At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds with full beard, Jonathan Baldwin was an imposing figure on the Paso Robles High football team.
Now, the Bearcats baseball team has him standing atop a pitching mound and hurling fastballs upwards of 77 miles per hour.
As coach Derek Stroud put it, “He’s a presence out there.”
And he’s getting the job done.
The senior threw three perfect innings of relief, Bailey Gaither had two hits, two runs and his 31st steal of the season, and the Bearcats defeated visiting Righetti 5-2 on Friday to stand alone atop Pool B through two games of the inaugural PAC 8 Tournament.
Baldwin, who will play tight end collegiately at Northern Arizona, came on in the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead and retired all nine Warriors he faced, striking out four.
“Get some outs — that’s the biggest thing,” said Baldwin, who has struck out 43 batters in 372⁄3 innings and hasn’t given up an earned run in his past seven outings. “Just one batter at a time, get them out, and go from there.”
Gaither finished 2 for 4 at the plate, singling, stealing and scoring in the first inning before lacing a double down the left-field line to lead off the fifth and scoring on a passed ball three batters later to make it 4-2.
“We’re playing good ball right now,” said Gaither, the reigning County Player of the Year. “We’re hoping to keep the momentum on Tuesday against SLO.”
The win moves the Bearcats (21-4) into sole possession of first place in Pool B, which wraps up Tuesday. Paso Robles will host San Luis Obispo — 1-1 in round-robin play — while 1-1 Righetti will host 0-2 Pioneer Valley.
In Pool A, St. Joseph leads the way at 2-0, followed by Atascadero and Mission Prep at 1-1 and regular-season champion Arroyo Grande at 0-2.
The final games will be played Thursday, with the top team in each pool facing off, the seconds playing one another, and so forth.
The overall tournament winner will receive eight points, with each team earning one point less as you go down the standings.
Those points will combine with regular season points — 17 points to Arroyo Grande for finishing first, 14 to Paso Robles for second, etc. — to figure out the PAC 8 champion as well as which four teams earn automatic CIF-Southern Section playoff berths and with which seed.
It’s all devised to try and best determine who is the true champion after the addition of an eighth school to the league last summer made the usual three-game series difficult to schedule across the board.
“It’s different,” Baldwin said. “I did like the system we had last year; it was a lot easier to figure out and it’s all on a points system now. It’s tough to follow, but we’re just going to try and win every game that we can.”
As confusing as the system might be, it’s given Paso Robles a second chance to defend its 2014 PAC 7 title.
Both the Bearcats and Arroyo Grande went 12-2 in league this year, but the Eagles held the tiebreaker after winning the two head-to-head meetings by a combined score of 19-4.
But since those losses, the Bearcats have won eight straight by a total of 63-7 and can still defend their league title and earn the coveted top seed for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.
“Home-field advantage means a lot for us,” said Gaither, standing on the northernmost field in the section. “We have a great field, good fans, and we feel comfortable playing at home.”
They sure looked it Friday.
Sophomore left-hander Nolan Binkele allowed only two hits and a walk over the first four innings, striking out a pair. Tyler Ridino drove in a pair of runs on a sacrifice fly and an error, Ben Mecham smacked an RBI single, and Mark Armstrong and Will Stroud also singled.
“I’m happy for our guys with how they responded,” to the Arroyo Grande losses, coach Stroud said. “We were able to gradually gain some momentum, and here we are right now still with a lot to go.”
The Bearcats scored three times in the first two innings, and even though the Warriors cut the lead to one with a pair of RBI hits in the fourth, it was all the cushion Baldwin needed.
“When he goes out there, that beard really intimidates the other team or something,” Gaither said. “He does a great job for us.”
Baldwin laughed at the comment, before saying with a shrug: “I’ve been growing it out since football. It seems to be good luck so far, so I might as well keep it.”