NBL baseball preview

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Teams are listed in order of last season’s standings. Records do not include Monday’s games

Steven de la O is among Rancho's returning players as the Cougars go for a second consecutive league title. Photo by Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat

RANCHO COTATE (2-2-2)
Returning starters: 7
Comfortable with a target on its back after capturing last season’s league title, Rancho Cotate appears capable of repeating.
“That’s our goal, to win the NBL,” said Rancho Cotate coach John Morrow. “I think we’ve got the pitching. Our defense is coming around. We’re going to hit better and our team speed is better this year.”
The Cougars’ top pitchers are Andrew Martini, who started the second half of last season, and first-year varsity player Will Felton. Leading the offense are first baseman Casey Hess and third baseman Tyler Sanders. Shortstop Brent Gillespie and outfielder Steven de la O are back as well.

CARDINAL NEWMAN (4-3)
Returning Starters: 3
Strong pitching could stand out even more this season with changes to bats likely to result in lower-scoring and tighter games. Cardinal Newman is well-stocked with returning ace Jason Alexander and J.J. Jamerson throwing well when not playing first base.
“You can definitely see a difference with more low-scoring games,” McMahon said. “So, pitching and defense are going to be huge. Pitchers need to throw strikes. If you walk guys, you’re giving other teams opportunities.”
Generating offense with smart, aggressive base running and making the most of hits will be important to score runs, McMahon said.
The Cardinals’ top hitters figure to be shortstop Phil Ramos and center fielder Nolan Formway, as well as Jamerson and Alexander.

MONTGOMERY (0-5)
Returning starters: 3
Despite the rough start, Montgomery has been close in all but one contest. Pitchers Matt Dethlefsen and Jacob Lukacic have thrown well, but the Vikings’ bats haven’t provided enough support.
With the defense coming around, Montgomery should compete for third or fourth, Haskins said.
“Our effort has been very good in every game we played, despite our record,” he said. “Our pitching and defense have been there, but we need more timely hitting.”
Shortstop Cameron Hall, catcher Jake Finley and center fielder Daniel Lum anchor the offense and lead a young squad.

MARIA CARRILLO (2-3)
Returning Starters: 7
Deep at pitching and featuring a potent lineup, Maria Carrillo could be a league favorite.
Top starter Michael Francis is followed by Devin Breining, Tyler Henney and Colby Gomes, giving coach Derek DeBenedetti ample arms.
The Cougars are hitting well and working to steady their defense.
“We’re swinging the bat pretty good. Once we start playing every day I think we’ll see a little more consistency,” DeBenedetti said. “It definitely becomes more of a defensive game when you take some pop out of the bat.”
Hottest with the bat so far have been Francis, Chris Collett and Justin Pennachio. Center fielder Mario Smaldino and brother, shortstop Massimo Smaldino are near the top of the lineup with Henney and Francis providing power in the middle.

UKIAH (3-2-1)
Returning Starters: 7
Lacking an ace shouldn’t be a problem for Ukiah because the Wildcats have four strong arms led by Jeff Piver.
Ukiah has a deep roster and coach Bob Dieffenbach is comfortable working different players into games with more bunting, hit-and-run and pinch running to create  scoring chances.
“We’ve been using a bunch of players. We’re using small ball a lot more,” Dieffenbach said. “They’ve got the team concept down. So it’s an absolutely fantastic group of kids.”
Leading hitters on the season have been catcher Alex Quiroga, first baseman Antonio Lopez, and designated hitter Brett Chapman.
Up the middle, Ukiah is strong at shortstop with Ben Miller and in center field with Will Tollini.

SANTA ROSA (2-4)
Returning Starters: 1
Young and lacking varsity experience, Santa Rosa is playing well and has one of the league’s top pitchers in Gabe Cramer.
“We’re a young team. We just want them to understand to be mentally strong,” said coach Paige Dumont. “We feel that is how we can control the game. We want to be a little bit hardnosed.”
Throwing strikes, minimizing mistakes on defense, and scratching across runs should produce some wins for the Panthers, Dumont said.
Cramer has shown ace stuff on the mound and, with designated hitter Peter Winters, leads the Santa Rosa offense. Leadoff hitter and center fielder Andrew Pasquini gives the Panthers a spark.

PINER (2-5)
Returning Starters: 4
Piner only has 11 players, but coach Nate Eisenman likes the Prospectors’ core of talent and pitching depth.
Anchoring the team is pitcher and center fielder Dylan Ferrell.
“We can build around him and play some decent defense,” Eisenman said. “Hopefully we can get better and improve. Our league is going to be real tough.”
Strong-armed catcher Anthony Graves and switch hitting leadoff hitter and shortstop Matt Lococo are returning starters who should help make Piner competitive in league play.

ELSIE ALLEN (2-3)
Returning Starters: 3
After making the North Coast Section playoffs a year ago, Elsie Allen looked to build on that success. But the Lobos have lost three starters to poor grades.
“The hope was to compete and get into the section playoffs,” said coach Manny De La O. “It’s a goal. But now it’s going to be more difficult. We do the best with what we have. I tell the kids we have to outwork everybody.”
A trio of top returnees can pitch and solidify the defense. Eric Flores and Martin Oakes trade off at shortstop when not on the mound, and Cory Shelton is a steady corner infielder when not pitching.
On offense, Flores helps get rallies going, with Oakes and Shelton run producers at the plate.