Bulldogs ready to defend NFL title
The 2011 baseball season is something Kenmore East head coach Les Simon will remember for a long time.
Simon’s Bulldogs won the Niagara Frontier League title for the first time in 17 years as they defeated Niagara Falls on May 21 to claim the regular season crown on their way to a 13-8 overall record. For Simon, it was the biggest thrill of his career as a baseball coach, which stretched back to 1979.
“It was tremendous,” Simon said of last season. “It’s something that will stay with me. It’s a crowning achievement. It had been 17 years since Kenmore East last won a championship. It’s something to cherish. It can never be taken away and it stays with you forever.”
Now Simon is hoping for even more in 2012. They earned the third seed for the Class A-1 playoffs last season and found themselves just three outs away from knocking off Hamburg in the semifinals. The wheels came off, though, and Hamburg rallied to tie the game before winning in the ninth inning. Simon would like to add a Class A-1 postseason run to a list of accomplishments with a second consecutive league title.
“Contending for the NFL title is a yearly goal,” Simon said. “We want to be better at the end of the year than the start and position ourselves for a run at sectionals. Defending our title is our primary goal and we want that winning feeling for the new guys.”
The new guys will be key as Kenmore East has suffered some significant losses from the roster. The Bulldogs had 12 seniors leave to graduation and suffered a big loss before the season began when Don Battista, who hit .489 last year, had shoulder surgery and was shut down for the year. Simon is a little concerned about how he will replace all the pieces that departed this year.
“Last year was a go-for-it year,” Simon said. “We had a lot of senior talent. We have some still there this year. Hopefully they can lead us in a transition year.”
Simon is counting on his pitching staff and middle of the batting order to lead the Bulldogs this season. Dan Giliforte will be key to the success of both. Though he’s coming off a sprained ankle, Simon considers Giliforte to be one of the top four or five pitchers in the NFL. Simon said he needs him to be an ace once a week for the Bulldogs. He will also play shortstop and contribute with some offense on the days he doesn't pitch.
One of the top hitters in the lineup is outfielder Jordan Wainwright, a third-year senior and a team captain. Joining him in the outfield will be sophomore Preston Smith and senior PJ Blanch, who returns to the team after focusing solely on basketball in 2011. He will be Kenmore East’s lead-off hitter.
Other hitters to watch in the lineup are seniors Ryan Cacciatore, Jason Weatherby and Brian Silvashy, along with freshman infielder Luke Simmons. Providing depth are juniors Zach Glaspy and John Mirabella.
The pitching staff is a bit of a question mark after Giliforte. Last year’s staff included five seniors. The Bulldogs are turning to young pitchers up from JV to replace them. They’ve had mixed success in Kenmore East’s preseason scrimmages. Juniors Tyler Gibson and Devon Taggart along with sophomore Jeff White are newcomers to the rotation this year.
“They can give us length to keep us in games,” Simon said. “Right now it’s hard to project how they’re going to do. Can they replace the guys we had? No, but they’re good players.”
Kenmore East’s season got off to a disappointing start on April 2 with a 12-0 loss at Albion. The Bulldogs had a week to think about that game before heading down to Myrtle Beach, S.C. this week for the Mingo Bay Tournament at Socastee High School. Kenmore East lost to Pleasure Ridge Park on Monday and faced Cassadaga Valley on Tuesday after The Bee went to press.
Simon says the trip to South Carolina gives the team a great chance to come together every year.
“The team bonding is something that sets this trip apart,” Simon said. “It’s the crown jewel of our season. We go against top competition and it gives the team time to bond on and off the field. It’s a springboard for the rest of the season. It’s a tremendous experience and we’re very proud to do it.”
The Bulldogs return to Western New York next week and will visit Niagara-Wheatfield at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday. Their first home game is Thursday, April 19, at 4:45 p.m. against Lockport. When the Bulldogs return home, they will be looking to start their march to a defense of their NFL title. After falling short for 17 years, Simon hopes the standard now is to win the league title every year.
“Winning the title sets the standard,” Simon said. “I hope these young guys see the sign and know the standard.”
Kenmore East’s 2012 Schedule
4-17 @ Niag-Wheatfield .. 4:45 p.m.
4-19 Lockport ................. 4:45 p.m.
4-20 Lew-Port ................. 4:45 p.m.
4-23 @ NT ...................... 4:45 p.m.
4-25 Grand Island ........... 4:45 p.m.
4-26 Kenmore West ........ 4:45 p.m.
4-30 Niagara Falls .......... 4:45 p.m.
5-2 @ Lew-Port ............... 4:45 p.m.
5-3 Niagara-Wheatfield ... 4:45 p.m.
5-7 @ Lockport ............... 4:45 p.m.
5-9 North Tonawanda ..... 4:45 p.m.
5-10 @ Grand Island ....... 4:45 p.m.
5-11 @ Kenmore West .... 6:30 p.m.
5-16 @ Niagara Falls ...... 4:45 p.m.
5-18 Tonawanda ............. 4:45 p.m.