AMSTERDAM -The Amsterdam Mohawks will enter the second half of the season with a target on their backs.
Since getting off to a 1-2 start, Amsterdam has been running away with the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, and is quickly distancing itself from its nearest competition.
"I feel like this team has really come together and we've got great chemistry," left fielder Evan Stephens said. "It's been an awesome experience so far."
Amsterdam’s Scott Heath (12) greets Ed Charlton (11) after Charlton hit a home run in the first inning of Saturday’s Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League game against Watertown at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)
Awesome to the point where the Mohawks have compiled a 20-4 record at the halfway point and they lead the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League by six games over the Glens Falls Golden Eagles.
"We've played great," Mohawks coach Keith Griffin said. "Obviously with the record that we've got, we really played well. These guys come to play every day."
That can be a contradiction to way some players approach summer baseball.
"I would never have expected [our start] because you hear those stories of summer ball, where it's just like get your at-bats and get your innings in," Stephens said. "This team actually wants to win. We play together and we have a lot of fun doing it."
The Mohawks entered play Tuesday night with the best record of all summer baseball teams in the country, and are ranked sixth out of the Perfect Game Summer Top 30.
"We want to be top five," Stephens said. "If we keep winning, maybe we can break into the top five."
There are plenty of reasons to expect Amsterdam to keep winning.
Heading into Tuesday's game, Stephens led the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League with a .468 batting average. Ed Charlton has been a sparkplug for the Mohawks in the leadoff spot, with a .348 batting average heading into Tuesday's play. He also leads the league in home runs with six.
Right behind Charlton in batting are Chase Green (.345), and Jeff Boehm and Zak Colby (both .344).
Stephens said the hitters feed off each other.
"I think that's what the whole team does," he said. "You go out there and see Ed hit a leadoff home run and the next guy wants to get a hit too. Everybody raises the level of competition after they see what the batter before them does."
The pitchers feed off each other as well, as Amsterdam has four pitchers (Chandler Shepherd, Connor Kaden, Rocky McCord and Matt Pirro) with earned run avedrages less than 1.00.
"We've got three really good freshman pitchers that have some good numbers," Griffin said. "When hopefully every time they go out there, they try and outdo the guy that pitched before. That's what makes a team good, and that's what we're trying to do."
The Mohawks recently got some reinforcement in the starting rotation with the addition of Mark Leiter Jr., who played for the Mohawks last year, and returned to the team last week. He pitched Saturday night's win over the Watertown Wizards, allowing two runs over six innings. He allowed five hits, walked three and struck out six.
"He's a warrior," Griffin said. "That's what I love about Mark. He wants th eball and he wants to be out there. I would think a lot of people can learn a lot of things from watching Mark pitch because he's so competitive."
The Mohawks face their biggest challenge in keeping their best players on the field. The Mohawks recently lost Thomas Bernal and Kerry Doane after suffering injuries. Giuseppe Papaccio recently suffered a concussion, and the team received word that Charlton recently tore his labrum. Griffin also said first baseman Nathan Gomez also is fighting through nagging injuries.
"My only concern is that we've got some injuries to our key players that are really bad," Griffin said. "We need to get those guys back or get some new guys in here."
Despite the injuries, the Mohawks have a great deal of depth, as anyone Griffin has penciled into the starting lineup has come through.
"We don't have a lot of guys on the bench, but the guys on the bench have played well," Griffin said. "D.J. Hoagboon has really stepped up and played really well for us. DeMarcus Henderson has started to play better."
With their commanding lead in the league, the Mohawks are a favorite to clinch the top seed in the PGCBL playoffs in August, and possibly win the league title. That could happen if the team's second-half performance mirrors what they did in the first half.
"You have to stay driven," Stephens said. "You've got to want to get better, and I think everybody wants to get better and reach that next level. Hopefully, it gets better in the second half."