Bruins, Miners have eyes on playoffs
A lack of interest this year to play baseball at Forest Lake Christian forced the Falcons to drop its squad, thus reducing the western Nevada County baseball scene by a third.
But the Nevada Union and Bear River high schools teams are alive and well, and shooting for a spot in the postseason. The Bruins are looking to make it four straight years in the playoffs, while the Miners are trying qualify after falling short last season.
The experience Bear River’s roster brings to the diamond this spring has the makings of a tough-to-deal-with squad.
Because nine of the 13 players on the roster are seniors, Bruins coach Mike Viola is dealing with one of his most experienced teams.
“They’re supposed to be experienced,” Viola said. “This is their season to win or lose. It’s up to them.”
The majority of the lineup is seniors, although not all are in their fourth year playing.
Senior outfielder David Lavelle, who hasn’t played since his freshman year, has quickly become a leader.
“His nickname is ‘Sarge,'” Viola said. “The guys respect him. Just his presence out there is good.”
The presence of senior pitcher Tyler French isn’t too bad, either. He is possibly the biggest reason Bear River is already 4-0.
French has started three games, recorded 24 strikeouts and two wins and has an ERA of 0.91.
The Bruins’ pitching talent extends beyond their No. 1 starter, although few others have had a chance to prove it.
Vince Viola, a sophomore and the No. 2 pitcher for Bear River, is the only Bruin other than French to start a game on the mound. In a home game Thursday, he threw a no-hitter in his first start on the varsity team as Bear River beat Highlands 12-0.
After Vince Viola, the order of the rotation is a toss up.
Mike Viola is still working with junior A.J. Nunez and seniors Matt Miraldi and Steve Sitter to decide who will pitch in the third, fourth and fifth spots.
But the Bruins’ closer is nothing to worry about. Senior catcher Robby Alcombrack handles that duty.
“If we can get deep into the game we put Robby in to close,” Viola said. “With him behind the plate, he controls the game. Knowing we can go to him any time helps a lot.”
On offense, it’s tough to tell who is going to be Bear River’s star. Five Bruins currently hold batting averages above .500, led by French’s .625.
Nunez is a close second on the team with a .600 average, while Alcombrack, who had already verbally committed to Arizona State University if he does not enter the draft, is batting .545. Senior second baseman Ryan Giacomini is hitting .533 and junior Brynn Beck .500. Those numbers are preseason statistics.
The last three years, Bear River has reached the playoffs as a low seed. It has lost each time in the first round.
Last year, after finishing second in the PVL at 8-4 to Oakmont, the Bruins lost 3-0 in the first round to Oakdale.
“There’s a little inexperience in playoff situations,” Viola said. “We haven’t had the big inning in any playoff game yet. Maybe this year, if we can get ourselves there, these seniors can get us past (the first round).”
Getting themselves through the PVL comes before all else.
Oakmont is the team to beat in league, along with Lincoln, West Campus and Mesa Verde on a lesser scale.
Nevada Union’s baseball team is hoping to finish at least one spot better than last year in the Metro League.
While the top three teams from the league advance to the playoffs, at the end of the 2005 season NU finished fourth.
It’s a similar team to last year’s, though. Six of the starters for Nevada Union (1-2, 3-3), are seniors returning – and almost all are having significant impacts.
Daniel Graning, the Miners’ senior catcher, is leading the team batting .533 through six games.
Senior second baseman Brandon Maraglia is batting .375, senior center fielder Josh Noxon .357, and senior third baseman Darrel Smeltzley .333.
Nic Gauldin, the Miners’ top senior pitcher, has delivered a team-high 17 strikeouts with a 2.21 ERA.
“All those guys start most of the time,” Nevada Union coach Ted White said.
White doesn’t have a problem playing any of the younger players on his team.
The Miners’ second and third pitchers on the rotation – Kelcey Wirick and Zander Zeisler – are sophomores.
Tyler Davis, the team’s third sophomore, is the backup catcher.
“Normally, we don’t have that many sophomores,” White said. “But all three of these guys are going to be able to help us this year. They fill the need. … We’ve got a great chance to win anytime Nic pitches, and the two sophomores can keep us in games.”
Just a few games into the league season, the Miners have found themselves in the bottom half of the Metro with a loss to McClatchy, a team White said was not Nevada Union’s main competition. Nevada Union won its first Metro game Friday at Grant, 10-2.
Yuba City, which also already beat the Miners, is a team with which they have struggled in the past. Granite Bay – the other team NU will likely need to beat at least once to land a playoff spot – is currently tied for first with Yuba City and Kennedy. Nevada Union visits Granite Bay at 3:45 p.m. today.
Even though the Miners are in a hole early, they seem to have the tools to get out. Especially when junior pitcher Russell Brackett – a member of a family with a strong past in Nevada Union baseball – returns to the mound. Out with a broken shin, White said he should return before the end of March.
“I think we’re a little deeper this year,” White said. “Our pitching is a little bit more solid now, from top to bottom.”
It’s been hard for the Miners to prove themselves, though.
All three of their league games were shifted from their home field to being played on the road after the snowy weather – something with which Sacramento-area teams didn’t have to deal.
“I just think we’ve been hurt with weather,” White said. “We always know it’s going to be stormy in the springtime, but I can’t remember there ever being so much snow. … I’m just looking forward to it being sunny and feeling like baseball season.”
To contact sportswriter Jeff Miller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4240.
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