New York rivals make trip to Wisconsin

More news about: Cortland | St. John Fisher
Conrad Ziemendorf was a three-time New York All-Region selection for Cortland, as was Cody Wiktorski for St. John Fisher. photo by Steve Frommell

By Austin Walther

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -- The buzz around Appleton is that two Wisconsin teams are in the World Series, but fans from the state of New York are just as excited to have two close programs here as well.

Cortland, from Cortland, N.Y., is making its third straight and 14th overall appearance in the championship round and are defending national champions.  

St. John Fisher, from Pittsford, N.Y., is making their first ever appearance in the championship round after setting the program’s record in wins by seven.

Both schools have a lot of players who grew up together, playing baseball with and against each other since they were young.

The town of Penfield, N.Y., features two players who are key seniors for the Red Dragons and the Cardinals, but they attended different high schools.

Cody Wiktorski of St. John Fisher went to Penfield High School and Conrad Ziemendorf of Cortland attended neighboring high school Webster Schroeder.

“I remember playing T-ball with him up through (age) 13, 14,” Wiktorski said. “Then we started playing each other as crosstown rivals.”

Wiktorski and Ziemendorf have known each other for so long and they are always curious on how their careers are going.

“He’s one of the kids my family tracks throughout the season,” Wiktorski said. “We’re always rooting for each other except when we’re playing each other then it’s whoever gets it gets it.”

Wiktorski and Ziemendorf will each end their college baseball careers this week at the D-III World Series.
St. John Fisher athletics file photo

Since the teams arrived, the players have connected a few times after going a while of not talking.

“I reached out to him as soon as we got here,” Wiktorski said. “We’re staying at the same hotel so I’m sure we’ll catch up on the old times.

Ziemendorf said he’s excited for the Cardinals achievement of getting to the World Series and knows nothing will be different when they meet up sometime during the tournament.

“We kind of lost touched for a while, but it’s always been whenever we see each other, time hasn’t passed,” Ziemendorf said. “It’s cool that they got the opportunity to come here.”

Wiktorski is also taking in a few pointers from Ziemendorf about how the experience is at the World Series.

“Just take it all in,” Wiktorski said. “Really enjoy while we’re warming up, the fans and the whole experience because not many people can say they have done this.”

Over the last two summers, Ziemendorf and Wiktorski just missed out on playing with each other again as Ziemendorf played summer league in 2014 for the Newark Pilots and then the North Adams SteepleCats in 2015 while Wiktorski was on the Pilots in 2015.

Wiktorski said it’s exciting to see how they both have transformed throughout the years. “It’s always back and forth cooperative action when we’re playing together,” Wiktorski said. “It’s cool seeing how he’s progressed over the years into the player he is today. It’s crazy to think 15, 16 years ago we were playing T-ball together.”

The Penfield natives also see each other during the summer when they are off the baseball field. Wiktorksi said after talking to Ziemendorf about the finals, he is motivated to win a title.

“I hung out with him in the summer and saw him out all the time and we talked about the World Series and how fun of an experience it was and how burnt out he was at the end of it,” Wiktorski said. “At this point, we’re seniors, if I’m burnt out by the end of it, but if I come home with a ring, then it’s a sacrifice worth taking.”

The opportunity finally came for the childhood friends to meet in 2015. St. John Fisher defeated Cortland for the Red Dragons' final loss before winning the World Series.

“To play the No. 1 team, you don’t get to do that often,” Wiktorski said. “We went out with nothing to lose, free spirited and it ended up working out for us. It was a great game with a lot of offense. We got a taste of how their offense works and some of their pitching.”

Ziemendorf said there’s usually limited communication when the two play against each other.

“It comes up when we play each other on social media,” Ziemendorf said. “But it’s always good to catch up with him.”

This year, when the regionals were announced, Wiktorski said probably the best news was the fact that St. John Fisher and Cortland were split up and after they both advanced, the only way they will play each other is if they meet in the finals.

“That’s been the ultimate goal,” Wiktorski said. “It’s all falling into place and the stars are aligning. I would love nothing more for Cortland to make it to the finals and for us to make it to the finals.”

If Cortland meets St. John Fisher in the final, Ziemendorf said he’s good friends with Wiktorski and that could work to his advantage.

“He’s always been a great kid,” Ziemendorf said. “He’s got a good bat and he’s solid in the field and I know he has power and is a level swinger.”

Wiktorski said it’s awesome to be in the same tournament as Cortland.

“I told myself last year I have to get to the World Series and play Cortland,” Wiktorski said. “It’s bringing back memories and to start your baseball career playing with someone and to end it playing it against someone, not many people can say that.”

Ziemendorf said despite being close to Wiktorski, a matchup in the finals won’t be any different than any other time they have faced each other.

“It would be a little weird, but I played against him in high school,” Ziemendorf said. “It’s kind of the same with any other team, you know people. You might be best friends with them off the field, but you play the game and once it’s done nothing changes.”