The Saugerties High School varsity baseball team enters the 2018 season hoping to extend the legacy of last year’s impressive campaign, which saw the team go 16-7-1 overall, win the Section IX, Class A title, and make it all the way to the Capital Region semifinals of the state tournament before their Cinderella season came to an end.
“We’re coming off of a year where we kind of did some things people really didn’t expect us to do,” said the Sawyers’ third-year coach Michael Pugliese. “Everyone on the team and around the team, we all expected that, but we may have surprised some people. This year coming in, expectations are high among everybody. We have ten seniors, and this is a team that’s had some success.”
The team’s 2017 run ended with an 8-4 loss to Vestal. It was the final high school game for six seniors, a graduation which erased the team’s entire starting outfield. But this season’s team is a potentially electrifying mix of seniors and underclassmen, all of whom seem to feel they’ve got something to prove.
“Our first conversation this season as a team was about having a chip on our shoulders and remembering what it was like to get to this point, and now everyone has a target on us,” Pugliese said. “Everyone is going to be motivated to beat us. But we remain hungry. So far I like what I’m seeing.”
The Sawyers wrap up a run of scrimmages through the end of March, jumping feet first into the regular slate with three non-league home games at Cantine Field over four days. It begins with a visit from Onteora on Tuesday, April 3, followed two days later when Port Jervis comes to town. After a home game against Monticello on Friday, April 6, Saugerties begins league play with a trip to Wallkill on Monday, April 9. That first league week they’ll host New Paltz (April 10) and travel to FDR (April 12.)
“That should give us an idea of what our division looks like,” said Pugliese. “And obviously Wallkill and New Paltz are also Class A schools. Those are teams we’ll see one more time in league play and maybe in sectionals.”
This season’s quad-captains include seniors Michael Averill (outfield, pitcher), Nick Brennan (catcher, DH) and Kieran Defino (pitcher, catcher, infielder), and sophomore Randy Dodig (second base, shortstop).
“I let the players pick the captains,” said Pugliese. “We have another sophomore, Ty Gallagher. Both him and Randy are very good players, and in order for us to make the impact we want to make and reach the goals we want to reach, they both have to be very good this year. They both started as freshmen last year. They’re our one and three hitters. They’re an important part of our team.”
Gallagher (1B) and Dodig (2B) are joined in the infield by seniors Evan Normann (SS) and Jake Roberti (3B). Those four are also the top of the batting order, and they’ll be relied upon to help stabilize the team early in the season while the outfield comes together.
“We lost our starting outfielders from last year, so realistically they need to carry us both offensively and defensively while we work some things out in the bottom of our order and in the outfield,” Pugliese said.
Pugliese expects the pitching rotation to include Defino, senior Drew Reynolds and junior Rick Janssen, with senior Brett Igoe working out of the bullpen. But the team boasts a number of arms that could be called upon to take the mound over the course of the season. “We have nine, ten guys that can pitch,” Pugliese said. “We did a ten-inning scrimmage on Saturday, and we had each guy throw one inning. We’re just working some things out.”
The Sawyers are hoping to work on their consistency from year to year. They hope 2018 isn’t a letdown from what they accomplished in 2017. “We want to get to the point where we’re a program that is expecting to be contending for the sectional championship every year,” Pugliese explained. “In order for that to happen, we need to put a couple of good years together here. It’s only my third year here, but we looked at the last couple of sectional championships and we’ve been under .500 after the last two sectional championships. We need to establish a standard for the program.”
To make that happen, players have to buy in. “It’s about commitment,” Pugliese said. “In the offseason we have our summer program. Some kids play other sports, but once January hits it’s about making sure you get better as a baseball player.”
The Sawyers have begun a bridge program, with some varsity players working with Little League teams, and JV players working with kids on teams for younger kids.
Pugliese is also hoping to get even more people out to games than in the past. He noted a trio of Saturday night games at Cantine Field this season, beginning with a visit from non-league opponent Ballston Spa at 7 p.m. on April 21 as part of that push. “We’d like to get the community involved and get people here and just kind of build a program that everyone is talking about and wants to be a part of,” Pugliese said.
Some of that excitement will come from Cantine itself, the crown jewel of baseball in the Hudson Valley. And some of that excitement will have to come from what the Sawyers do on that hallowed ground.
“I coached in Section I for four years, I coached in Section II for four years,” Pugliese said. “I played in Section IX, and now I’m coaching in my third year here. We have the best facilities on this side of the state, and I don’t even know if there’s anything better on the other side of the state. It kind of produces expectations to go along with it. But when you have great facilities and a great standard of baseball, we have to make sure our work habits are matching those. We have to make sure the kids aren’t just showing up and expecting they’re going to win because they’re from Saugerties or because their grandfathers or uncles were good baseball players.”