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Shelter Island Bucks set to defend HCBL title in 2016

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Shelter Island Bucks open the 2016 season the first weekend in June.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Shelter Island Bucks open the 2016 season the first weekend in June.

Shelter Island’s boys of summer are ready to roll. Shelter Island Bucks General Manager Frank Emmett and his staff have filled a 25-man roster for this season that includes players from 12 states.

The Bucks, reigning champions of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League (HCBL), open the 2016 season with two home games at Fiske Field on Friday, June 3 and Saturday, June 4. First pitch for both games is at 5 p.m.

Following their successful 2015 campaign, Head Coach Casey Buckley and his assistant, Peter Barron of St. John’s University, will be taking over for Jamie Quinn and Scott Donaghue. Coach Buckley, last year’s pitching coach, said that Mr. Barron comes highly recommended and is known for his total commitment to the game.

“I want our team to become part of the community,” Coach Buckley said. “Our philosophy begins with a respect for the game and conducting ourselves in a professional manner at all times. That said, it is summer ball and it’s supposed to be fun.”

Winning is the byproduct of a positive atmosphere, the coach added.

“If we work hard, the wins will come, ” he said.

Bucks fans will be happy to hear that catcher Nico Cuccia of Southwestern Louisiana University will rejoin the team. As the sole returning member of the championship squad of last year, Cuccia will provide experienced leadership behind the plate for the Bucks pitching staff. Coach Buckley praised Cuccia saying, “He really turned on his bat late in the year and he is a plus, plus defender.”

Another player Coach Buckley is familiar with from his days as an assistant at the University of Rhode Island (URI) is sophomore shortstop, Matt O’Neill. “Matt has good pop and can put one out at any time,” he said, adding that he believes O’Neill has pro potential.

The coaches are excited about another URI player out of West Islip High School — Sam Ilario, a freshman outfielder who was a three- sport standout at West Islip. Sam hit .450 during his high school career. He was a finalist for the Yastremski Award, presented to the best player in Suffolk County by the Suffolk County Baseball Coaches Association. Sam, the coach said, will bring a lot of speed to the basepaths for the Bucks.

With a 42-game schedule, not including playoffs, there will be plenty of work for the 12-man pitching staff. However, the coach believes in protecting the health of his young arms. As a former pitcher himself, and one who experienced two Tommy John surgeries before the age of 23, Coach Buckley knows that players want to compete and battle through injury, but that his job is to temper that enthusiasm with sound judgement.

Coach Buckley’s belief that his pitching staff should be aggressive and pitch to the inside of the plate paid dividends in 2015 as the Bucks boasted the best record in the HCBL.

“Particularly in a wood bat league, the philosophy is to pitch on the inner half and promote weak contact,” he said. “All these players are coming off playing with aluminum bats. The wood bats are very different and we plan to take advantage of that.”

The challenge of turning 25 young men, most of whom are strangers to one another, into a cohesive team is one all HCBL teams face. Coach Buckley knows from experience that chemistry builds over time and that it’s through creating an environment of hard work, camaraderie and respect for the game that success will ultimately be achieved.

Incidentally, Coach Casey Buckley, known as “Buck,” coaches the Bucks in the summer and during the college season coaches the Florida Southwestern Bucs.

Once again, housing for the players is a need. Assistant GM Dave Gurney said the team is looking for accommodations for four players. If you would like to help the team with housing this year, please call Mr. Gurney at 433-1502. The Bucks organization thanks all the generous families who host these fine young men.