Forget next year, Bear River looks at this season |

Forget next year, Bear River looks at this season

Two years ago, Bear River earned its first baseball playoff berth in school history.

Last season, the Bruins won their first league championship, sharing the Pioneer Valley League crown with West Campus.

And then came graduation.

Bear River skipper Mike Viola had to say goodbye to eight seniors, including team leaders in nearly every statistical category, a group that had authored the most celebrated seasons in school history.

So with just three returning starters, including the one senior on the 13-man roster, why is Viola smiling?

Two reasons: This year, and next year.

With nine juniors, two sophomores and a freshman in varsity action, Viola looks ready to lay the foundation for a senior-laden 2006 squad with hopes of building on the success Bruin fans saw from a similar group last spring.

But, Viola says, why wait ’til next year?

“Everybody is saying next year we’ll be really strong,” said Viola, Bruins finished a school-best 16-7 and 10-2 in the PVL in 2004. “But we’re not looking for next year. We’ve got one senior on our team and for him this is it, his career will be over. He deserves everybody’s best effort to make a league or playoff run.”

In addition to juniors Ryan Giacomini (3B) and Matt Hilton (SS), senior Anthony Welz (P/INF) return from last season’s lineup.

Last season’s seniors made a run at the playoffs as juniors, earning the program’s initial postseason spot, before bringing home a league title in their final campaign. But Britton Barber, who led the league and was second in the section in hitting with a .516 average, and classmate Miles Anderson (.394, 3 HR) graduated and took their bats with them.

The Bruins also said goodbye to pitchers Denny Wibbenhorst (2.02 ERA) and Chris Ose (2.27), who joined Anderson (2.68) in a three-man rotation for the most the season. Those three threw 92 percent of Bear River’s innings thrown last spring.

And the 11 other innings were pitched by another pair of departed seniors.

“We lost our two starting pitchers, our starting catcher, our starting second baseman and our whole outfield,” Viola said. “But the three guys we’ve got back are experienced and our JV team has been really good three years in a row.

“Still, when people say that we’re going to be good next year, I take offense to it. We’re not going to go through the motions and just prepare for a good run next year.”

He sees too many reasons he could have a good one this year.

Two transfers from Forest Lake Christian, juniors Robby Alcombrack (C) and Matt Miraldi (CF) are expected to make an immediate impact. Tyler French, a left-hander who Viola said was the top junior varsity pitcher last season, will man the mound with Welz as the team’s two starters.

“It’s going to be a great year to build on,” Viola said. “But I don’t look it as rebuilding.”

The Bruins open PVL play at Oakmont in a 3:30 p.m. game today.

Forest Lake Christian

Nevermind the fact it’s his rookie season, Phil Sparling wasted no time in setting the bar for his Forest Lake Christian baseball program.

“Our goal is to go undefeated in league and win the section,” said Sparling, who replaces John Flores as FLC’s head coach. “I think we’re strong enough to do that.”

What else could he say when he looks at the lineup that landed in his lap this spring. The Falcons graduated just four players from FLC’s 2004 club, which went 17-7 overall and 10-2 for second place in the Central Valley Christian League.

And four of the senior Falcons back for ’05 carry big sticks.

First baseman Joe Martin hit .479 with six home runs last season, while Michael Weiss hit .455 with five homers. Kris Nunn hit a .410 clip with three home runs and 25 RBI. And Kevin Farnum, a scrappy three-sport athlete, hit .350 as the Falcon second baseman.

On the hill, Weiss wound up with a 1.04 earned run average and finished third in the section with 123 strikeouts. Martin also returns to the mound after compiling a 4.47 ERA last year.

“Michael Weiss is probably going to be one of the section’s top players,” Sparling said. “He’s got a full-ride (scholarship) to the Master’s College in Southern California. He’s certainly one of the dominant pitchers in the league. Against Highlands the other day, he only allowed three hits and had 14 strikeouts.”

“Nunn is the one who pretty much runs our defense as our catcher. He’s probably the strongest vocal leader on the team.”

Sparling said all of his seniors have shown leadership skills, which is apparently evident in practice sessions.

“One of the things about these guys is they’re good teachers, as well,” Sparling said. “We match up the seniors with the underclassmen. Because we’re a small school, we only have one baseball team at the high school level. And we can often find (the seniors) teaching the younger players how to hit better and field better.”

If the Falcons are to unseat Sacramento Waldorf as the Central Valley Christian League champions, Sparling said they’ll need to take care of business against Woodland Christian and Victory Christian.

“We’re pretty sure they’re going to be the top two teams in league,” said Sparling. “But I would say we have a strong chance at winning it.”

