NCL baseball: Coyotes build a program one step at a time

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Scoring the winning run on a ground ball and quick sprint home, Sonoma Academy capped the school’s first ever home baseball game with a fundamentally sound play.

Good stuff for a team that has a cobbled together roster, blends wide-ranging abilities and continues to improve under a first-year varsity coach.

“We’ve made incredible progress. It feels great,” said Steven Stack, the Coyotes’ most experienced player and only a sophomore. “It’s finally come together.”

Baseball began as a physical education class at the private school in the hills of southeast Santa Rosa. Then following more than a year of lobbying from hopeful players, school officials added the sport to the varsity team ranks. Students narrowly voted for baseball over golf.

“Any time you have to fund a sport you have to be serious about it,” said Frankie Graham, who helped push for baseball as a gym offering. “There was a large amount of energy behind it.”

Matching that fire for the game is coach Justin Herrguth, a physical education teacher at The Healdsburg School.

An All-Empire standout at Healdsburg High who played at Santa Rosa Junior College and Western Kentucky, Herrguth has coached youth and some high school and college since he was a teenager. Sonoma Academy is his first varsity post.

“Sonoma Academy is getting a great role model for young student-athletes, and I’m confident he will do a great job,” said SRJC coach Damon Neidlinger.

Fielding a team was a tough first task.

“We were scouring the halls,” Herrguth said.

Drawing from a small student body lacking many experienced players, Herrguth had six players at the first practice. Fielding a full squad a month later, Herrguth faced much work in molding a competitive squad for the first game a week later.

While some players like Stack were playing high level youth baseball, just as many others, including Graham, had not played in several years.

Some were new to the game.

“We’ve had to bridge the gaps on the field. But we’re going to give them the opportunities,” Herrguth said. Progress has been measured in cleaner defense, pitchers throwing more strikes and batters showing patience at the plate.

“We’ve stayed strong. We’ve been confident in ourselves,” Graham said.

Now more than two months into the season, players are working on the game’s finer points. Set defensive plays, thinking ahead in situations and reading pitches are ways for the Coyotes to be more competitive.

Experienced players have helped bring along their teammates.

“We have a good dynamic in the dugout. There’s a willingness to improve,” Stack said.

Posting a winning record is a primary goal. Winning the NCL II South will be difficult with St. Vincent and Tomales fielding very strong teams again.

That the Coyotes are playing at the varsity level right away rather than starting with a junior varsity squad reflects confidence the coaches and players can be successful from the start.

“I just want a group of kids that will work hard and build from there,” Herrguth said.

Sonoma Academy came from behind to win the home opener at Doyle Park on Wednesday, evening its record at 2-2 on the season — a big boost to the Coyotes’ confidence.

Sonoma Academy took the lead late over Calistoga on a single down the left field line by Stack that drove home Ryan O’Hara, who had reached on a walk, and Graham, who had bunted for a hit.

After the Wildcats tied the contest on a two-out single in the top half of the seventh inning, the Coyotes scored without a hit for the 5-4 victory. Jack Lasseter walked. After a fly-out, pinch runner Xavi Lema stole second base and went to third when the throw got away. Graham hit a hard grounder into the hole between third base and shortstop and Lema beat the throw home. First home victory is entered into the record book.

“You just pick each other up,” said Stack, who pitched six innings to keep Sonoma Academy close. “It’s fun to represent the school in my favorite sport.”

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