For the past five seasons the Nevada Union baseball team has meandered around the middle of the Sierra Foothill League, coming close to a playoff berth, but never quite getting over that hump.
For many of the Miners that make up the 2014 version of NU baseball, it’s time to jump that hurdle, join the top-tier teams in the Sierra Foothill League and breach the playoffs.
“We’ve started off strong in the pre-season, and we’re looking really good,” senior pitcher Garrett O’Callaghan said. “We have a ton of potential and I think we should be better than last year.”
O’Callaghan is one of three senior starting pitchers on the NU staff, which also includes Joey Souza and Beau Des Pois.
“I think our biggest strength is our pitching,” NU head coach Ted White said. “All three guys have thrown great, they are getting better every day. You take G (O’Callaghan), he’s probably three weeks removed from basketball and he goes out and throws a one-hitter for six innings in his first start. I think that’s where our strength is. They will set the tempo for the game. If they keep it around the plate and we play good defense, I think we have a good chance to win.”
Through five games this season the Miners are 4-1, and have been propelled by stellar pitching. As a team they boast a 2.33 ERA.
Des Pois is 2-0 in two starts with a 1.62 ERA and 11 strikeouts, O’Callaghan is 1-0 with a 0.68 ERA and Souza is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA.
O’Callaghan, who played first base last season and pitched out of the bullpen, said he likes the move to starter.
“I like starting a lot better,” he said. “You get to control the game. That’s what I like about pitching. Just having the ball in your hands and determining the pace.”
O’Callaghan and Des Pois are more finesse pitchers than power pitchers, but that’s where Souza factors in, said White.
“I would call Joey a power pitcher.” he said. “Beau and Garrett, they have a little bit of giddy up, but they are more finesse pitchers. They are most effective when they hit their spots.”
Souza agreed that he was a power pitcher and was quick to compliment his fellow throwers.
“Beau De Pois has come a long way,” Souza said. “He’s really zoned in this year and has a nasty slider.”
In addition to the three senior starters, the Miners will count on junior Chris Sardo out of the bullpen as their No. 1 reliever, said White.
White, along with many of the Miners, believes this team is a playoff caliber team.
“We would definitely like to make the playoffs,” White said. “We know our league is really tough, we probably don’t have the depth of a Granite Bay, Rocklin or Woodcreek, but we will compete everyday. If we can compete and get better, then good things will happen. The bottom line is those teams may be a little deeper in talent, but in 2012 were the giants the best team in baseball? But they found a way to win and that’s what we need to do. I really like our pitching and defense, and if we can get that timely hitting and execute I think we have a shot to make the playoffs.”
To make the playoffs NU will need to generate runs, and while the team is batting .254 overall, there has been some bright spots.
Senior catcher Noah Arriaga leads the team with a .438 batting average, including six RBIs and two doubles in five games. Souza is also swinging a hot bat with a .353 average, four RBIs and two doubles. Junior Brock Grininger leads the team in RBIs with seven, has a .400 batting average and has the teams only home run this season.
“We’re really strong with our hitting, pitching and our defense is good too,” Grininger said. “I think we will be good. Hopefully make the playoffs. Everyone’s goal is to make playoffs and it’s mine too.”
The Miners offense starts with senior center fielder and lead off man Jakob Freele, said White.
“He’s the one that instigates everything from the leadoff spot. If we get him on base, good things happen.”
Freele batted .306 as a junior and scored a team high 19 runs last season, but has struggled to open the 2014 season, notching just one hit in 19 plate appearances.
“Its a group that really clicks and they have fun,” White said. “They’re focused but still having fun playing the game. They support each other, but still rag on each other in a good way. It’s fun, they have really good team chemistry.”
Souza said he hopes that chemistry translates into a trip into the postseason.
“Our chemistry is a lot better than it has been in previous years,” Souza said. “There was some clique-iness (last season), but this year everyone is unified in the playoff goal. We want to make the playoffs, it’s been a while since this school has made the playoffs in baseball so that’s what we want, that’s where we have set the bar.”
The Miners take on Oakmont at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Raley Field in a nonleague game, and open SFL play March 31 at Rocklin.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.