The Falcons (3-1) will see how they stack up against those CVCL foes in a hurry. The Falcons, who opened CVCL action Tuesday against Faith Christian, travels to Victory Christian Thursday and hosts Woodland Christian Tuesday.

Nevada Union

With 2004 champion Woodland Wolves departing for the Sierra Foothill League this year, the Metro Conference throne is up for grabs and Nevada Union head coach Ted White sees no reason why his Miners can’t make a move to the top of the league standings, especially after the preseason portion of the slate.

NU’s 2-3 early season mark might not look like much, but White said he likes what he’s seen from the Miners. Aside from a 6-0 loss to Sheldon Thursday, each of NU’s games have been close contests against quality opponents.

“I’m pretty happy with the preseason,” White said. “We’re (2-3) but we’re playing real quality teams and (two of our) losses have been by two runs. I’m pretty excited about the prospects for the year.

“When you play good teams, it really comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins those close games.”

Aiding that cause will be an anchor of experience right up the middle of NU’s defense. Six of NU’s 11 seniors are returning letter winners, including catcher Steven Davis, shortstop Brian Jordan, second baseman Peter Ruiz and center fielder Dan Rackley.

Many of those names will also try to make up for the graduation of some serious contributors NU’s 2004 season, in which the Miners went 11-17 overall and 11-7 for third place in the Metro. The Miners graduated Jarad Van Matre (.341, 4 HR 25, RBIs), Jason Roenicke (.378, 2 HR, 22 RBIs) and Curtis Campbell (.361, 20 RBIs).

That same trio also totaled 65 percent of the innings NU pitchers threw in 2004. Van Matre led the staff with a 2.93 ERA, while Campbell racked up a team-high 53 strikeouts.

White will look to Rackley, Ruiz and senior Jamie Lohmeyer as NU’s top pitchers. The three totaled 23 innings of mound action last spring.

At the plate, Jordan looks to be one of the top hitters, after posting a .344 batting average as a junior. White also listed Ruiz, senior J.P. Biertuempfel and junior Nic Gauldin as Miners he’ll lean on for offense. Rackley, who hit .359 as a junior, is the leadoff man.

Both of NU’s victories have been of the come-from-behind variety, including the season-opening win over Del Campo, in which the Miners trailed by as many as four runs.

“We were down three to Rocklin, too,” White said. “And even down at Jesuit (a 5-3 loss), we came back and took the lead, before losing.

“So that’s a real good positive sign that no matter what the score is, we’re going to battle and try to find a way to win.”

White points to league newcomer Granite Bay, Yuba City, McClatchy and his Miners as teams to beat for the Metro Conference championship.

“Granite Bay has a good program. Yuba City is always tough. I’d say those are our main two competitors, although McClatchy’s got a kid who has signed with Long Beach State, (pitcher) Vance Worley, and when he throws they’ll be tough because he’s as tough as they come.”

The Miners open Metro Conference action today, hosting Johnson in a 3:45


Bear River Bruins

Head coach: Mike Viola (5th season)

2004 record: 16-7 overall (10-2 league), Pioneer Valley League co-champions, lost to East Union 6-5 in first round of D-III section tournament.

Returning starters (3): Anthony Welz (12) P/INF; Ryan Giacomini (11) 3B; Matt Hilton (11) SS/DH

Coach Viola says: “Everybody is saying next year we’ll be really strong. But we’re not looking for next year. We’ve got one senior on our team and for him this is it, his career will be over. He deserves everybody’s best effort to make a league or playoff run.”

Forest Lake Christian Falcons

Head coach: Phil Sparling (1st season)

2004 record: 17-7 (10-2), Central Valley Christian League runners-up, lost to Central Catholic 20-2 in first round of D-V section tournament.

Returning starters (5): Kevin Farnum (12) 2B/P; Grant Marple (12) CF/1B; Joe Martin (12) 1B/P; Kris Nunn (12) C; Michael Weiss (12) P/3B

Coach Sparling says: “Our goals are to go undefeated in league and win the section. I think we’re strong enough to do that.”

Nevada Union Miners

Head coach: Ted White (11th season)

2004 record: 11-17 (11-7), third place in Metro Conference, lost to Sheldon 6-2 in first round of D-I section tournament.

Returning starters (5): Steven Davis (12) C; Brian Jordan (12) SS; Jamie Lohmeyer (12) P/1B; Dan Rackley (12) CF/P; Peter Ruiz (12) 2B/3B/P

Coach White says: “You’d think after 26 years (of coaching baseball) it would be kind of like ‘Here we go again’ each spring. But, you know, you do fall ball and then work out in November and December and, then, pretty soon you’ve got that itch to out there and play somebody. I never dread going to the ballpark.”

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