Junior first baseman Brian Bermingham (right) will become one of Hamburg's senior leaders next spring as 10 Bulldogs graduate from this year's roster in June. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
Whether they won or lost, Steve Chaffee and Derek Hill always took their team into left field for a five-minute chat about the game they just finished on their home diamond.
That conversation within Hamburg’s baseball team was about 15 minutes longer as the sun began to set on May 29.
The top-seeded Bulldogs had just lost to No. 5 Williamsville South, 8-1, in the semifinal round of the Class A1 playoffs prior to their talk in the outfield.
Over 10 minutes passed before the younger players returned to the dugout to leave the 10 seniors alone with their coaches. Chaffee and Hill patted their players’ shoulders while the seniors had their hands folded on their heads in disbelief that it was all over.
The Class of 2014 had played with each other for their entire lives, and after losing in a rematch of last year’s Section VI championship game, their time playing together at Hamburg had come to a close.
“We have a brotherhood that goes far beyond playing baseball together, and it will not end just because our high school careers are over,” said Kyle Sickau, Hamburg’s senior pitcher.
Sickau was joined by Justin LaRosa, Brett Ross, Pat Skelly, Connor Tucker, Ryan Herr, Ryan Filas, Tommy Moses, Zach Tone and Jordan Paxson as part of Hamburg’s graduating class for the 2013-14 school year.
“I would also like to thank my teammates for not only being the best teammates I could ask for, but also for being some of the best friends I could ask for,” he added.
The Bulldogs came into the Class A1 bracket as the top seed this spring after capturing the ECIC II division title with a 10-2 league mark.
“I want to thank my teammates for making my senior year something I’ll never forget,” Sickau said. “I could always count on them to give 100-percent whether it was in a game, in practice, or in the weight room, and as a result we were able to make history by becoming the first Hamburg baseball team to win a division title outright.”
In the semifinal loss, junior Cam Ringo drove in Hamburg’s only run of the game. Jake Mertowski hit a leadoff double at the bottom of the first inning and made it home on Ringo’s sacrifice fly that was hit deep into centerfield, responding to the three runs South scored at the top.
Ringo and David recorded the other two hits for Hamburg. Herr, Filas and Tucker all shared the circle for the Bulldogs.
“Our pitching from Ryan Herr, Ryan Filas and Connor Tucker was good enough to get us a victory, but our bats and defense was not with us that day,” Chaffee noted.
Steve Zaprowski pitched a three-hitter in a complete for the visiting Billies, who went on to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association finals last spring. He also struck out six batters.
Alex Martin, Billy Hartford and Jacob Huber recorded multi-hit games for South, including Hartford’s two-run home run in the sixth inning.
The Billies went on to lose to Starpoint on May 31 in the Class A1 championship game.
“We seem to have peaked a little early this year,” said Chaffee. “No regrets, though. We had a great group of boys and the school’s first outright division championship.”
The Bulldogs advanced to the semifinals with a 4-3 win over division foe Sweet Home on May 27.
Sickau pitched a complete game in the quarterfinal victory, giving up one earned run and threw eight strikeouts. He also went 2-for-3 at the plate.
Ringo drove in two runs with a double and Mertowski had a one-run double in Hamburg’s final victory of the year.
Despite the season ending sooner than they would have hoped, the Bulldogs made history during a very memorable 2014 spring campaign.
All of the years that senior Bulldogs Sickau, LaRosa, Ross, Skelly, Tucker, Herr, Filas, Moses, Tone and Paxson spent playing baseball with one another was just the beginning for the group that will be graduating in a few weeks.
For baseball had brought the brothers closer, and their relationship will extend far beyond the end of their high school careers together.
“I want to thank our coaches for instilling the never say die attitude, always pushing us to be our best and for showing us the value of hard work,” said Sickau. “That does not stop at baseball, but also school, work and wherever life takes us.”
Sophomore Austin O’Shei will return next spring with the likes of Ringo, Mertowski, Bermingham, Brendan Maurer, David Edie and Tosh Johnson from the junior class.
They will all see expanded roles on the diamond for Chaffee and Hill’s 2015 roster that will look to defend the Erie County Interscholastic Conference Division II regular season title that the 10 graduating seniors led the Bulldogs to this season.