The Tompkins Cortland Community College baseball team ended 2018 by winning nine of the last ten regular season games to earn the program's first playoff appearance in eight years. The Panthers won more games than ever before (22) and set program records in several categories. That team set a high bar for the program, one that future teams will try to reach and push even higher.
The 2019 squad will be the first to take a shot at building on the momentum of 2018. Head Coach Ryan Stevens enters his fifth year at the helm, and he has the challenge of replacing the most productive graduating class in the history of the program. Gone from the lineup are Gold Glove winners Garret Hunter and Charlie Hammel, now playing at SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College, respectively. The pitching staff also is in need of a rebuild after losing ten producers, including top of the rotation starters Ridge Walker, the school's record holder for strikeouts and who is now at Norfolk State (Va.), and wins record holder Jake Woods . Closer Evan Plante set the record for saves last year and is now pitching for Keystone College (Penn.).
Stevens will rely on a 2019 team that features eight returners from the 2018 squad, as well a talented crop of newcomers from near and far. Leading the way among returners is Captain shortstop Alex Babcock (Cortland/Cortland H.S.), an all-conference shortstop as a freshman. Babcock was one of the top hitters for the Panthers last year and will be counted on to lead the way again in 2019.
"I like what I've seen so far with this team. Alex and the other returners have stepped into leadership roles and helped the guys buy into our program," said Stevens. "Last year was a special year. I'm optimistic and ready for the new season."
With just 14 innings pitched among the three returning pitchers on the staff, Stevens will need newcomers to contribute immediately. Co-Captain Jake Prignon (Cortland/Cortland H.S.) and fellow sophomore Jacob Mosher (Pulaski/Pulaski H.S.) will look to lead the young pitching staff as the lone returning arms. Sophomore transfer Brandon Ayelsworth (Homer/Homer H.S.) has some collegiate experience while freshmen Hyeon-Ho Cho (Seoul, South Korea) brings a different kind of experience to the team as one of three freshmen international students. Freshman pitchers Ray Mineo (Rochester/Greece Acadia H.S.), Christian Maloney (Fayetteville/Fayetteveille-Manlius H.S.), Ethan Buckley (Bath/Haverling H.S.), and Ryan Pepicelli (Schenectady/Schalmont H.S.) will lead a freshman-heavy rotation while carrying a large workload in their first year on the squad. The Panthers will look to other freshman to round out the starting rotation and back end of the bullpen in Joey Kench (West Henrietta/Rush-Henrietta H.S.), Peter Miller (Fayetteville/Fayetteveille-Manlius H.S.), Vinny Perrotta (Utica/New Hartford H.S.), Andrew Ditzel (Wantagh/Wantagh H.S.), and Joseph Tummino (Homer/Homer H.S.).
Sophomore Ryan Foody (Tully/Tully H.S.) moves behind the plate after seeing limited time in the field as a freshman. He showed promise with the bat last year, giving Stevens confidence in his sophomore season. Look for newcomer Ryan Ballard (Rochester/Greece Athena H.S.) to help carry the workload with coaches hoping his athleticism leads to a breakout freshman season. Austin Skinner (Groton/Groton H.S.) rounds out the catching corps.
The infield will be loaded with quality returners. Babcock will be joined by two fellow sophomores: slick fielding Daniel Santiago (Newburgh/Newburgh Academy) and power hitting first baseman Brandon Grant (Homer/Homer H.S.). Versatile players Buckley and Pepicelli will compete for time at second base with Perrotta offering the ability to play multiple positions in the infield. Tummino will also bring his middle of the order bat to the infield when not on the mound. "This is our most veteran part of the team," said Stevens. "We are going to lean on our infield heavily."
Co-Captain Austin Kulas (Moravia/Moravia H.S.) will be the leader of this group as the lone sophomore expected to see significant time in the outfield. With Kulas entrenched in right field, freshmen Isaiah Reyes (Tonawanda/Kenmore East H.S.) and Shane Cuevas (Montgomery/Valley H.S.) will be counted on to take over for the ball-hawk duties in center with Jinwoo Baek (Osan-si, South Korea/Yatap H.S.) and Joshua Henry (Barrie, Ontario/Jean Vainer H.S.) in competition for time in left field.
After prepping for the season with some non-region games, the team hopes to open play locally on March 27 against Jefferson Community College.