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High School Baseball: St. Francis brings high expectations

Matt Michalski is returning for his third season as St. Francis’ starting shortstop. He’s one of seven returning starters. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
The expectations are very high for an experienced St. Francis team but the same could be said for a variety of fellow schools in its league.

The result should mean some standout baseball being played in the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association this spring.

St. Francis is no stranger to excelling in the league and in fact, around Western New York, having just made a Georgetown Cup championship series for a seventh straight season during an 18-6 campaign.

Red Raiders’ head coach Paul Bartell knows defending Cup champion St. Joe’s will again be a difficult team to face, while St. Mary’s brings back much of the same crew that finished as semifinalists last season. Then there’s always Canisius, which won three straight league titles from 2009-11.

Because of the stiff competition, Bartell said he made sure to stack a schedule packed with plenty of competitive warm-up games in Florida over the spring break and then construct a difficult out-of-league slate against some of the top public schools in WNY.

“(Playing a tough schedule) is a reflection of our goals as a baseball program and as a school to meet the challenges and be successful while doing so,” Bartell had said before the spring break trip.

St. Francis returns its top five pitchers and seven starters from a 2012 team that finished first during the MMAA regular season, but lost consecutive games to St. Joe’s in the best-of-three finals.

Third-year starting shortstop Matt Michalski was named the 2012 Offensive Player of the Year in the league and should again be a force as one of the team’s top hitters.

Also a senior three-year varsity player, Drew Bassini will lead another deep pitching staff for St. Francis. He was named First Team All-Catholic last year.

Joining him as a returning pitcher to the staff will be juniors Ryan Stefaniak, Andrew Krakowski and Matthew Minnick.

Stefaniak will also play in the outfield, and Krakowski at third base. Both developed into top hitters on the team last year, as well. Catching for this pitching staff will be returning senior starter Mike Prentice.

The Red Raiders played in a number of games in the Clearwater, Bradenton and Spring Hill areas from March 28-April 1 and then in the Tampa Jesuit Easter Invitational Baseball Tournament from April 2-5.

They return home to play a slate that not only includes tough league competition, but also the likes of Fredonia, Lockport, Orchard Park, Aquinas (Section V), Mercyhurst (Pa.), Clarence and Dunkirk.

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