Spitting seeds, blowing bubbles and diving head first for home. Ask around and it quickly becomes clear that this year’s Bear River ball club is digging in its cleats for a crack at the postseason.
Never mind the past. It’s all about the here and the now, and with a revamped coaching staff and a hungrier, more upbeat attitude being adopted by the players, positive results are already beginning to show on the field.
“They’re chippy and confident,” said Bruins’ first-year head coach Dave Brown. “You want your guys to be like that. We’re like a walking MASH unit. Seven guys have missed practices and games with injuries. It’s resilience. These guys are banged up. I told everyone, ‘Don’t make plans for anything in May.’ We come out here and we work. Set your sights on playoffs, that’s what we have to tell them.”
Unlike the past two seasons where Bear River has fallen short of reaching the playoffs, the team’s 2014 agenda is set for not only reaching the postseason but making some noise. Coach Brown definitely knows what it takes and brings a wealth of experience to the program.
“I’ve been to the section finals five times and won it all with Granite Bay in 2001” added Brown. “I coached at Granite Bay 13 years, then three years at El Camino and returned back to Granite Bay to coach JV last season. My brother-in-law is the grounds keeper here. He told me to apply so I called Mr. Ganskie and we held an interview.”
Bear River hasn’t turned in a winning season on the baseball diamond since 2011, where it went 17-9 overall and 10-5 in the Pioneer Valley League to be crowned co-champs with Lincoln. The last two years the Bruins finished a combined 22-31 overall and were a dismal 11-19 in league games, taking fifth place in 2012 and fourth place last season. None of that matters now though because it’s a clean slate.
“It’s a big year,” said senior ace Michael Scudero (2-1), who sports a 0.95 ERA with 14 2/3 innings pitched. “We have some big hitters with (David) Chorjel and (Jake) Sypnicki. I just have to throw strikes. I know the defense can back me up. If we play strong we’ll be the toughest team out there. Our chemistry is great. Everybody up and down the lineup is doing well. There’s not one player here who isn’t going to give it his all.”
Reasserting itself as a legitimate contender in the PVL, this Bruins’ ball club has already put together some impressive outings for wins over Lincoln, Monterey Trail, Foothill and Placer. Currently the team sits in second place at 3-1 in the PVL. Colfax remains the only unbeaten squad left, but the season is still young with lots of opportunities on the horizon.
“Our new coaches are making it great,” said senior infielder and pitcher Sypnicki, who is currently batting .417 and owns a 2.80 ERA on the mound. “We started off strong overall, swinging well, defense backing us up. They make us want to play for them. They brought a winning attitude. I’m batting lead off this year. My job is just to try and get on and have guys hit me in. Placer, Lincoln and Colfax are the teams to beat. Everybody knows that. I think we came in a little underrated after last year. Now with these wins it puts a little target on our back.”
Bear River also has some young talent on this year’s starting varsity roster. Sophomores, Matt Lopez and Bear Belding both made the leap from JV to earn their spots and are doing more than just making a positive impact. Lopez, who plays right field, leads the team with a .421 batting average, including three doubles. Belding, the team’s sure-handed shortstop, is batting .350 and has a pair of doubles to go with a team-high eight RBIs. He’s also stolen a team-high five bases on five attempts.
“It’s been pretty fun,” said Lopez. “It’s a great team and I enjoy being on and off the field with these guys. We’re getting to the playoffs, maybe even the league championship. Making that catch on the foul line. That’s fun to do. I played second base last year. It’s hard to go back, but my fellow outfielders are helping me with that.”
Senior leadership is undoubtedly a huge part to any team’s success and the Bruins have five this year. Sypnicki, Scudero, Brandon Donley, Tyler Toft and Chorjel will each be looked upon to step up and deliver in the clutch. All of them are batting .333 or better and are key contributes at the plate.
“Definitely being on top, being a senior leader I can’t have bad days,” explained Chorjel, who plays catcher. “I can’t show it coming through. I need to set an example for the younger players. We have great chemistry, no animosity, we’re still good friends if one of us plays over one another. I’ve caught (Scudero and Sypnicki) for awhile. I know what they want to pitch in what count. I know how to calm them down so they can be stress free and give it their best. (Catcher) is like being quarterback on the field.”
Thus far, the Bruins are allowing 6.3 runs per game but are surging offensively, averaging 7.4 runs with their bats. Putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard will need to continue if the team hopes to go far.
Keeping everybody healthy is key, especially since beyond Scudero and Sypnicki there isn’t a clear cut No. 3 in the rotation. The two pitchers account for 24 2/3 of the team’s 39 total innings pitched. Six others have taken the mound, but with limited work. Still with only one-third of the season in the books the Bruins are confident that when the dust settles they’re going to be right there in the thick of it.
“That’s what all this hard work is for,” added Chorjel. “We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re good hitting top to bottom. We get on base and the middle drives runs in and the bottom can nickel and dime them. There’s not one main all star on our team. We all know our role.”
Bear River (5-4, 3-2 PVL), which lost to Center on Friday, will look to get back on the winning track when it hosts Lincoln Wednesday.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly. All stats and records are accurate as of 5 p.m. Friday.
“They are chippy and confident ...You want your guys to be like that.”
— Dave Brown
Bear River head coach