Kelseyville's Thaxton leads All-Empire small school baseball team

By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Kelseyville baseball coach Lou Poloni knew two-way threat Dustin Thaxton was going to be special before Thaxton had even started high school.

“His stepdad (Rob Young) was my pitching coach, and we used to bring him around when he was in eighth grade to throw intersquads,” Poloni said. “We used to laugh” as high school hitters flailed away at Thaxton’s offerings.

After four years at Kelseyville, Thaxton, who plans to pitch for Damon Neidlinger at Santa Rosa JC next spring, has only gotten better. The Press Democrat’s All-Empire small-school baseball athlete of the year kept hitters in the NCL I off-balance with a mix of mid-80s heat and a nasty slider that dives off the plate.

Clear Lake coach Zane Jensen faced Kelseyville twice this season and raved about Thaxton’s “college-level slider” and confident presence on the mound.

“He impressed me, and not just with his stuff,” Jensen said. “He worked really quick and had a good pickoff move. He right now could go and pitch in college.”

“His slider just takes off and kind of disappears on guys,” Poloni said. “It starts off in the strike zone and oftentimes gets into the dirt.”

Thaxton said he started pitching at 9 or 10 in youth baseball, where his mom would also put him at shortstop. She made the right call. In high school, on days he didn’t pitch, Thaxton still played shortstop.

“One of the things he doesn’t get enough credit for is his defense at shortstop,” Poloni said. “I felt he was one of … the small schools’ best.”

As a hitter, Thaxton is a “tough out,” his coach said. “He’s got power; he’s also a pretty good gap hitter.” Thaxton hit .352 with a .521 slugging percentage, four triples and a home run as a senior.

As good as he was in league, Thaxton saved his best for the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs. With Thaxton going the distance and striking out 10, the 11th seeded Knights upset No.6 Healdsburg in the first round.

Healdsburg rallied in the bottom of the seventh to pull within a run and had the bases loaded. But Poloni wasn’t about to pull his ace. Thaxton justified his coach’s faith, striking out the last Greyhounds hitter for the win.

“It was pretty intense,” the pitcher said. “I felt like that was one of my best games.”

Against No. 3 Salesian two days later, Thaxton played shortstop and went 3-for-4 at the plate, driving in two runs in a 6-5 loss.

Thaxton was thankful for his family and coach’s role in his success. The Polonis, he said, became a “second family.”

“I probably lived with him three or four days a week,” said Thaxton, whose parents live a good 30 minutes from Kelseyville. He would stay at his coach’s house on nights when games or practices went late.

“I just went up there the other week (from Rohnert Park),” Thaxton said, “and (Poloni) was the first person I went to see in the county other than my family.”

Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or eric.wittmershaus@pressdemocrat.com.

ALL-EMPIRE TEAM

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Dustin Thaxton
Kelseyville, P/INF, senior

FIRST TEAM
Charles Bertoli, OF, St. Helena, senior
Andrew Caramagno, P/INF, Tomales, senior
Jorge Cazares, 3B/SS/P, Point Arena, senior
Sean Curry, C/P, St. Vincent de Paul, senior
Max Huff, 3B, Kelseyville, senior
Alex Neve, P/INF, St. Vincent de Paul, sophomore
Dusty Oliver, SS/P, St. Vincent de Paul, sophomore
Stone Phillips, 3B, Clear Lake, senior
Jonathan Wignall, INF/P, St. Helena, junior

SECOND TEAM
Jacob Brady, C, Tomales, sophomore
Danny Brink, INF/OF/P, St. Helena, junior
Kyle Brown, P, Middletown, senior
Chad Elliston, SS/P, Clear Lake, senior
Jasper Hillier, P/Util, Point Arena, junior
John Mark Reagan, C/Util, Kelseyville, junior
Bradley Norman, INF/P, Fort Bragg, junior
Justin Sundstrom, P/Util., Point Arena, sophomore
Arman Yektaparast, CF, St. Vincent de Paul, junior

THIRD TEAM
Jimmy Figueroa, P/INF, St. Helena, junior
Tony Hernandez, 1B, Fort Bragg, senior
Justin Kehoe, INF, Tomales, senior
Anthony Neve, 1B, St. Vincent de Paul, senior
Jake Peters, P/SS/C, Kelseyville, junior
Alex Quirici, INF, St. Helena, senior
Mike Reynolds, SS/P, Cloverdale, senior
TJ Robert, INF/P, Rincon Valley Christian, senior
Mitch Sheppard, INF, St. Vincent de Paul, junior

COACH OF THE YEAR
Trevor Sanders, Point Arena