays outfield and bats in the middle of the order. Monell plays first and will be the Spartans' third pitcher, and McKeown will battle for time in the outfield.
O'Donnell headlines a key group of juniors, joined by returning catcher Chris Cribbs, 6-foot-4 pitcher Mike Lane — second in the rotation — and fielders Jim Janeczo, Brooks McKeown and Andrew Murchison.
Sophomore Austin Owens leads off the batting order and plays anywhere Racey needs him. Fellow sophomore Brett Guay, who's serving as designated hitter while recovering from an injury, rounds out the roster.
After finishing 10-11 overall and 5-7 in league games last season, the Spartans have jumped out to an early 5-3 record this season, including a win over last season's Class A champ, Grand Island. They're 1-2 in league games so far, but pushed Hamburg into the seventh inning in their opener and beat Will. East for only the third time since moving to ECIC II on Thursday.
The Spartans will look to build on that win this week, with games against Iroquois, W. Sen. East, Sweet Home and Will. East.Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.