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Alumni: Weitzel-led Oilers still the ‘team to beat’

New coach Jay Weitzel knows the 2017 Olean Oilers won’t be like the 2016 Olean Oilers. But that doesn’t mean the New York Collegiate Baseball League club won’t be successful again this summer.

“We’ll be good, we’ll battle,” the Salamanca native and former Minnesota Twins scout said. “It’s never going to be like last year — that’s a freak team. I told everybody I was going to fine them a dollar every time they mention last year’s team. That’s last year’s team.”

It’s hard to forget that Oilers squad. Their success reached historic levels as they repeated as NYCBL champions. They won 24 straight games in a 25-1 start, set the league record for regular-season wins (39) and, including a 4-0 postseason, finished 43-7.

“But the only thing harder than being the champ is staying the champ,” Weitzel said.

“We’re the team to beat,” added owner Brian O’Connell Jr.

The title defense begins Friday night at Bradner Stadium (7 o’clock, 105.9 FM) when the Oilers host the Hornell Dodgers in the first of 42 games in 52 days.

“To beat the champ, you’ve got to knock the champ out,” Weitzel said. “We’re the champ. We’re going to show up every game. You can come beat us, you can come beat us, but we will get better throughout the year. That’s what we do here.”

Weitzel succeeds Bobby Bell but has been no stranger to the organization. His son, Jerico, has been an assistant coach. His nephew, Lucas, played for the Oilers and was the team’s strength and conditioning coach two years ago. His brother, Brad, is an assistant coach at the University of Florida and has sent several players to Olean.

In between scouting commitments, Weitzel even found time to share his on-field expertise with the Oilers.

“We’ve always been around here, either getting them players or coming and coaching,” he said of his family. “I’ve always spent as much time as I could.”

A new coach isn’t the only change for Olean. The roster has plenty of different faces, and only four players return from a year ago — Kaden Darrow (Marymount), Chris Dipilato (Nichols), Olean’s Logan O’Connell (U. of Rochester) and Jimmy Webb (Lock Haven). That’s a far contrast from the 2016 team, which returned 10 of the highest-profile names from the season prior.

Since Weitzel wasn’t officially named coach until March, Brian O’Connell Jr. was more involved in recruiting for this season than in years past.

“You only have a certain window,” the owner said. “College coaches are looking to place their players after their falls seasons.”

But it wasn’t a difficult process, O’Connell added, noting the organization received interest from more than 500 players.

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