Last Sunday morning, Fredonia Central School baseball coach Vince Gullo's phone rang.
On the line was Pete Criscione.
Conversations between Gullo (Fredonia, Class of '85) and his legendary former Hillbillies' mentor aren't unusual. Criscione called Gullo the day Fredonia set a school record for consecutive victories this spring and then he stopped to personally congratulate his former first baseman last week after the Hillbillies captured the Class B Far West Regional.
Vince Gullo coached the Fredonia Hillbillies to their second New York State Public High School Athletic Association baseball title on Saturday.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
But this latest chat was especially meaningful for Gullo because it came on the heels of every coach's dream - a state championship. Less than 24 hours earlier, the Hillbillies had defeated Section 2's Ogdensburg, 9-2, in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B semifinal game at Union-Endicott's Sylvester Field and than blanked Clinton of Section 3, 7-0, in the title contest.
''He told me how proud he was and how excited he was for me and our team,'' Gullo recalled.
For the Hillbillies, congratulatory phone calls are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
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Gullo was a senior the year the Hillbillies advanced to the NYSPSHAA final four in 1985, securing Criscione's first of three Far West Regional titles. The others would come in 1993 and 1996. After each of those seasons, a banner was hung on a wall in the high school gymnasium, a reminder of the program's successes.
''That's everybody's goal in baseball to get a banner,'' Gullo said. ''We know the players who have been drafted (from here) and the legacy of Coach Criscione and Coach (Roger) Moore. We've been blessed here at Fredonia.''
The blessings continued this spring as Gullo and his staff of Charlie LaDuca, Bryan Bongiovanni, Greg Smith, Tim Cowan and Brent Thompson guided the Hillbillies to their fourth Far West Regional crown since 2005 and their second state title (the first was in 2006).
''Everybody had responsibilities ... and they took them real serious,'' Gullo said of his assistants. ''We helped each other out. Every time I needed something, they were there.''
The players, to their credit, bought in.
''They just wanted to learn,'' Gullo mused, ''and they listened to what everybody said. The confidence the coaches gave our kids (was huge).''
That showed in Union-Endicott.
After trailing 2-0 early in the semifinal, Fredonia scored six runs in the third inning and one in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth. Winning pitcher Trent Thompson settled down after a rocky start and faced just two batters over the minimum over the final four innings.
In the title game, sophomore Cameron Voss tossed a one-hit shutout and the Hillbillies (26-2) won in clinic-like fashion.
''It really hasn't hit me yet,'' Gullo said.
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The Hillbillies will lose seven players to graduation, but will return, among others, Voss, who finished the season 7-0 with a 1.20 earned run average. In 62 innings, he gave up 28 hits and nine earned runs. For his career, the left-hander is 12-0.
''That's flabbergasting,'' Gullo said.
Seniors Nick Hart and Jude Gardner also turned in banner seasons. Hart collected 40 hits (he batted .435), scored a school-record 47 runs and stole 26 bases, while Gardner batted .430, scored 32 runs and had 21 RBIs.
''It's the end of the journey, a two-year journey with the way we lost in the regional last year,'' Gullo said. ''Next year, it will be a new journey with new players. We'll (set) our goals and see how we turn out.''
If history is any barometer, the Hillbillies will be at or near the top.
According to a Business First article released last week, Fredonia is the fourth-best high school athletics program in Western New York over the past four years.
''I think it's our community,'' Gullo said. ''We take a lot of pride (in athletics) and we have great feeder programs. Hundreds of kids (play sports) and the coaching they get at those levels instills a winning attitude.''
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After winning his first state title in 2006, Gullo and the rest of that team received championship rings. Since then, Gullo has worn his ring only on special occasions. In fact, he admits to slipping it on only three times a year - Father's Day, Fourth of July and once during the baseball season.
He and Bongiovanni, a member of that 2006 team, decided to pull out their jewelry after the Hillbillies' Far West Regional victory. LaDuca, meanwhile, wore the state championship ring he earned when he coached Pine Valley to a title in 2007, for the duration of his stay in greater Binghamton.
Are they superstitious?
But when it comes to the Hillbillies' performance on the diamond, there is no mystery. In fact, after school on Monday, Gullo called a final team meeting.
''Some kids still wanted to practice,'' he said.