Rancho Cotate doing what it takes to stay atop NBL

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Peruse the statistics for the Rancho Cotate baseball team and nothing jumps out to indicate why the Cougars are tied for first place with Cardinal Newman in the North Bay League.

Rancho doesn’t have the big boppers that can hit the ball over the fence. In fact, the team batting average only ranks third in the eight-team league.
The pitching hasn’t been overpowering as the Rohnert Park team only has two shutouts through 16 games.

So, what is the key that has lifted the Cougars into a first-place tie with a 7-1 league record?
“Execution,” responded senior co-captain Andrew Martini. “We concentrate on doing the small things correctly to make up for our lack of a star player and power hitters.”

Among the small things that win baseball games are advancing the runner on offense, playing solid defense and knowing where to throw the ball with runners on base.

While winning eight straight from March 31 through April 22, Rancho played nearly perfect. The biggest win was April 15 on the road against league favorite Cardinal Newman, 4-3. The Cougars were outhit in the game, but got in front 4-0 and held on for the win.
On Wednesday, the Cougars had a hiccup and made three errors in one inning while losing 8-2 at Maria Carrillo.

“We broke down mentally,” said Martini, the starting pitcher. “That was the first time in a long time we’ve had a bad inning in the field.”

In the five-run fifth, the Pumas hit the ball well and were aided by Rancho’s shoddy fielding.
Winning pitcher Michael Francis and Brandon Mahre had doubles while Mario Smaldino, Luca Spence and Jonathan Gripe had singles.
Coach John Morrow immediately gathered his players after the game.

“I told them they couldn’t dwell on the game because every team can have a bad inning,” he said. “We’d been executing well and our defense has been solid. The pitching hasn’t been dominant, but they make the opposing batters keep the ball in play. Our outfielders are quick and run down a lot of balls.”

After winning league last year and losing Casey Senecal (All Empire Player of the Year) and Siosi Poti (first time All Empire) to graduation, some are surprised the Cougars are doing so well.
One reason is the play of Ryan Haug. The sophomore is hitting around .600 in league and just under .400 overall.
“I’m happy with my hitting, but the reason we’re doing well is a great defense and playing heads up ball,” Haug said. “The key for us is executing with the bats and in the field.”

The Cougars look to be set for years to come as only six of the 17 players on the roster are seniors.
Rancho looks to get back in the win column today when Elsie Allen visits today at 4 p.m. After that, the Cougars will have five more league games with the rematch against co-leader Cardinal Newman scheduled for May 11.

The other NBL games today, all with a 4 p.m. start are: Cardinal Newman at Santa Rosa, Maria Carrillo at Montgomery and Ukiah at Piner.