Wallenpaupack Area's varsity baseball team is deep into preparations for the 2014 campaign
Last year, the Wallenpaupack Area's varsity baseball team got off a sluggish start.
The Buckhorns posted just one early season win over Western Wayne, then remained cold most of the year until they hit a three-game winning streak at the end of the Lackawanna League season.
Coach Todd Schmalzle's lads did advance to the District Two Class AAAA playoffs, but were knocked out of the title chase by Wyoming Valley West.
With the loss of key players, Cameron Wolfson, Ean Hibian, Brandon Newsome and James Goetz Paupack will be looking to fill those roles and build upon the strengths of returning upperclassmen.
This season, Paupack will be returning eight seniors, six of which are likely starters.
While Coach Schmalzle anticipates at least one junior will be among the starters, he noted that there is a strong core of freshmen players this season.
Those youngsters, along with several sophomores, could well be competing for starting slots.
Schmalzle cited Mitch Guerrieri, Chris Brindle, Austin Gilpin and Aaron Husson as underclassmen who could be seeing some significant time on the varsity diamond.
“All of the freshmen have pitching experience and they are all going to get a shot,” Schmalzle said.
Also in the Buckhorns’ bullpen are a strong crop of juniors.
Dave Ortiz, who found himself mostly in a relief role last year looks to be a possible starter.
John Pillar and Pavel Sprague will be in the rotation as well. Adding to the depth of Paupack's pitching staff are seniors Alec Babyak and Dan Skibber.
Taking up residence behind the plate once more will be Mike Henry.
Now in his senior year, Henry brings sharpened skill and heightened experience to a position that demands leadership abilities.
With the first base slot having been vacated by Wolfson, Henry’s presence will offer some stability along the right side of the infield until either John Pillar or Luke Camuso settle into that position.
When not pitching, Babyak will also shore up the defenses at second base while Joe Budnovitch will take up residence in the hot corner.
Don’t be surprised to see some shifting going on around the horn either.
Schmalzle stated that the infield is still open to change. Budnovitch is a utility player and can wind up in the outfield or wearing a mask and a chest protector.
Shortstop, too, became an open position as well with the departures of Goetz and Newsome, who often swapped roles.
Sam Vargas will be giving senior leadership from center field. However, with Skibber in right and Ortiz in left, when neither is on the mound, it’s safe to say that the Buckhorn outfield possesses both veteran ability as well as insight.
Schmalzle noted that there will also be some juniors and sophomores vying to be the back-ups for Skibber and Ortiz when they pitch.
Babyak will be looked upon to provide the offensive leadership Paupack needs.
He sported a .340 average last season and is a capable lead-off runner as well.
Ortiz and Henry also bring some swat to the lineup and if they get hot could really drive the ball well for the Buckhorns.
Schmalzle admits that the capability is there for many players to do well at the plate, but there needs to be consistency.
Paupack struggled in the Lackawanna League last spring, going 3-10 and tying for last place with Western Wayne in Division II.
One has a hard time figuring out what strategy will suit the Bucks best for this upcoming season.
The boost to the bullpen leads one to believe Paupack pitching will be called upon to keep opposing teams in check at the plate and use the fielders to stop the majority of the base runners thus allowing the Bucks to squeak wins in with minimal scoring
However, should they get their bats going at a steady rate, the modus operandi of the team could easily switch to one where power at the plate becomes the driving force and pressure on the pitchers could be significantly reduced.
The potential for that to happen is certainly there, all anyone can do at this point in the season is hand on and wait to see what develops.