The countdown to baseball spring training has begun, but the Olean Oilers still have fond memories of the 2015 season when the team won its first New York College Baseball League (NYCBL) championship in franchise history.
“That was one amazing thing I will never forget,” Oilers’ shortstop Cole Peterson said. “I had great teammates that will now serve as long-time friends.”
Despite streaking through the playoffs and sweeping the Oneonta Outlaws in the NYCBL Championship Series, the Oilers were far from favorites to even make the playoffs.
Olean had to win eight of their final 10 to finish the year 26-20 and squeeze into the playoffs with the third seed.
”I told the guys that once we made the playoffs anything can happen,” Oilers coach Bobby Bell, who has been with the team since its inception in 2012, said. “I said that if we played the game right everything would come together.”
Of their 46-game schedule, a league-record 20 of them were one-run games. Although they only went 10-10 in those matchups, the Oilers felt those games helped the team.
“It made us a tougher team going into crunch time,” Peterson said. “My biggest impact from this season is to never quit on any play.”
Paul Gotham, the NYCBL director of communications and media, saw the frequent close-games as evidence of the league’s competitive balance.
“Nine of 13 NYCBL teams finished the season with a winning record,” Gotham said. “That is a testament to the work of everyone in the league.”
Another key contributor to the Oilers’ success was attendance.
According to the NYCBL’s website, over 7,000 people walked into Bradner Stadium to see the Oilers play during the regular season. Averaging just over 350 fans per game, Olean finished second in the league in attendance. In their four postseason home games, 5,225 fans flocked to the ballpark, including 2,525 in the final championship game.
“Oilers fans are connected with their team. They are rabid,” Gotham said. “Owners Brian and Renee O’Connell along with Bobby Bell and Sean O’Connell have done the heavy lifting to create a connection with the people of the city.
“The excitement inside Bradner Stadium is palpable,” Gotham added.
Bell, an Olean native himself, commented, “It was great being able to win in front of the fans. They showed up to see us and we put on a show.”
At the beginning of the NYCBL offseason, when season awards were handed out, the upstart Oilers did not walk home empty handed.
Peterson was named the Defensive Player of the Year, while Bell took home his first Coach of the Year award.
“You know what, it’s awesome,” Bell said after being notified that he won the award. “I love it that my name has the title.”
Bubba Hollins finished second in the Player of the Year voting, while Brandon Schlimm took fifth place on the Pitcher of the Year ballot. Nate Grant also earned a first-place vote for Reliever of the Year.
“The defense was awesome all season,” Schlimm said during the championship season. “I always threw strikes because I knew my defense was there to pick me up.”
“The main focus of the summer was to get the guys extra reps, but we will take a title,” Bell said. “I still get chills just thinking about it.”
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