A year removed from a heartbreaking sectional loss to the eventual state runner-up, the Starpoint baseball team appears primed to go on a playoff run.
Boasting a plethora of returnees, including Canisius-bound all-star Alex O'Donnell, the Spartans should be in position to make noise in what might be Western New York's toughest division, ECIC II.
Starpoint had a 2-1 lead on ECIC II rival Williamsville South in the Section VI Class A semifinals last year before the Billies staged a late comeback that sparked a run through the state playoffs.
Leading the Spartans this year is O'Donnell, a slick-fielding shortstop who batted .439 last season, scored 22 runs and knocked in 22 more. He also struck out 21 in 19 1/3 innings with a 1.45 ERA, recording two wins and two saves.
Last spring, O'Donnell set the Spartans' career record for doubles, notching 14, and was named First Team All-Western New York and First Team All-ECIC II. He signed to play at Division I Canisius last November.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and it’s not often you can just sit back and enjoy watching your guys play without coaching," Racey said.
"There were times, watching him pitch or make great plays one after another, that I had to tell myself not to get used to this. You only have him for one more year.”
Also returning is the senior pitching duo of Mike Lane and Chris Cribbs, which will be charged with filling the shoes of departed Austin Speaker, last season's ace.
Lane, an intimidating presence at 6-feet, 5-inches, has started two Starpoints' games this season. Cribbs, more dependent on accuracy and a mix of pitches, plays in the outfield when not on the hill. Both have signed on with Niagara County Community College.
Juniors Austin Owens and Brett Guay will be charged with replacing the offensive contributions of Speaker and Starpoint's other key loss, slugging outfielder Andrew Rankie.
Owens, an athletic lefty, will play second base and replace Speaker in the leadoff spot. Speaker, who hit .443 last season, and Owens' ability to get on base and set the table for O'Donnell will be keys for the Starpoint offense.
Guay battled an injury as a sophomore, but Racey thought highly enough of his bat to put him in the lineup as a designated hitter. Healthy, he'll step in at catcher — where Cribbs played last season — and take Rankie's spot batting cleanup and serving as O'Donnell's protection in the order. Rankie knocked in 16 runs in that role last year.
Also returning are seniors Jimmy Janeczko, Andrew Murchison and Brooks McKeown. Janeczko started at third base last season and will play there this year, while Murchison and McKeown provide flexibility with the ability to field multiple positions.