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Varsity Falcons swinging for the fences

March 16, 2015

by Justin Porreca

With the weather changing and snow melting, it’s almost time for the Albany High Falcons varsity baseball team to put the eye black on, grab their gloves and get back on the diamond for another season.

The varsity team finished their annual try-outs last Wednesday and are now rigorously preparing for the upcoming 2015 season.

Albany High’s Three-Headed Monster From Left: Senior Quinn MacDonald, Junior Liam Owens and Senior Brendan Murphy/Justin Porreca

Albany High’s Three-Headed Monster
From Left:
Senior Quinn MacDonald, Junior Liam Owens and Senior Brendan Murphy/Justin Porreca

The Falcons finished 7-9 last season in the soon to be defunct Big 10 Council Conference. This season will be a unique one for the Falcons, because they are stuck in limbo after the unraveling of the Big 10 Council last June. Since Albany High is now in an independent conference for a season, they were forced to build their own schedule. Coaches all across the demolished Big 10 Council had to call around to find games. This season’s schedule will include games against former Big 10 Council rivals Christian Brothers Academy and La Salle.

The Falcons will enter the competitive Suburban Council next season and will go head to head against the likes of yearly powerhouses, Shenendehowa, Niskayuna and Colonie. Head coach Garett Baron is fretting the jump.

“This year will give us a good look at where we will fit with the Suburban Council,” said Baron. “It’s a more challenging conference with excellent players and it will be an uphill challenge. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Regardless of the challenge and competitive nature they will be embarking on next season, the savvy veteran coach will prepare his team for success.

The East Greenbush native initially started coaching right after his baseball career ended at Ithaca College. Baron was an assistant coach for Ithaca from 2002 to 2003. He left his alma mater for a part-time assistant coaching role with State University of New York at Albany in 2004. He stayed at UAlbany from 2004 to 2012 as a part-time and full-time assistant coach.

While coaching the UAlbany Great Danes baseball team, Baron also coached the Saratoga Phillies on the side and he led them to their first New York Collegiate Baseball League title in 2006. He also coached the Spartanburg Stingers of the Coastal Plains league in South Carolina; Baron coached them to their first playoff appearance.

After leaving the University at Albany in 2012, Baron joined the Albany High baseball coaching staff. He is now entering his third season as the varsity Falcons head coach.

“The best part about coaching at the high school level is that you see a clear development in the kids. You can see a transformation in not only their baseball skills, but their maturity,” said Baron.

Before the season begins on April 4 the Albany High Falcons are already battling a mighty opponent, Mother Nature. With the fluctuating temperatures, from frigid to seasonably warm, and the Plumeri Sports Complex at Saint Rose, the team’s home field, still covered in snow, it’s unlikely the team will hit the diamond before opening day.

“What’s good is that these kids are used to the 40 degree weather in the first three weeks of the season, but we’ll get out as soon as we can,” said Baron.

Even with the 40-degree weather, there is still fear of the team losing out on key scrimmages. The snow has to fully melt and the field has to dry up for the team to take the action outside, but it still may be to soggy for them to play within the coming weeks.

“Who knows. If we get more weather like this week we might, but it’s a long shot to get anything done in March,” he said.

To escape the chaotic Northeast weather, the Falcons will attend a training camp in Baltimore, Maryland from this Thursday to Sunday. They will be traveling with Ballston Spa and the training camp will consist of conditioning training, skills development, game situation drills, live pitching off the mound, and in the end live scrimmaging. This short mini-camp for the Falcons will allow them to get some repetitions in on the diamond since there is a strong chance the team will lose out on some of their upcoming scrimmages.

Senior outfielders Aidan Ryan and Brendan Murphy preparing the next drill for the outfielders/Justin Porreca

Senior outfielders Aidan Ryan and Brendan Murphy preparing the next drill for the outfielders/Justin Porreca

Although only entering his third season as head coach, Baron has garnered the utmost appreciation from his players and he has a major impact on the performance of his guys on and off the diamond.

“Coach Baron has always been respectful of the game and he always preaches that kids today don’t take it (baseball) as a privilege and coach Baron has instilled that in me, that I should take the game as a privilege because it could be taken away from me,” said junior Liam Owens.

