Monday, May 24, 2010

Troy's Big 10 teams are gearing up for Section II playoffs

The baseball and softball teams from Troy High will compete in the Section II Class AA playoffs this week. Saturday, The Record caught up with players on both teams to discuss their hopes for the postseason.

Troy High juniors Gabby Daniels (left) and Lauren Cooney (right) have proven a potent duo at the top of the order and the left side of the infield for the Flying Horses this season.

MECHANICVILLE -- The Section II softball playoffs have not been kind to teams from the Big 10 Conference in recent years. Still, that won’t stop the players from Troy High and Catholic Central from trying to capture an elusive title for the league.

A Big 10 team has not appeared in a Section II championship game since 1994 (Troy lost to Saratoga Springs in the Class A game) and has not won a championship since the 1987 season when the Flying Horses defeated Columbia.

2010 Big 10 champion Catholic Central (11-1, 16-3) and runner-up Troy High (10-2, 11-6) will certainly have the odds stacked against them in the Class AA bracket, as Suburban Council teams Shenendehowa, Bethlehem and Columbia – all state-ranked during the regular season – figure to be the top three seeds.

Troy High junior shortstop Gabby Daniels runs down the first base line during a game this season. (Photos by J.S. Carras - The Record).

Catholic Central features a dynamic duo in the pitcher’s circle in Maddie Coneys and Anna Cochis. The Crusaders also pack a powerful punch in the infield with Hannah Kutny (shortstop), Amanda Case (third base), Amanda LaPlante (second base) and Kylie Benoit (first base) lining up around the horn.

Troy High only lost twice in the Big 10, both times to Catholic Central. Like the Crusaders, the Flying Horses also have options in the pitching circle, as Liz Belleville, Julie Brinkman and Ang Acierno have all shared the throwing duties.

The offense, however, has seemingly been a struggle for the Horses in big games and head coach Casey Halloran has tinkered with the lineup all season long. She believes she has finally found the right mix with Lauren Cooney and Gabby Daniels at the top.

"She (Cooney) has been working really hard," Halloran said at Mechanicville’s scrimmage tournament at McBride Fields Saturday afternoon. "Every time she gets up, she gets on. I know the Catholic High coach (Jack O’Grady) and I were talking the other day and we were talking about how every time she came up, he was like, ‘uh-oh. What do we do here?"

Cooney, who plays third base, is certainly a speedster on the basepaths. In the winter, she teamed up with Alexis Jordan, Bianca Jordan and Jenette Williams in breaking a pair of indoor track records that had stood for 24 years. Troy High had a great season out-of-doors as well and Cooney hopes to do double duty when she is a senior.

"I was going to do outdoor, but the schedules, they wouldn’t have worked out," she said. "I wouldn’t have been able to make it to a lot of track meets. But I’m going to try to do it my senior year."

Catholic Central catcher Kirsten Buchan makes a throw against Tamarac during the 2010 Uncle Sam Tournament.

Daniels is the team’s fiery vocal leader at shortstop and with her power and aggression at the plate, she’s a perfect fit for the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

Defensively, Daniels slid over to short from second base upon the graduation of Shannon Jones, who played at Siena College this spring. Jones was a once-in-a-generation slugger on the high school level. Daniels is doing her best imitation of Jones with the bat and she’s snapped up the leadership role just as easily.

"I got it from Shannon," she said. "Shannon left it with me."

The Flying Horses will learn their postseason fate Tuesday afternoon when the Section II brackets are released. Both Troy and Catholic Central are hoping to be upset specials in the talent-packed Class AA bracket.

"It’s hard when they come around," Daniels said of games against Suburban Council opponents. "We feel we have to step our game up a lot when they do."

"I think we underestimated ourselves this year," Cooney said. "But I think we did a lot better than we thought we were going to do."

Troy High seniors Iziah McCowan (left) and Steve Ziter (right) are all smiles thinking about the 2010 Section II Class AA playoffs.

CLIFTON PARK -- At first glance, Zeb Gaston looks like a junior varsity stowaway that found a varsity uniform.

The diminutive sophomore second baseman, however, has played a big role as the No. 2 hitter for the Troy High baseball team in 2010. In fact, sandwiched between two senior leaders at the top of the order, he’s been an on-base machine.

"He’s an asset on this team as a No. 2 hitter," said Troy senior designated hitter Steve Ziter, who follows him in the batting order. "He works every single pitcher. He’s a little tar¬get that makes him that much more effective because he gets on base."

Troy High sophomore second baseman Zeb Gaston has played a big role in the No. 2 hole in the lineup for the Flying Horses this season.

Troy (11-5, 12-8), which earned the Big 10 Conference No. 4 seed for the Section II Class AA playoffs, will host Suburban Council No. 5 Saratoga Springs (10-6, 11-8) in an opening round game today at 4 p.m. The winner of that game will face Suburban No. 1 Shenendehowa (14-2, 17-3) in the quarterfinal round Thursday in Clifton Park.

"I do think we have a couple of guys flying under the radar this year, but we like that," said Troy head coach Curtis Nobles. "We like those secret weapons and we just try to play hard every day."

Even with a strong senior presence on the team, Gaston’s youthful ferocity has been an inspiration to the older players.

"His heart is so big," said outfielder and pitcher Iziah McCowan after Saturday’s non-league doubleheader against Shenendehowa and Columbia at Clifton Common. "He’s aggressive and he doesn’t back down from anybody. That’s the kind of confidence we need at the plate from a starter, especially a sophomore."

Catholic Central catcher Brad Adams slides into third base during a game against Bishop Maginn. The Crusaders will play at Niskayuna in the opening round of the Section II Class AA playoffs Tuesday at 4 p.m.

McCowan has been a major factor for the Flying Horses as a leadoff hitter and as a starting pitcher. He is 5-1 in six decisions and went the distance in each of those decisions. Shoulder problems plagued him early in the season and delayed his path to the mound, but he’s hoping that he is peaking at just the right time.

"I definitely feel a lot better," said McCowan. "We’ve got warm weather coming up and a lot of pitchers love to pitch in warm weather. With arm injuries, you want to give it time and that’s what I’ve been doing. Every game I try to build it up a little more."

When he isn’t pitching, McCowan is often playing left field because of an elbow tendonitis issue that has bothered Ziter all season long. Ziter can hit – as the team’s No. 3 batter and the designated hitter, no less, he ought to be – although he admits he isn’t happy that he can’t help the team in the outfield.

"I haven’t been able to play the field, but I’ve just been trying to get it done hitting," he said. "I have to make up for not being able to play the field."

La Salle's Kyle Sacks ducks out of the way of a pitch during a game against CBA played at Joe Bruno Stadium on May 13.

The three other teams from the Collar City also fared well in playoff positioning. La Salle (15-1, 16-4), the Big 10’s No. 1 seed, earned a first round bye and will host the Niskayuna (10-6, 11-7, Suburban No. 4)/Catholic Central (10-6, 13-7, Big 10 No. 5) winner Thursday at Geer Field.
Lansingburgh (10-4, 10-9) is the No. 3 seed in the Class A bracket and will host No. 6 South Glens Falls (10-4, 10-9) Thursday at 4 p.m.

Still, the Troy High team, which had high hopes heading into 2010, is ready to shine in the second season.

"To win it all," Gaston said. "Just to win it all. That’s it. From day one, our goal was to win it all."

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