MCS baseball team will need players to step up

According to Margaretville baseball coach John Bernhardt, how well his kids pitch and play defense will determine how competitive the Blue Devils will be on the baseball field this spring.
“Almost every team in the league brings a solid pitching ace, and we’re no exception,” Bernhardt explained. “In some respects the quality of the number two and three arms on every team is going to determine which clubs compete at the top of the league.”
Senior Kyle Short returns for his fourth varsity season, his third as the ace of the Margaretville pitching staff.
“Kyle is very athletic, a gritty competitor who gives us a chance to win every time he takes the ball to the mound,” noted Bernhardt. The stats bear out the Margaretville coach’s assessment. Margaretville won six of the eight games Short started last season with the senior right hander compiling a 2.49 ERA while fanning 78 batters in 49 innings.
Junior first baseman Matt VanValkenburg worked out of the bullpen last year, throwing 14 innings over nine appearances, winning one game and saving two. Bernhardt likes the contrast provided in using his tall, left-handed option in relief and would prefer to continue with VanValkenburg in that role this spring. That will depend on how quickly Eric Mathiesen’s pitching game develops. Bernhardt is hoping Mathiesen, who plays shortstop when he’s not pitching, can evolve into a competent second starter.

Strong behind the plate
Margaretville has experience behind the plate with third-year catcher Cooper Reither.
“Cooper’s an old fashioned baseball guy who works with the pitcher’s well,” Bernhardt praised when describing the Blue Devils’ catcher. “Cooper should be one of the better backstops in the league.”
Bernhardt raves about VanValkenburg’s defensive play around the bag at first base. “Matt played a flawless first base as a sophomore. His glove work around the bag is a huge boost for our infielders who lack playing experience,” explained the Margaretville coach.
Two upperclassmen, senior Sam Caprotti and junior Yair Sanchez are playing baseball for the first time. Caprotti will man third base and Sanchez will split time with freshman Tristan Santiago at second base as well as try his hand in the outfield. Bernhardt is impressed with the work ethic of both novices.
“Baseball isn’t the easiest sport to pick up late in your high school years, but these guys work very hard and are making forward progress,” noted Bernhardt. “Let’s face it. If Sam and Yair hadn’t decided to give baseball a try, we wouldn’t have fielded a team this year.”
Bernhardt also notes the enthusiasm and good glove work turned in by Santiago in the preseason.

Outfield experience
Junior Ethan Bush and sophomore Danny Conroy will be the foundation of a brand new Blue Devils outfield. Both played the infield last season, Conroy at third and Bush at second, but their ability to track a ball in the air and the loss of all three outfielders from last year’s team necessitates the change.
Offensive production is a concern, but Bernhardt is hoping this group can lengthen the batting order a bit and run the bases well. Short led the team batting at .408 last year with a team- leading nine extra base hits and 15 RBIs. VanValkenburg batted .321 at the top of the order last season, stole nine bases and scored 14 runs.
Bernhardt is expecting solid contact hitting from Mathiesen, Bush, and Conroy and a bounce- back season at the plate from Reither. Caprotti has shown flashes of power with the bat, and Bernhardt is working with Sanchez and Santiago to improve their plate discipline.

Working hard
Bernhardt is impressed with the work attitude and work ethic of his team in the preseason.
“It’s tough being cooped up in the gym with the baseball diamond snow covered during the preseason, but these guys are working hard to maintain their focus and concentration. This is the best work output during the offseason of any team during the last three years. That makes things meaningful,” the coach commented.
The Margaretville coach expects an improved level of play across the Delaware League with many teams returning large portions of the previous year’s roster. Upper Division defending champion Stamford and a solid Windham squad have earned the roles as favorites.