Prep Baseball Preview: PAC 7 teams reload on mound

Arroyo Grande not alone in having to replace bulk of pitching staff from last season

ajankowski@thetribunenews.comMarch 9, 2014 

If there is any silver lining for Arroyo Grande High baseball coach Brad Lachemann, who had to wave goodbye to more than 92 percent of last year’s innings pitched, it’s that he is far from alone in trying to replace his team’s top arms from 2013.

“With the exception of one or two pitchers, there really isn’t anyone (in the PAC 7) who didn’t graduate their best pitchers,” he said. “Not a lot of teams are going to be running out three great throwers, and I think it’s going to be a lot more offensive because of that.”

The Eagles rode the arms of seniors Kyle Brown, Daniel Ramirez, Chris Davidson and Cole Steverson to a split league title with Righetti and reached the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs last season.

In all, seven of the top eight pitchers to lead the league in ERA last year were seniors, including Brown, who was second in ERA (1.61) and first in strikeouts (90) en route to winning The Tribune County Player of the Year award.

“You could run out Kyle on Friday and know you’re going to win as long as you got two runs,” Lachemann said. “Our biggest challenge this year will be to pitch like we have experience when we don’t.”

Jayce Thoming and Connor Leachman both saw limited action on the mound last year, combining for two wins and five strikeouts in 16 2⁄3 innings. Both will shoulder more of a pitching load this season, and junior Jeff Fernandez will see some innings, Lachemann said.

“We swing the bats pretty well, which will make it a little easier for them,” the coach said. “If we do a good job on the mound and throw strikes, I think we’ll be fine.”

The Eagles’ top two hitters in terms of batting average are back this year. Casey Muth hit .490 as a junior and classmate Garrett Ball hit .429, including 21 RBI and team highs in doubles (eight) and runs scored (28). Paul Ormonde hit .371 and scored 16 runs, and fellow junior Tyler Auerbach blasted a pair of home runs.

For as much as the offense might set the tone, Lachemann was just as adamant that defense will be the ultimate factor.

“Defense is going to be gigantic,” he said. “We’re going to go where our defense goes. If we can play catch and not throw the ball all over the place, we’re going to be in a lot of games.”

San Luis Obispo graduated all five of its all-county players that guided it to a 12-6 mark in league last year. The Tigers got off to a strong start this season, topping Templeton 6-2 thanks to a complete-game, four-hitter from starting pitcher Jeremy Jess, who also drove in a run and went 2 for 2 at the plate.

Atascadero returns a strong senior class that includes Joe Johnson, Kelton Torres and Sam Neely. The trio combined to drive in 48 runs last year, and Johnson hit .398.

Holden Nix compiled a 2-3 record on the mound as a sophomore, striking out 22 in 40 innings. Neely recorded 24 strikeouts in 19 2⁄3 innings of work.

Paso Robles gained valuable experience last year, with then-sophomore Bailey Gaither hitting .312 and stealing 30 bases and Matt Keller driving in 10 runs as a freshman.

Templeton leads LPL arms race

A lack of experienced throwers might plague the PAC 7, but Templeton coach Brad Macomber hopes the opposite helps his Eagles repeat as Los Padres League champions.

Templeton boasts, in Macomber’s estimation, “the best duo in the league” when it comes to starting pitchers Mac Lardner and Spencer Howard.

Lardner, a sophomore, is equipped with a lethal changeup to go along with an arsenal of three other pitches that his coach has no qualms about dialing up at any point in an at-bat.

“He’s got the best changeup I’ve ever seen at this level,” Macomber said. “Most changeups, you can get someone to pop up, but they literally swing and miss at his. His arm speed is so deceptive, you’d swear he’s throwing a fastball.”

Lardner was named the LPL’s Pitcher of the Year as a freshman, when he went 9-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 68 1⁄3 innings.

Lardner threw 39 pitches in the Eagles’ second game this year — a 3-0 loss to Pioneer Valley — and Macomber said he liked what he saw.

“His fastball looked stronger than last year,” the coach said. “We’ll build up to our pitchers throwing more innings as the season wears on. Throwing complete games early — that’s just not a philosophy I subscribe to.”

Howard, a senior, owns Templeton’s best fastball, whether he’s on the mound or in the outfield. He also brings “the most pop” to the lineup, Macomber said, after hitting .269 with 11 RBI on a team with 10 seniors last year.

Infielder Austin Alarcon, shortstop Jeffrey Hammond and catcher Clay Villars will be among those relied upon to push enough runs across to support Templeton’s pitching.

“If everyone (in the LPL) is pitching to their best potential, we’re rolling out the best duo in the league,” Macomber said. “But at the same token, we’ve still got to play solid defense behind them and score some runs.”

Morro Bay, which went 5-7 in league last year but ended on a three-game win streak, returns a strong junior class that includes Colt Caravalho and Rajan Singh. Caravalho hit .346 with 22 RBI and eight doubles as a sophomore in addition to pitching 56 innings with a 3.12 ERA and 27 strikeouts. Singh was third on the team with a .357 batting average and scored 13 runs.

Nipomo graduated its top three pitchers from last year, but returns Matt Albright, who drove in a team-high 16 runs as a sophomore. In his freshman year, Colton Blume recorded 11 RBI and 11 runs scored.

Mission Prep, under the direction of first-year coach Scott Dodge, is off to a 1-1 start this season. The Royals went 15-5 last year, with then-sophomore Billy Donner hitting .379 with 11 RBI and then-junior Trevor Fernandez driving in 13 runs.

Coast Union went 10-0 in the Coast Valley League last year and 15-7 overall. The Broncos return Quinten Raethke, who hit .407 and drove in 19 RBI as a junior, and Gehrig Kniffen, who reached the 20-RBI mark as a sophomore.

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