Niagara Gazette — Believe it or not, baseball season has begun.
While professional pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week, local college baseball teams have been working out for weeks indoors preparing for opening day in the dead of winter.
Niagara starts play today at the Courtyard by Marriott Classic tournament in Spartansburg, S.C. against host USC-Upstate. The Purple Eagles will also face Wofford in a Saturday doubleheader and Kentucky on Sunday.
Drew Fittry (St. Joe's) will take the mound against the Spartans, who won a school record 33 games last season and returns the Atlantic Sun player of the year in Gaither Bumgardner.
Jim Fort and Anthony Caringi are slated to start Saturday's games.
"We feel really good about our pitching heading into this season," Niagara coach Rob McCoy said. "We have also added a number of very talented young players on top of those returning from last year.
Offensivley, Niagara will be led by first baseman Ryan McCauley, the preseason Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year. McCauley led the MAAC last season in slugging percentage (.676), RBIs (51), doubles (20) and home runs (12).
Former Gazette player of the year Joel Klock (Grand Island) was also selected for the preseason all-MAAC team has an outfielder. Klock had a .297 batting average, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs, and a MAAC-best .445 on-base percentage.
While USC-Upstate plays 13 of its first 16 games at home, Niagara is scheduled to play 25 road games before its March 29 home opener.
The Purple Eagles' non-conference schedule also includes games against Tennessee Tech, Delaware State, Kansas State, Kansas, Toledo, Pittsburgh, St. Bonaventure, Kent State, Buffalo and Sacred Heart.
Niagara County Community College, coming off a trip to the JUCO World Series last spring, opens play March 3 with spring training games in Maryland.
Canisius, with locals Chris Gruarin (Niagara-Wheatfield), Scott Whitehead (Kenmore East), Rohn Pierce (Newfane), Mike Tolsma (Tonawanda) and Jesse Puscheck (North Tonawanda), starts play agains Albany today at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C. The Golden Griffins lost in the MAAC championship series last year.
UB, with pitcher Kevin Hughes (Starpoint), opens with a doubleheader today at North Carolina A&T. The Bulls lost only two starters from a team that advanced to the Mid-American Conference tournament for the first time ever last season.