SCL baseball preview: Anybody's ballgame


One of the Sonoma County League’s most competitive baseball races in years is on tap before Casa Grande and Windsor depart to join with the region’s largest schools.

Casa Grande again is formidable with a half dozen returning starters. Petaluma, Sonoma Valley and Healdsburg each has a talented core of players back to challenge for the league title.

Both Windsor and Analy are improved. El Molino is retooling after much of last season’s North Coast Section playoff squad graduated.

“It’s going to be exciting, that’s for sure,” said Petaluma coach Paul Cochrun. “There’s a lot of parity in the league. You can’t ask for a more competitive situation than that, where every game means something.”

Adding to the competitive edge is a trio of coaching changes. Looking to establish winning ways are Brian Houghtelling at El Molino, Damon McGovran at Healdsburg, and Mark Domenichelli, who takes over at Windsor after a long stint leading Healdsburg.

“A lot of us know each other and are friends,” McGovran said. “To face them across the diamond will be interesting.”
Team capsules are in alphabetical order. Records are through Tuesday’s games.

Record: 4-7
Returning Starters: 2
Having already equaled last season’s win total, Analy aims for a winning league record and a section playoff bid.
But to compete with the league’s best, Analy must be steadier in the field and with the bats. The Tigers pitching is good enough to stay in games.
“Inconsistency would be the theme of our season. We definitely have an uphill climb ahead of us,” coach Jeff Ogston said. “We have to pitch and play defense and win some tight ones.”
Deeper at several positions this season, Analy can get more pitching from shortstop Darin Newman. Mikey Myers also helps anchor the pitching staff.
Newman leads an offense seeking good years from Ricky Thokle-Sample, Ryan Ponce, and sophomore catcher Grant St. Martin. Other young players contributing include infielders Joaquin Meckler and Jae Wagner.

Casa Grande
Record: 6-2
Returning Starters: 6
Playing one of the Empire’s toughest nonleague slates of games, Casa Grande aims to compete at a high level with a seasoned group.
Gauchos pitchers feature a good mix of power — Kevin George and Anthony Bender — and finesse — Joey Ellicott. Each can throw three different pitches for strikes.
As the Gauchos pitchers are expected to get ahead in counts, Casa Grande hitters are aggressive and need good approaches to stay in the lineup. Returning All-Empire catcher Francis Christy, Iggy Llorence and Bender have been consistent, and All-Empire second baseman Chase Stafford is a key bat.
Winning while getting playing time for reserves who work hard in practice gives Casa Grande a deep bench. The Gauchos already have plugged one hole with injured standout R.J. Busse, an All-Empire pitcher and shortstop, out of the lineup.
“I like where we’re at right now. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” coach Paul Maytorena said.

El Molino
Record: 3-6
Returning Starters: 2
Young in varsity experience, El Molino aims to improve as players settle into roles and push one another to make the Lions competitive in the SCL.
Pitcher-infielder Dallas Packard and shortstop Wyatt Lopez are back from one of El Molino’s better teams in recent years. Playing well as first-year starters are outfielder Jacob Colbert and second baseman David Granigan.
With plenty of young arms, pitching has been a pleasant surprise.
“It feels like we’re starting from scratch, but we’re improving,” coach Brian Houghtelling said. “We’re just trying to get the expectations up and really being committed to being better baseball players"

Record: 7-1
Returning Starters: 5
Healdsburg’s impressive play so far shows the Greyhounds are no sleeper coming into league play.
With a team batting average above .350, the Greyhounds can hit with anyone. Leading the hit parade are pitcher-first baseman Ryan Rochioli, right fielder Mark Grover, All-Empire center fielder Max Opperman and catcher Elliot North.
Defense is solidifying. Pitching has been strong led by Rochioli, third baseman Austin Cristando and left fielder Benny Shakked.
Stringing together seven good innings is Healdsburg’s goal to stay competitive in every game.
Making the league tournament and a deep section playoff run are in the Greyhounds’ sights.
“We started out the season quite successful. We’ve definitely taken steps forward toward reaching our goals,” coach Damon McGovran said. “We are in the hunt.”

Record: 5-5
Returning Starters: 4
Another strong team with the bats, Petaluma also is very good up the middle on defense and has a handful of pitchers to keep opponents in check.
To strengthen the squad, returning All-Empire infielders Daniel Comstock and Dylan Parks have switched spots with Comstock moving to catcher and Parks to center field. All-Empire outfielder Brandon Hagerla leads the pitching staff and plays infield.
Also back in the starting lineup is Blake Patrick, now at shortstop, who with Comstock has hit well on the season. Outfielder-pitcher Shane Tatro adds a good bat.
Throwing the ball well have been Hagerla, Comstock, Patrick and Dominic Deville.
Splitting a challenging non-league schedule — every opponent made the section playoffs — positions Petaluma for another standout season.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some very good players. We just want to go out and compete,” coach Paul Cochrun said.

Sonoma Valley
Record: 8-3
Returning Starters: 4
Counting on a pair of staff aces to support a stout batting lineup, Sonoma Valley enters league play following a promising start.
Opposing pitchers will attempt to contain a lineup featuring a handful of starters batting better than .300, led by the power pair of Jonah Son and Chris Swanson. Shortstop Dan Deely and catcher Sam Morgan also bang the ball.
Defense has been strong. Swanson moved to third to make room for Deely at shortstop, Will Rose is back at second base, and Morgan anchors at catcher.
Pitching has been pretty good. Young arm Jimmy Flatt has emerged as a top starter. Brennan Cole is a workhorse on the mound.
Even with several sophomores playing big roles, Sonoma Valley has high expectations.
“It’s a good bunch. Every year we try to keep the bar really high,” coach Don Lyons said.

Record: 4-2
Returning Starters: 5
Scoring runs is the challenge for a Windsor team that is young in varsity experience.
That the Jaguars have a winning record early is a sign that defense and pitching could carry Windsor this season.
Returning pitchers Harrison Kauth and Justin Landen top a staff that has a pair of shutouts. Newcomer Troy Kennedy adds depth to the rotation.
Leading the offense so far has been Darrian Roman, an All-Empire football player who gives the Jaguars a top athlete in the field. Kauth and Landen along with returning starter Cameron Arnold bolster the lineup.
“One thing about our league, history tells you it’s up for grabs. We just have to get out to a good start and see what happens,” coach Mark Domenichelli said.