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February 19, 2016

Tradition

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

As an additional reward for being thrust into the spotlight as a national champion, SUNY Cortland head baseball coach Joe Brown was suddenly someone in demand.
So the Red Dragons skipper spent a chunk of his post-season as an uneasy guest speaker at events like the American Baseball Coaches Association convention, a Western New York coaching clinic and a gathering of baseball folks at the Mohegan Sun Casino.
It’s not that Coach Brown lacks the gift of gab or suffers stage fright. That’s hardly the case.
Heading into this 17th season as the Cortland boss, Brown was simply reluctant to reveal or share any secrets concerning a successful program that has now played in the NCAA Division III tournament for 23 consecutive springs. That’s the longest active streak among Division III schools.
Last year’s World Series victory was the first time Cortland has come home from Wisconsin as a national champion after a dozen previous attempts since 1995, going unbeaten in five games to finish off a school-best 45-4 campaign.
Though some crucial folks have departed from that squad, like dependable pitchers Brandon Serio and Brandon McClain along with key middle infielders Anthony Simon at shortstop and Mark DeMilio at second base, Cortland still has enough talent around to be ranked No. 1 in a pair of pre-season polls.
Coach Brown will know more about his team when the Red Dragons head to Maryland this weekend to take on No. 4 nationally-ranked Salisbury, slated for 1 p.m. Saturday and noontime Sunday outings.
“Just because we won doesn’t mean we don’ t have things to improve on. We could have been out in two (games) in the regionals,” noted Brown, Cortland displaying an uncanny knack for coming from behind to capture the New York State Regional title in Auburn before going on to sweep up at the eight-team World Series gathering.
“We need to improve. Just because we did what we did, we have to get better,” he added. “We didn’t have a great fall. It was a championship hangover for a month and a half until we finally realized we’re on to 2016. Since then, it’s been much better.”
PITCHING IS THE most vital ingredient to Cortland success, especially when games get bunched with the inevitable weather postponements.
Senior team captain Seth Lamando (6-0, 1.16 earned run average) is the best of the returning starters, where depth was lost with the graduation of Serio (8-0, 1.70) and McClain (6-1, 2.33).
Junior Ben Moxley, an Oneonta native who was at Herkimer County Community College and Division I Siena before coming to Cortland, is among the newcomers who should fit right into the rotation. Cazenovia native Tanner Whiteman is also aboard, the senior right-hander having played at Division I Maryland-Eastern Shore previously.
Coach Brown brought in a bunch of junior college throwers, and will hope juniors Sean DeBrosky (Ulster), Jeff Cooke (Mohawk Valley) and Mike Mills (Sullivan County) are good fits to the staff. There are a bunch of veteran relievers back to bolster things, too, like seniors Adam Brant (4-1, 1.08 ERA), team captain Tyler Brien (2-0, 2.84), Travis Laitar (0-0. 1.86) and Turner Parry (0-0. 3.18).
“You’re combining those new arms with the entire bullpen being back,” said Coach Brown. “We have more arms than last year. Whether they’re good or better, we’ll find out this weekend.”
The pitching staff should be in good hands with all three of Cortland’s rookie catchers returning for their sophomore seasons — Justin Teague (.323 batting average), Connor Manderson (.342) and Matt Personius (.425).
THE INFIELD HAS depth at the corners. Senior team captain Austin Clock (.317) is back at first base, and Sean Getman (.294) is a junior out of Oneonta who has been looking good at the position. A pair of productive third basemen in junior Matt Michalski (.369) and sophomore Patrick Schetter (.429) are also back in the fold.
Senior captain Keith Andrews (.400) at shortstop and senior second baseman Connor Griffin (.409) — a Cortland High graduate who was a SUNY Athletic Conference all-star a year ago — are back to help ease the loss of Simon an DeMilio.
Junior Steven Figueroa brings a potent bat to the middle infield competition from Westchester CC, while freshman infielder Paul Dondero out of East Islip had shown pre-season promise.
Senior Conrad Ziemendorf heads up the outfield (.369), joined by junior Nick Hart (.430) and senior Fabio Ricci (.400). Coach Brown has also converted sophomore Ralph Nuzzi to an outfield spot, having been a back-up first baseman previously.
Winning a national title has also brought in a bunch of frosh prospects, though Coach Brown is even more excited about the following year’s class of recruits.
“The kids who came up last year as freshmen are solid, and having won it (the national title) opened up some doors for us that exceeded our expectations,” said Brown of his recruiting efforts. “We’re just looking for quality arms, guys who have success, and not worried how fast they run the 40 or how hard they throw. It’s how well they play baseball.”
CORTLAND WILL HAVE to play good baseball early, Brown saying the first 14-to-16 games being the toughest schedule stretch his team will experience. The Red Dragons will face 14 foes currently ranked in the College Baseball top 40 rankings.
Oswego, ranked 31st, is among that bunch — and will provide the main competition in Cortland’s bid to win a 34th consecutive SUNYAC title.
“That’s the first step, being at home,” said Coach Brown of the goal of hosting the SUNYAC playoffs, where the winner earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.
Cortland has 17 games scheduled — including a March 12-19 trip to Florida including opening up conference play against New Paltz — before hosting 37th-ranked Ithaca College in its Wallace Field home opener on March 22.

 

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