In the Sonoma County League baseball standings last year, there were two very good teams, two fairly bad squads and three with .500 records.
Coaches say this season looks to be more evenly competitive.
As league play kicks off this week after the A.L. Rabinowitz Tournament at Montgomery High School, co-SCL champs Petaluma and Sonoma Valley (11-1 last season) both should be formidable again.
Analy, El Molino, Piner (all 6-6 last season) all have some strong returning ballplayers, while Healdsburg (2-10) Elsie Allen (0-12) have improved, coaches said.
“Every team has something that makes them competitive,” said Petaluma’s Paul Cochrun.
Several top-notch pitchers return, including MacLean Meyn of Sonoma Valley, who was the league’s co-most valuable player last year.
But, his teammate, all-league first-teamer Max Yankovich, moved out of state with his family, weakening the Dragons’ rotation.
Coaches warned to be wary of Mitchell Fricker, El Molino’s senior pitcher who threw 47 innings last year in 16 appearances, including seven starts. He wound up with a 2.5 earned run average last year while going 3-3.
“That guy can swing it,” Cochrun said. “When Fricker is on the mound, they’re going to be dangerous.”
Petaluma returns two first-team all-league players in infielder Tyler Williams and Luke Wheless, who pitches and plays center field.
Shortstop Logan Douglass and second baseman Drake Paretti form a smooth-fielding middle infield for the Trojans.
Although several of the Trojans were on the Petaluma team that went the Little League World Series four years ago, Cochrun said that experience doesn’t define the young athletes.
“The guys that went there, they’ve been tested mentally. They played on a big stage and they bring that wealth of mental toughness, which you can see,” he said.
Analy lost only three seniors last year and returns 17 of 19 players, which coach Jeff Ogston hopes will help improve the Tigers’ middle-of-the-pack finish last year.
“We have a lot of returners, which is good, but bad sometimes because they forget they have to work hard and be focused every day,” he said. “The whole team was pretty much made up of sophomores and juniors. We do have some good leadership.”
His son, utility player Devon Ogston, and second baseman David Cadoni both return as three-year starters. All league infielder Keaton Bates returns, and Ryan Calderon looks to be the staff ace.
“I feel like we have a real good chance to win league,” Ogston said. “Sonoma and Petaluma will be the other two teams that everyone puts up there.”
Sonoma Valley coach Don Lyons will have to be creative and hope for good health this season if his Dragons are to repeat their 11-1 record.
With Yankovich gone, and Meyn slowed temporarily with tendonitis, he admits his pitching staff is iffy.
Plus, there are only 12 total players on the roster.
“We’re thin in some spots,” he said. “We’re feisty, but we’re not very deep.”
Still, other coaches say any Lyons-led team can’t be discounted.
“Everyone is trying to find which moving parts go where,” Lyons said. “We should be competitive.”
Healdsburg coach Justin Herrguth is shooting for a top-tier finish, an improvement from 2-10.
“Our goal, our realistic goal, is to nail down the fourth spot,” he said.