Although this month’s rains threw the North Bay League baseball preseason schedule into havoc, the eight schools have now embarked on their league schedule with hopes focused toward the league tournament in May.
Casa Grande, which went 13-1 to win the league title last season, lost two top pitchers, left-handers Eric Parnow and Justin Bruihl, and five other all-league performers.
“But offensively and defensively we should improve,” predicts longtime coach Paul Maytorena.
Several players give Maytorena that idea: pitcher Chris Joaquim and Spencer Torkelson, who were both voted first-team all-league last year as sophomores, John Green a junior catcher-outfielder, sophomore first-baseman A.J. Miller, shortstop Hance Smith and Blake Berry, who was an all-league infielder but has moved to outfield this year.
Cardinal Newman, which tied for second place with Maria Carrillo at 11-3 in the NBL, returns only two starters, outfielder Luc DeLorenzo and Colin Imm, who plays outfield, first base and pitches.
Eight games in, the Cardinals’ lineup is still in flux, coach T.J. McMahon said.
“We’ve been running a lot of different lineups, game-to-game, mixing things up. For the most part, we’re starting three sophomores,” he said. “We’ve had only one or two seniors on the field at a time.
“It is a very young team,” he acknowledges. “I’m excited about the talent, but we’re young.”
Connor Foster and the coach’s son, Chris McMahon, will lead the rotation. Neither had many innings last year.
“Going in, we thought that our biggest question mark was our pitching staff,” he said. “I thought once we got going, defense was going to be fine and the offense would get going. But it’s been the reverse. Our pitching has been good, our defense and bats slow to come around.”
It hasn’t helped that cleanup hitter DeLorenzo, who had the hottest Newman bat at the time, took a foul ball to his eye, breaking facial bones and hurting his vision briefly. He is back in school and should be cleared for activity next week, McMahon said.
Carrillo, Ukiah and Rancho Cotate look to be solid this year, coaches agreed.
“I like the way we look,” said Carrillo’s Derek DeBenedetti. “This is the first time in my time here that we’ve had more than five seniors. We have about 10 this year. We have a lot of returners, a good balance with a couple freshmen and four sophomores.”
With NBL Player of the Year Clayton Andrews gone, the Pumas will rely more on senior all-league infielder-pitcher Andrew Vaughn for leadership. Against Santa Rosa, he faced 10 batters and struck out seven, and he’s allowed only one earned run in three appearances.
“We have about 10 guys who can pitch. It’s a pretty deep rotation,” DeBenedetti said.
Five of Ukiah’s six first- and second-team all-league selections last season were underclassmen, giving the Wildcats some continuity and maturity.
“We’re returning almost every starter,” coach Stephen Summers said. Last year, five sophomores started for the Wildcats, who finished 8-6 and fourth in the NBL.
Pitchers Colton Crabtree and Devin Kirby will be the top two starters.
Karter Koch, Joey Brazil and Crabtree will make up the heart of the batting order, Summers said.