The Varsity Baseball team has played only two seasons and has earned a spot in the championship playoff game both years. This incredibly young team has set a standard for success even in improbable circumstances.
Last spring, we reported that the first-year team had earned a spot in the PSAA (Private School Athletic League) semi-final game. That was a game they would go on to win and punch their ticket to the championship match at MCU Park in Coney Island a week later. The young team of mostly freshmen and sophomores put in a valiant effort, but ultimately came up short against a tough Bay Ridge Prep squad.
Coming off their unexpectedly strong performance in their first qualified year in the PSAA, the team got a jump start on this season with a week of spring training in Orlando, FL.
For five days, led by Head Coach Gary Gurreri and Assistant Coaches Yufry Infante and Ken Vargas, the team practiced six to seven hours a day at Bear Creek Park, a facility for high school baseball programs. During the week, the team played three full-length games against top-quality teams from northern Illinois and New York. Typically, in the regular PSAA season, pitchers are throwing in the low to mid 70 miles per hour, but during spring training, GCS student-athletes were facing pitchers throwing in the 80s, yet the team fared well against the tough competition.
The trip was not all work. In their little downtime, the boys visited Universal Studios and recuperated from hot practices in the hotel pool. Coach Gurreri speaks highly of the experience, “Extra exposure to great baseball really honed the players’ skills to prep for the upcoming season.” Gurreri said the trip was about much more than technical training, however, “The guys living together and sharing meals brought a new dynamic to the team. It was a terrific opportunity to bond, which made the team a tighter unit this year than last year.” Gurreri considers the trip a tremendous success recounting that every player acted responsibly and several student-athletes earned more playing time because of their hard work and positive attitude at the camp. The coaching staff is already planning for next year’s trip.
After spring training in Florida, the team really started to click in the regular season, operating as a cohesive unit with several outstanding performances.
The coaches credit much of the team’s success to not only being a team of nine great players, but also having a deep bench with lots of talent across the team. Strong leadership has been another key to the team’s success. Captains Archie Brydon ‘17, Matthew Converse ’17 and Jake Scherr ’18 played a big role in keeping their teammates focused. Coach Gurreri says, “The way these three carry themselves on and off the field motivates the other guys even when they’re not having their best games. They all have a tremendous work ethic.”
Part of the coaches’ strategy has been to have open communication between players and coaches through the captains. All players were given an opportunity to share their ideas with the captains for defensive set-ups and thoughts on what the team needed to work on. And the captains had regular conversations with the coaches. Coach Gurreri credits this process with creating sense of ownership for the student-athletes.
One highlight of the season came from a rematch of last year’s championship match against Bay Ridge Prep. It was a nail-biter, but the boys pulled out a thrilling 5-4 win in extra innings. A few weeks later, the GCS team hammered home a convincing 10-0 win to clinch a playoff spot and the fifth seed in the tournament.
In the first round of the playoffs, GCS beat Avenues 16-2, advancing to face the #1 seeded team and powerhouse Portledge. That match-up was close, and they earned a 3-2 victory to advance to the championship game at MCU Park for the second straight season. The final match was a thriller that ended in the narrowest of losses, 6-5.
The future looks bright for this team, which is made up of predominantly sophomores and juniors. Only three seniors will leave the team and four freshman players will carry varsity experience with them into their sophomore years. There is a lot of young, promising talent just starting to develop.
Following the playoffs, three Grace student-athletes received All-Conference honors: Jacob Scherr ’18, Archie Brydon ’17, and John Uva ’17. After spending two seasons in the PSAA, Grace is joining the Athletic Conference of Independent Schools (ACIS) next year.