Senior, Brendan Murphy, is another key player for the Falcons who has been impacted by Baron’s presence. “On the field, he’s a field general. Off the field, he’s a role model and a family man. He was a good baseball player, and he’s turned into a great coach.”

When the Falcon players aren’t suiting up in the Albany High uniform, the majority of them are suiting up for other teams in various leagues. Playing in summer ball leagues allows the players to improve upon their game to better themselves for the following season. Star senior Quinn MacDonald traveled to Florida to participate in the prestigious International Baseball Academy and last summer played in the Connie Mack and Mickey Mantle League in Albany. Owens plays for the Capital District Storm, a travel baseball team stationed in Kinderhook and senior Aidan Ryan plays in the Albany Babe Ruth League.

As for the 2015 season, the Albany High Falcons have high expectations not only for themselves, but also for the team.

MacDonald, in his third year on varsity, was first team All-Big 10 last season and as a sophomore was second team, and he is gunning for first team honors again this year. MacDonald is the number one pitcher and on his off days is the starting third baseman. He posted a .382 batting average, 21 hits and 21 RBIs in 2014. On the mound, he was 2-4, posted a 3.29 ERA and had 42 strikeouts in eight appearances.

“In regards to myself, I don’t want to be disappointed in myself and I don’t want regrets about my game when I lay down at night. I want to be proud of myself game in and out when I step off the field,” said Owens.

As a sophomore, Owens was the starting catcher on varsity, a position he transitioned to from pitcher. Owens, who primarily sits behind the plate, hit .216, had eight hits and six RBIs last season. He is looking to take a huge step from his sophomore to junior campaign.

The Falcons also have junior Klyne Ludewick and seniors Murphy and Ryan to rely on this season for solid offensive and defensive support. Murphy, who primarily plays left field, also prides himself on being a utility player or versatile player who can play various positions on the diamond. Last season, Murphy posted a .232 batting average, 13 hits and nine RBIs; and Ludewick, as a sophomore hit .347, had 17 hits and 14 RBIs.

As for Ryan, he hit .050, had one hit and two RBIs, but he is looking to drastically improve his numbers and plate discipline this season. “Well personally, I’m expecting a good season, especially at the plate. Last season I had a bad season at the plate and I’m trying to change that,” he said. “I’ve been going to the intramurals here, we set up the cages and get a lot of hitting in. I’ve been going to those to get help from Baron on hitting.”

Senior Aidan Ryan perfecting his crow hop for the upcoming season/Justin Porreca

Senior Aidan Ryan perfecting his crow hop for the upcoming season/Justin Porreca

As for the seniors this is their final stint as Albany High baseball players. This is the end of the road for them and there is quite a bit they will miss once the final pitch is thrown.

“I’m going to really miss the team, I’ve been playing with these guys since little league. As for coach Baron, we were lucky to get him, he’s a great coach,” said MacDonald.

Ryan also felt the same way about the team he will be leaving in May. “I’m going to miss my friends. It’s a great sport to develop and keep a friendship. I’ve played a lot of sports and baseball has the deepest brotherhood,” he said.

Once the curtain falls in May, MacDonald would like to continue to play baseball when he goes off to college. He is looking at Saint John’s University in Queens, Le Moyne College, University of New Haven and East Connecticut State. Ryan is not looking to continue his baseball career in college, but may play club ball at the college of his choice. He is  considering the University of Georgia, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Buffalo and Fordham University. Lastly, Murphy is undecided on whether he wants to play baseball at the college level or not. If not, he would still like to keep playing recreationally. He is looking at the state University at Oswego.

The varsity Falcons first scheduled scrimmage is on March 25, but with the weather and field conditions; there is a low probability they will play that game. The regular season for the Falcons starts on April 4, where they will play a double-header at Ichabod Crane and then at Chatham. Opening day for the Falcons at Plumeri Sports Complex is April 11 against Albany Academy.

“Baseball is a game of failure and you have to realize you’re going to fail to become successful,” Owens said. -30-


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