Fredonia’s Staff Recognition

When Vince Gullo got word that The Post-Journal was beginning to compile a list of worthy players and coaches in anticipation of running its annual baseball all-stars/player and coach of the year selections, he picked up his phone and began dialing.

He had some campaigning to do.

Not for his star centerfielder, Nick Hart – that Hart would be the player of the year was clear – and especially not for himself, despite his earning, earlier this summer, the New York State Sportswriters Association Class B Coach of the Year award for leading the Hillbillies to a second state title since 2006.

No, he was calling for his assistants – all five of them.

“These guys were just phenomenal all year long,” he said. “I don’t want the credit. They don’t want it either, actually, but they deserve the recognition.”

This wasn’t a new phenomenon, exactly; Gullo, you see, had been heaping praise (with good reason) on those five men, and, of course, his players, for weeks.

“An award (the NYSSWA Coach of Year) like this only happens when your athletes play and produce at such a high level and then go out and win a state title,” Gullo told the Dunkirk Observer in July. “So it’s very exciting to win an award like this and I’ll accept it for our entire coaching staff. We worked together all year unselfishly in all of the decision making. They were at practice every day and were vital to our success.”

In the end, Gullo made a convincing case for his staff, which included his “right-hand man” Greg Smith; first-base and outfielder’s coach Bryan Bongiovanni, who was a co-captain on Gullo’s 2006 championship-winning squad; pitching-coach extraordinaire and a four-time P-J coach of the year (1997, 1998, 2004 and 2007) Charlie LaDuca; catching coach and designated batting practice pitcher Brent Thompson; and, of course, Tim Cowan, who took the reins of the always-important fundraising and youth program-building endeavors.

And where the group really came through was during the playoffs.

“What I loved about our staff is that we had assistants go to our upcoming opponents’ playoff games,” Gullo noted. “They scouted Tonawanda, and pitcher (Cameron Voss) held them to one run. They scouted Wayland-Cohocton (the Hillbillies’ Far West Regional foe for the second straight year), and we shut them out. Then against Clinton (in the state championship), we shut them out, too.

“They were just really good at finding out our opponents’ weaknesses. I never could have pulled that off myself.”

As one can see, the Fredonia staff was indeed crucial, as was the Fredonia players’ ability to take the information they’d learned from those coaches and put it all together out on the field. But where Gullo goes slightly off track – it’s his modesty that does him in – is that he leaves himself out as another component of the Hillbillies’ success.

So we’ll set the record straight.

For leading Fredonia to a school-record 17 straight wins to start the season and racking up a whopping 26 by the time it was all said and done; for running high-level and competitive practices, which was highlighted by Gullo as a critical factor behind this year’s successes; for dominating at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association state tournament (the Hillbillies didn’t allow an earned run in either game, defeating Ogdensburg Free Academy, 9-2, in the semifinal and Clinton, 7-0, in the title game) to bring back to Chautauqua County another state baseball title; and for being the type of squad and staff to show that hard work, preparation and determination do, in fact, lead to good things; Smith, Bongiovanni, LaDuca, Thompson, Cowan and Gullo are The Post-Journal’s choices for Coaches of the Year.