* RHP Josh Shepley (Tecumseh, Ont.) the Canisus Golden Griffs third game of the spring, taking the loss against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in Conway, SC. Shepley worked four innings allowing four runs on five hits and two walks. He left with the Griffs down 4-3 in a 13-3 loss.
By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
BUFFALO, NY – Armed with an upgraded pitching repertoire and a lot more confidence on the mound, Josh Shepley is starting to come into his own in his second season at Canisius College.
The 19-year-old right-hander has ditched the curveball that wasn’t working for him last year, added a slider that head coach Mike McRae helped him find, and he has a full season of Division-I baseball in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference under his belt to learn from and assist him as he moves forward.
“Last year was pretty nerve-wracking,” Shepley said. “Every time I was on the mound I was really nervous. I wanted to perform really well and I guess you could say I was trying to prove myself. Then even when I wasn’t pitching I wanted to win so bad that it was nerve-wracking the whole time…
“It got better as the season went on. Once I got to know the system and what the coaches were looking for and everything, it got more comfortable out there … And this season, I’ve got a lot more confidence and I’m ready to play my part to help us win.”
The Tecumseh, Ont., native spent the majority of his time between seasons working on finding consistency in throwing strikes and developing the slider that he hopes will help him this year with the Golden Griffins, who sit 2-2 after opening the season at the Caravelle Resort tournament in South Carolina.
“I’m working on my slider a lot,” Shepley said. “I just picked [the pitch] up in the fall so I hope I can get that polished off … Last year I had a curveball but my use of it was pretty nonexistent because I couldn’t throw it for a strike.
“So coach McRae showed me the slider, because you grip it differently and then throw it exactly like a fastball, so it’s way easier to locate and it’s sharper, and more of a put-out pitch. So far I like it.”
And so far, the young hurler is also enjoying his time in Buffalo with the squad. After getting seven starts and appearing in nine games last year, logging 30 1/3 innings, walking 12 and striking out 26 batters, Shepley is looking forward to what more his collegiate career has in store.
“The school has definitely lived up to what I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I had a lot of fun last year and I’m excited for my next three years here … I love it. There’s a lot of potential, and [the coaches] give us all the tools we need to bring our game to the next level and reach our potential. I’ve learned a lot about baseball and respect and developing as a baseball player and as a person.”
Finishing up his secondary school education at Belle River High School, the 6-foot-3, 208-pound righty had multiple options available to him as he looked to take his game to the next level. Canisius rose to the top of the list in part because of its Canadian connection.
“There were other schools I considered, but it really came down to coach McRae’s reputation and the fact that I had two guys from my hometown [Brett Siddall and Jake Lumley] who had already committed to playing here,” Shepley said. “I figured it had to be a good school if I already had two of my friends going to it.”
Now in his junior year with the Griffs, Windsor, Ont., native Siddall had a year of experience at Canisius when Shepley was making his final decision. Lumley, also hailing from Windsor, joined the right-handed pitcher last year and is also in his sophomore season.
“I asked Brett about it before I came,” Shepley said. “I texted him and he let me know everything that I wanted to know. He said he really liked it here and he wanted me to come here too, so it made my decision that much easier.”
Added Siddall: “He asked me how things were run here and how everything was – the facilities, the coaching staff, the players. Obviously the facilities are good but you’ve got to work inside [during the cold months], and all the guys are great guys. I live with six of the guys in a house and we get along really well.
“In terms of the coaching staff, they’re really helpful when it comes to development and winning. So basically I told him I enjoy myself here and I would recommend it.”
Not only did Shepley join Siddall and Lumley, but he became a part of the most Canadian roster in all of Division-I baseball. Cyrus Senior (Montreal, Que.), Blake Weston (Oakville, Ont.) and J.P. Stevenson (New Glasgow, PEI) make up the freshman class, with Zachary Sloan (Brampton, Ont.) rounding out the sophomores and Iannick Remillard (Valleyfield, Que.) the only other Canuck junior on the team.
The Griffs have four Canadian seniors in Connor Panas (Etobicoke, Ont.), Devon Stewart (Maple Ridge, BC), Tyler Vavra (Calgary, Alta.) and Mike Krische (Langley, BC), all recruited by dual citizen and Niagara Falls native McRae.
“I knew coach McRae recruited a lot in Canada, but I had no idea that there were so many Canadians here,” Shepley said. “It’s nice that you have a little backup when you’re defending your country, or watching the Olympics, or when we’re just chirping about it.”
Among his experiences so far, Shepley has most enjoyed the time he’s had with the Griffs, making close relationships in a relatively short time with the squad.
“The best part is being with all the guys on the team,” he said. “You spend so much time together. You become closer than you could if you didn’t play a sport or if you didn’t come here. Everyone is working just as hard as you are and wants the same things, so it’s easier to make closer friendships.”
After a tough finish to his freshman season, Canisius falling in two games straight to lose the conference championship after winning a national-record 18 games in a row last year, Shepley is excited for the team to build from that experience and finish it out on a higher note this season.
“Last year was tough, but it makes you want to work that much harder so you never have to feel that way again,” he said.