By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
FONDA -- The Fonda-Fultonville baseball team has some unfinished business from the 2012 season -- but they'll get a chance to take care of it early.
Behind pitchers Kody Shaw and Charles Parslow, the 2012 Braves spent the season competing at the top of the Colonial Council and eventually making a run to the Section II Class B semifinals. Their biggest nemesis? The Albany Academy Cadets, who swept Fonda-Fultonville in two meetings during the regular season, then ended the Braves' playoff hopes with a 5-2 decision at Bleecker Stadium in Albany.
Though plenty of names have changed for the Braves -- most notably Shaw and Parslow among a large contingent of since-graduated seniors -- those players who are back for another season are gritting their teeth for F-F's Colonial Council opener April 8 and a fresh shot at Academy.
"It's a bitter taste in our mouth after losing to Academy three times last year," said senior outfielder Brandon Baker. "Starting off early against them, we want to go in there, get a win and get some momentum going."
Of course, that the Braves are gearing up for a baseball season at all is a bit of a relief -- both for the players and veteran coach Rick Palumbo -- considering the Fonda-Fultonville budget crunch that initially led to the cancellation of spring sports in the district before they were eventually restored mid-winter.
Though the Braves got a later start than usual with their offseason work, the saved season has led to an especially energetic four weeks of preseason practice.
"It's definitely exciting," said senior first baseman Kevin Twardzik. "We all love it. We're pretty enthusiastic about it. I wish the weather was cooperating a little bit more, but we've got to make do with what it gives us."
Cold weather and a snow-covered field had prevented the Braves from doing any work outside the Fonda-Fultonville gymnasium until Monday, when Palumbo hit flyballs to his players in a paved-over area between the school and the football field -- with a few players needing to avoid landing in snow drifts while tracking down the ball.
"It's different from being inside, then going outside. There's a lot more space we can work with," Baker said. "We haven't done anything flyball-wise for us outfielders. It was nice just to get outside."
Palumbo comes into the season with a club that suffered heavy losses to graduation. In addition to Shaw and Parslow -- not only the team's top two pitchers, but two of the Braves' top hitters in 2012 -- Fonda-Fultonville also lost cleanup hitter Albert Fiorenza, second baseman and leadoff hitter Alex Kocjan, shortstop Jarett Ladd and catcher Wally Kowalski to graduation.
"We're gonna be a younger team, said infielder and pitcher Dan Valachovic. "We lost a lot of guys from last year, but I think we're solid all throughout the infield and we should be good."
The young group of 2013 Braves includes three sophomores in Pat Hart, Baylee Hall and Anthony Sinicropi who are all expected to long significant playing time, while a core of veterans including Twardzik, Baker and Valachovic will be counted on to provide experience. Valachovic will see an expanded role as a pitcher this year along with Zak Shaw -- Kody's younger brother, whose knuckleball became a significant weapon for the Braves late in the 2012 season -- as the duo expected to anchor the Braves on the mound.
"I think our pitching is going to be surprisingly better than people think," Palumbo said. "We're gonna look to Zak and Dan for a lot of leadership in that department, and they both can pitch. They're not gonna overwhelm you with speed, but they're very good at hitting locations and keeping you off-balance."
Though the Braves are far from a finished product, Twardzik can certainly see this year's team taking a similar path to the 2012 Fonda-Fultonville squad, which was uneven early in the year before a late charge.
"We're looking really good in the preseason," Twardzik said. "We worked really well last year. We didn't start off great and we were shaky early, but hopefully the same thing happens this year where even though we're gonna be young, we can work through it."