SCL baseball preview: Teams eager to get on the field

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Practicing on school yards and in gyms gets old quick during this rain-soaked season so Sonoma County League baseball teams are anxious to take the diamond when league play opens Tuesday.

Daniel Comstock is Petaluma’s ace pitcher and also hits third in the Trojans’ lineup. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

With clear skies in the forecast, the first contests on Tuesday should reveal if defending champion Petaluma indeed is the team to beat and how Sonoma Valley, Casa Grande, Windsor and Healdsburg will battle to reach the North Coast Section playoffs.

Starting the season with another cross-town classic, longtime power Casa Grande hosts a Petaluma team with few apparent weaknesses. Sonoma Valley, last year’s runner up, visits Windsor.

A pair of teams looking to improve on last season, Analy takes on visiting El Molino. Healdsburg gets the bye.

To win in the season of the deadened bat, teams more than ever need pitchers throwing strikes, aggressive batters, and strong defenses. Coaches are emphasizing more than ever little things like bunting and smart running that make big differences.

“It’s a simple game if players buy into it,” said Casa Grande coach Paul Maytorena.

Coaches welcome the opportunity to teach a new generation how to play a more complete game of baseball.

“It creates an exciting dynamic as a coach. The winners are those who know how to handle it,” said Sonoma Valley coach Don Lyons.

Following are team capsules in order of last season’s standings, and current records.

PETALUMA (4-2-1)

Returning Starters: 6

On the mound, up the middle and throughout the lineup, Petaluma is poised to defend its league title and make a deep run in the North Coast Section playoffs.
The Trojans have played well against a difficult non-league schedule.

“You always want to have a good preseason and get ready to compete,” said Petaluma coach Paul Cochrun. “It’s tough to have a dozen blacktop practices in a row and keep them motivated.”

So far, so good with a quartet of three-year varsity players providing both leadership and talent. Top pitcher and No. 3 hitter Daniel Comstock, center fielder-pitcher and leadoff man Stephen McElroy, catcher Spencer Neve, and second baseman Patrick Hodges are the core. First baseman and cleanup hitter Anthony Sequeira and shortstop Dylan Parks also return in the starting lineup.

With seven solid pitchers, Petaluma can weather a schedule dotted with makeup games from rainouts.

SONOMA VALLEY (3-3)

Returning Starters: 3

Pitching also should be a strength for Sonoma Valley with a handful of good arms led by returner Sam Alton and newcomers Michael Hernandez and Brennan Cole.

“I’d like to say pitching and defense are going to drive us this year,” Lyons said.

Also returning in the starting lineup are center fielder and leadoff hitter Kevin Deely and catcher Sam Morgan, a top run producer. Third baseman Jonah Son leads the team in runs batted in so far this season.

If the Dragons can hit well, they should be tough to beat. Success at the plate demands that batters use their body and have quick hands to drive balls because bats, now designed to perform like wood bats, won’t make up for poor swings.

CASA GRANDE (4-4)

Returning Starters: 4

Mixing in more first year starters than in recent years, Casa Grande is anchored by strong infield defense and improving hitting.

“The quicker they can gel then we will be alright,” Maytorena said.

While the Gauchos have strong pitching in Alex Perez and Robbie Rossi, both returning starters, Maytorena is looking for others to step up into prominent roles. Anthony Bender and Kevin George could be mainstays.

Rossi at shortsop and R.J. Busse, returning at third base, drive the top of the lineup. Outfielder Mike Ielmorini has started strong at the plate. First baseman-designated hitter Jesse Perkins also is back in the starting lineup.

WINDSOR (3-3)

Returning Starters: 1

While young, Windsor should be competitive if the hitting improves.

“Last year we could hit. This year we can pitch and play defense,” said Windsor coach Larry Doherty.

Leading on the mound are Harrison Kauth and Ryan Shubin. Both can throw strikes and eat up innings. Windsor has several other arms to give the pitching staff depth, always an advantage in prep baseball.

“A lot of teams are like that. They have pitching, but the bats aren’t there,” Doherty said.

The lone Jaguars’ starter back from last season is Justin Landen, the third baseman and cleanup hitter.

Leadoff hitter and left fielder Trey Perry saw action last season. Kauth, a reliever a year ago, has moved in at shortstop and hits second.

ANALY (1-5)

Returning Starters: 2

Another young squad, Analy struggled early to throw strikes, catch the ball and hit consistently. Pitching and defense are starting to come around.

“The last couple of games we’ve been better. We’re kind of piecing it together,” said Analy coach Jeff Ogston.

With a large roster, Ogston and his staff are working in a handful of pitchers and looking for consistency at the plate. Ogston is a veteran Sonoma County coach having led Rancho Cotate seven years before taking a teaching job at Analy.

Analy’s returning starters are Eli Alcantar, a starting pitcher and center fielder; and Isaak Olsen, a catcher and another middle of the order hitter.

The No. 2 pitcher so far is Augie Houlemard, who also plays on the left side of the infield. Joey Clemmer also pitches and plays shortstop and third base.

HEALDSBURG (3-2)

Returning Starters: 4

What could be one of the best Healdsburg teams in recent years is led by strong defense, solid hitting and a corps of starters who play well together.

Geno Dericco is the ace pitcher as the Greyhounds look to beef up the pitching staff.

“Once we put all three things together, we should be tough to beat,” said Healdsburg coach Mark Domenichelli.

Strong up the middle, Healdsburg has Joey Miller back at shortstop and hitting second, Kevin McLachlan at second base and hitting fourth, Trevor O’Connor catching.

Pitchers expected to start and back up Dericco are Max Opperman and Mark Grover.

EL MOLINO (4-3)

Returning Starters: 3

Also counting on a nucleus of experienced players, El Molino could be a tougher league foe this season.

“Our goal is to be competitive in every game and to give ourselves the opportunity to win every game,” said El Molino coach Ken Marshall, in his first year leading the Lions.

Timely hitting and steady pitching have helped El Molino get off to a good start.

Catcher and top batter Ben Rhoades leads the returning starters including shortstop and No. 3 hitter Michael Pierson, and Jordan Nordby the third baseman and catalyst in the leadoff spot.

Paris Selzer has been the top starting pitcher with several other able arms led by Dallas Packard.

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.