SPRINGVILLE — Six returning starters headline West Valley’s varsity baseball team. After advancing into the second round of the playoffs, for the first time in four years, West Valley will look for a few players to fill voids, due to graduation, and improve on the team’s 10-10 record from last season.
“The juniors and a couple seniors that are coming back just have to fill the holes of the guys we lost last year,” said West Valley’s fourth-year coach Bryan Hansen. “We should be OK in the top of our lineup; we’re just looking for a couple younger kids to have a bigger impact in our hitting lineup, this year.”
West Valley will have to replace first-team all-star Cole Stanbro, who is now playing at Alfred State College.
“When you have a kid that bats .400 and has that much experience on varsity and you lose him, it’s always tough to fill,” Hansen said, of losing Stanbro.
Senior Derek Wells will be the team’s No. 1 pitcher, after going 4-1 on the mound as a junior, posting a 2.31 earned run average and racking up 53 strikeouts. Wells will also play catcher and shortstop, for the Wildcats.
“He hits the corners very well with his fastball,” Hansen said. “He has really good command of his fastball. Plus, he’s able to throw his curveball for a strike. He pitched our playoff game that we won against Ellicottville last year and that gave him a ton of confidence. I think that’s going to prove to pay off, this year.”
Wells struggled offensively last season – hitting .179, but was able to able to reach base a lot and get things going, as the team’s leadoff hitter. Hansen has penciled Wells in the leadoff spot, once again.
“I cross my fingers that he can bounce back from last year’s season,” Hansen said. “Even though his average was low, he had a lot of impact in games – sacrificing himself a lot and things like that. Those are things that might not show up in the average stat line.”
Another returner is Jared Ras, who will pitch and play shortstop. As a sophomore, Ras hit .389 and led the team with 14 RBIs. Ras was tied for the team-lead in runs scored. Ras will be West Valley’s No. 2 pitcher, after having 25 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched, last year.
Senior Collin Proctor also came back, after hitting .281 last season. Proctor also led the team in walks, with 12, had a .446 on-base-percentage and was second on the team in steals, with 9. Proctor will use his speed to play centerfield for the Wildcats.
“He’s really athletic and tracks the ball really well,” Hansen said. “He doesn’t have the softest hands, but I think he’ll get the job done, out there.”
Junior Austin Wierzba returned to play third base and be the team’s No. 3 pitcher. Junior Patrick Enser hit .298 last season and played some third base, but will move to the outfield, this year. Junior Emil Erlandson will be the team’s starting catcher, after seeing limited playing time, last year.
Junior Jon Zimmer will move to first base this season and has impressed Hansen, early on.
“Just in the couple of days we were outside, his mobility at first base is very nice to see,” Hansen said, of Zimmer. “It’s promising. He’s been hitting the ball in the cage very well, too.”
Senior Mike Nowak, who hit .333 last year, returned to play second base. Hansen noted that sophomore Stephan Martinkiewicz has shown promise on the mound, early on and may be able to throw some innings, this spring.
“The biggest thing for the team is going to be staying healthy,” Hansen said. “We’re not deep, at all. If we do come up with some injuries or battle injuries, then it could be a longer season for us. If we can stay healthy, we are as good as anyone to win the league.”
West Valley had a doubleheader against Chautauqua Lake on March 29 that was postponed, due to field conditions. Other cancellations included games against Randolph and Brocton on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
West Valley’s next scheduled game is on April 5, when the team hosts Clymer.