PREP BASEBALL: Miners head into league play looking to contend
After a clunky start to the season that featured five non-league games spread out over the course of a month and a myriad of adapted practice venues due to inclement weather, the Nevada Union baseball team finally got to dig into league play this week.
“We’ve practiced in the gym, we’ve been on the blacktop, on the tennis courts, on the football field, the (batting) cages, over at the baseball academy, very rarely have we been able to get out here and have a regular practice,” said Nevada Union head coach Ted White. “I’m impressed with how we’ve been able to overcome that…I’m really looking forward to when we can play all the time.”
The Miners opened Sierra Foothill League play this week with a three-game series against Rocklin. Nevada Union took the first matchup, topping the Thunder, 7-6, Thursday thanks to a five-run fifth inning capped by a two-RBI double from Sam Hopper. The Miners dropped the next two, a doubleheader at Nevada Union Friday, to come away with a 4-4 overall record and a 1-2 mark in league play.
THE SFL GAUNTLET
The Miners swing into SFL competition with the goal of snapping a playoff drought that dates back to 2006, but are well aware of the challenges in reaching that goal.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat anything,” said White. “I know the SFL probably has more talent than we do, man for man, but I think this is a team that can compete, we just have to play really good baseball.”
With Rocklin behind them, the Miners will face Del Oro (5-5 overall, 3-3 SFL) three times next week. After a tournament during spring break, the Miners rattle off the remainder of their league schedule with three-game series, starting with Woodcreek (4-5, 2-4), followed by Folsom (5-5, 3-3), Granite Bay (7-2, 4-2) and closing with last year’s league champs Oak Ridge (3-3, 3-0).
“All I ask of these guys is to compete,” White said. “I know the SFL is tough, but they are kids just like we are. The beauty of baseball is that anybody can beat anybody on any given day. So what we got to do is eliminate the free 90s, we got to play catch, we got to throw strikes and we got to have good situational hitting. When we do that we look really good.”
Senior third baseman Ben Powell said reaching the playoffs is an uphill battle and there are no easy wins in the SFL, but believes if his team puts in the effort they can achieve their goals.
“We just need to work that much harder than every other team,” Powell said. “We don’t have the depth or the talent that most do in this league so we need to try that much harder and give that much more effort.”
AT THE PLATE
Several of Nevada Union’s players noted that the biggest improvement from last year’s team to this year’s squad is the ability to hit, and hit with power.
“Everyone in the lineup can hit,” said junior center fielder Owen Day, who is batting .364 with a home run, two doubles and eight RBIs. “Once we get on a roll they can’t stop us.”
Powell, who came into Friday’s games with a .316 batting average, two doubles and seven RBIs agreed with Day and gave credit to NU’s new hitting coach Justin Deme.
“We got a new hitting coach this year and we’ve been raking ever since,” Powell said. “He’s taught us a lot and it helps.”
Deme, a Nevada Union grad, joined the Miners this season after coaching the Colfax Falcons last season.
In addition to Powell and Day, the Miners have strong hitters in infielder James Nolan, outfielder Nick Noll, catcher Luke Cornish and infielder Sam Hopper.
MINERS ON THE MOUND
Guided by pitching coach Larry Prewitt, the Miners boast a trio of starters that will take the hill this season, including senior Gary Menary, Kyle Felhaber and Ty Trathan.
Menary, who is pulling double duty by also playing on the golf team, is Nevada Union’s No. 1 pitcher and through four starts has a 1-1 overall record with a 3.68 ERA.
“He could play any sport he wants,” White said of Menary. “I saw him playing kick ball the other day and he was the best at that. He would win a Twister game. He’s just that good. He is just an exceptional athlete.”
Nevada Union has a handful of relievers in Wyatt Curtis, Justin Houlihan, Cody Rueckert and Day.
AROUND THE DIAMOND
Backing up the NU pitching staff is a defense that continues to improve, said White.
“We’ve got a lot of potential defensively,” he said. “We could be really good. But, there are days where we can be really bad too. I think we are really solid defensively and I think Luke (Cornish) does a good job behind the plate. If we can make the routine plays we should be competitive.”
The Miners showed signs of what it can be during the first game of the doubleheader against Rocklin Friday when Day made a diving catch in center field, and Luke Cornish picked off one Thunder runner who strayed too far from second base and threw out another trying to steal. But, they also showed they have a ways to go after making three costly errors in the same game.
Whether the Miners win or lose this season, White said this team doesn’t get caught up with the result of one game.
“This will be a group that won’t get too high or too low,” he said. “They won’t get discouraged if they lose a game, and they won’t think they are on top of the world if they win one. They just take it day by day.”
In addition to taking it “day by day,” the Miners are a close-knit group that likes to have fun.
“We’re goofy for sure,” said Powell. “It’s a lot of fun playing with these guys.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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With a balanced offensive attack and a strong defensive effort, the Nevada Union football team went on the road Friday night and knocked off Napa, 33-14.