By Sam Wilson
Winning has followed the Ellicottville Central School senior class in football (with Franklinville) and basketball for the last three or four years. Chris Mendell hopes this season his senior-laden group can add a winning basketball season to its resume.
The Eagles returns 10 letterwinners and seven starters from a 6-10 2017 baseball team, led by eight seniors. While the 20th-year coach acknowledges some question marks, the team started practice with the leadership and poise you’d expect from that experience.
“The thing with this group of seniors, they’ve had some success in other sports so they understand what winning’s all about,” said Mendell, who also coached the F/E football team’s defense. “And that goes a long way in whatever sport you’re playing. We’re going to have an athletic team this year.”
Senior Griffin Chudy, who catches or plays shortstop on off pitching days, leads the Eagles’ pitching staff after going 3-4 last year with a 4.53 earned run average (ERA). After him, ECS has some promising pitchers, admittedly low on varsity pitching experience.
“He was probably our top pitcher last year, him and (then-senior) Chad Boldt,” Mendell said. “He’s looking pretty solid this year. Austin Grinols is kind of stepping to the forefront a little bit. It’s not game experience but he’s looking good in practice in our bullpen sessions. We’ve got a new kid (first-year senior), Frank Neff, he’s also looking pretty promising also and a couple younger guys, Steven Rowland, Clayton Rowland, a ninth grader; and Wyatt Chudy will also get some innings for us. I should have a decent group of arms but just game time, mound time experience we’re lacking.”
Ellicottville’s seniors include Griffin Chudy, Austin Grinols, Walter Woodarek, Evan Palmatier, Neff, Cody Luder, Hunter O’Striker and R.J. Alvarez. Steven Rowland, Mitchell Gregor, Kalib Pierce are all juniors; Jordan Grinols and Daniel Young are set to play as sophomores and Wyatt Chudy and Clayton Rowland as freshmen.
Alvarez holds the team’s top returning batting average at .293. Steven Rowland drove in 11 runs, third on last year’s team, and Austin Grinols had a team-high 17 runs scored and a .278 average. Given a cold start to the spring season, practice so far had been limited to one day of outdoor session fielding fly balls as of Monday morning.
“Steven Rowland’s looking really good in the cage,” Mendell said of his top returning hitters. “It’s tough to say. We didn’t really light the world on fire hitting-wise last year. Our two top hitters last year graduated, Chad Boldt and Preston Hutchison, so offensively that’s certainly a question mark for us, who’s going to be able to hit. But as far as things are looking right now I’d say we’ve got several guys who are capable.
“There’s bunch of guys who look good now but we’ll see what happens when we get out in game time.”
The Eagles look to compete in the CCAA II East division against likely favorites Franklinville and North Collins, who boast strong pitching staffs, along with Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Frewsburg and Pine Valley. Mendell thinks the team shouldn’t look at its division rivals as unbeatable.
“I think this team has potential, there’s no question about it,” he said. “But you’ve got to play a clean game when you play against teams like that (Franklinville and North Collins) and you’ve got to take advantage of what they give you when they give it to you because there’s not going to be a lot of opportunities offensively when they have their top guys going. But are they beatable? Yeah, certainly they’re beatable, there’s no question about it. The winning goes a long way in other sports. The kids know how to win, they know what it takes, whether we can perform and do it is another thing. I’ve got a good feeling about this team here just because the senior leadership is strong.”
Ultimately, baseball can come down to pitching. Mendell said he hopes the team can more effectively finish close games than it did a year ago.
“For the majority of our games we were right in there,” he said. “We just couldn’t finish ‘em off and part of it has to do with pitching, the pitching that we’re facing and the inexperienced pitching we had last year. That has a lot to do with it and the league we’re playing, our league is very good and it’s going to be good again this year.”