None of last year’s five Section 4 baseball champions won their conference championship. That speaks volumes about the depth of talent throughout the section.
“Sometimes it’s almost harder to come out of your own back yard than it is to do anything,” said Tim Harkness, head coach of defending Class AA champ Union-Endicott. “We play these guys twice a year (in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference). They know us, we know them. It’s very competitive among our division, it’s very competitive in the West Division. Anybody at any time can beat anybody. And it’s the same again this year.”
The Tigers beat three-time defending champion Horseheads for the Class AA title after the Blue Raiders captured the STAC tournament crown.
The Class A title went to Maine-Endwell with a memorable comeback win over Metro Division champ Vestal.
Then there was Binghamton Seton Catholic Central, which came through the STAC to capture the program’s first state championship in Class C.
SCC’s road included a sectional final win over 2012 state champion Lansing, which won the Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large School title over Waverly, which ended up winning its first sectional championship in Class B. Such is life in Section 4.
“Starting with the seventh-grade modified team, I have always told our players that more than any other high school sport, Section 4 baseball is as good any other section in New York,” SCC head coach Jim Miller said. “Our STAC conference has generated a state champion in each of the last three seasons.
“It was tougher getting out of our section in 2013 than winning the three state tournament games. Thomas Edison was tied with us 4-4 going into the bottom of the sixth inning, Lansing was a 4-3 final, with (Michael) Korchak’s fifth-inning home run breaking the 3-3 tie. And our first game with Bainbridge-Guilford was a struggle, with us getting the only two runs scored in the game during our half of the sixth inning.”
The IAC Large School Division, already one of the top divisions in the state for teams in Class B and below, got even stronger this year with the addition of perennial power Edison. The South also includes Class D sectional runner-up Elmira Notre Dame and Waverly, while the North features Lansing and potentially dangerous teams in Trumansburg and Dryden.
“It’s going to be a real dogfight,” said new Edison head coach Zack Brown.
If any Section 4 teams break through to the state final four, they’ll again be able to play close to home again, with the Binghamton area hosting all five classes June 14.
Horseheads will try to reclaim its status as the top Class AA team in the section without first-team all-state pitcher/infielder Dylan Manwaring, who is now in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system.
The Blue Raiders’ young roster is in contrast to defending champion U-E, which has seven starters back from the team that beat Horseheads, 8-6, in the sectional final.
Union-Endicott’s lineup includes all-state shortstop C.J. Krowiak, a three-sport star who also helped the Tigers to sectional titles in football and basketball this school year.
Corning is a Class A team by enrollment but elected to play in AA, where it has been since Corning East and Corning West merged before the 2010-11 school year. The Hawks return several key players from a 10-9 team, including senior infielder/outfielder Zachary Sullivan, a potential major league draft pick who has signed to play at Stony Brook.
The longest streak of success in Section 4 belongs to Maine-Endwell, which captured its sixth straight sectional title last season with an 11-9 victory over Vestal. The Spartans trailed 8-0 after six innings before prevailing in eight innings.
That loss was a rare blemish on a 15-3 season for Vestal that included the STAC Metro Division title and a berth in the tournament title game.
Waverly broke through for its first Section 4 championship last year, downing Oneonta for the Class B title. The Wolverines are a young team and no longer have all-state pitching ace Pat Bronson, who is now at Cortland State.
Oneonta had its bid for back-to-back state titles ended with the loss to Waverly and 2011 state champion Chenango Valley returns after beating out Oneonta for last year’s STAC East title.
An already strong Class C gets even stronger with the addition of Notre Dame, the sectional runner-up in Class D last season.
The Class C field also includes Seton Catholic Central, Lansing, 2011 state semifinalist Thomas A. Edison and defending MAC tournament champion Unatego.
Among the six starters back for the Saints is senior southpaw Korchak, who has committed to play at Bucknell University after posting a 9-0 record and 0.47 ERA last season. Also returning are shortstop Rob Olsen, Le Moyne-bound third baseman Neil McCormack, center fielder Connor McCormack, infielder/pitcher David George and catcher Tyler Krowiak.
Former assistant Brown takes over at Edison for Mike Bennett, who stepped down as coach to focus on his duties as Edison’s football coach. Under Bennett the Spartans won four Section 4 titles from 2006 to 2011 and last year went 18-4 and won the IAC Small School championship.
“It’s great because I’ve got (Bennett) as a resource as an athletic director,” Brown said. “I worked with Mike a long time and we consider it the Edison way. He’s done such a great job, so the kids come in and they understand our expectations.”
Lansing had a 42-game winning streak that ended last year against Trumansburg behind its southpaw ace, Cam Lueder. Lueder, 8-2 as a junior, is one of eight returning starters for the Blue Raiders.
A 20-6 season for Hancock ended in disappointing fashion, with the Wildcats losing 14-0 to Fort Ann in the Class D state final.
With first-team all-state players Ryan Smith and Eli Holton among several experienced players who are back, Hancock is poised to make a bid for a fifth straight Section 4 title and possibly another deep run in the state tournament.