DIALED IN (Austin Messick)
With a young roster containing ten returning players, the Saddleback College men’s baseball team is looking to rely on their intangibles this season to help them succeed.
“What we lack in maturity, age, and experience we make up for with camaraderie, energy, enthusiasm, and work ethic,” said Head Coach Jack Hodges. “It is our intangibles this year that will be our strength.”
At the end of the 2010 season the team finished with a 9-12 record in Orange Empire Conference play and an overall record of 17-19. After losing many key players, the Gauchos are hoping to utilize their returners in the 2011 season to help propel them into the playoffs.
Outfielder/pitcher Dylan Christensen is the team’s leading offensive returner with a batting average of .372, five stolen bases, and 29 RBIs. Other key returners are catcher Tanner Gore who hit a .319 average with 14 RBIs, and third baseman Elliot Martin who batted in 15 runs. The Gauchos will also rely on first baseman Cole Shidaki, back from a one-year absence, and transfer shortstop Matt Paradise, as well as third baseman Macaulay Anderson and outfielder/pitcher Spencer Kuehn.
Pitchers Jordan Helmcamp and David Wiley are both back for another season at Saddleback, and will be pivotal in constructing a strong defense for the Gauchos. Helmcamp pitched 35.2 innings last year and struck out 19 batters. Wiley followed close behind pitching 23 innings and striking out 17 batters.
“We might have to pitch by committee,” Hodges said, “This means we may have to use five to six different pitchers a game and use different combinations of pitchers until we find a combination that works.”
Saddleback’s dugout has received a facelift this year as they welcome a large freshman class to the team.
“This is a different club, much younger than last season,” Hodges said. “We have a strong freshman class, but they still have to prove themselves.”
There are 23 freshman on this year’s roster led by top prospects first baseman/pitcher Lee Casas and outfielder/ pitcher Eddie Dupont who “both have major league arms,” Hodges said.
The Gauchos face a tough preseason schedule taking on six teams ranked in the SoCal preseason top 20 according to the California Community College Athletic Association website. Three of these matchups include Palomar ranked fourth, Cuesta ranked eighth, and Santa Barbara ranked tenth, respectively. Saddleback is ranked thirteenth in the same poll.
Conference play for the Gauchos will be especially tough as they face off against top ranked Santa Ana, Cypress ranked third, and Orange Coast ranked sixth, respectively. The OEC is arguably one of the toughest conferences in the state with six school occupying spots in the SoCal top 20.
New BBCOR-certified bats have been introduced by the NCAA this season to both University and Junior college levels and pose another difficulty for the Gauchos.
“The new bats have thicker walls,” Hodges said. “so the ball is deader off the bat.”
Because the team has lost many of their big hitters, the Gauchos will need to manufacture runs by way of stolen bases, RBIs, and overall consistent batting. This means many of the freshman will be called upon to mature quickly and play to the high level of competition they will face.
“We’ve had good practices and good inter-squad games,” Hodges said, “We are tired of practicing and are ready to start the season.”
In the upcoming season, the team will be relying on hard work and integrity to help them accomplish their goal of making the playoffs.
“This is a close nit group,” Hodges said. “The strength of our team is in our energy and enthusiasm. If we play the game one pitch at a time, we will play a better game.”
The Gauchos get their first chance at competition against San Diego City College this Thursday at 2p.m. at Saddleback.