Just how good was the Cuesta College baseball team’s pitching staff this year?
Well, the three-man rotation of Louis Raymond, Neil Uskali and Brendan Jenkins paved the way for the Cougars’ first conference championship since 2013 with a combined record of 24-9.
The trio struck out 213 batters against 39 walks — an average of more than five strikeouts per walk — and all three players received first-team all-Western State Conference recognition.
Thursday afternoon, Raymond and Uskali joined Jenkins as Division I signees during a ceremony inside the Cuesta Gym lobby. A group of 12 Cuesta athletes signed a National Letter of Intent in front of a small group of friends and family, with six more Cougars expected to move on as well.
“Being a stepping stone program and helping individuals move to the next level, that’s more exciting than winning baseball games,” head baseball coach Bob Miller said. “We like winning baseball games, but we like seeing the players go forward.”
Raymond, who was recently named the Western State Conference Pitcher of the Year, will continue his baseball career at UC Irvine next season. He went 9-2 overall and led Cuesta in innings (95), strikeouts (78) and his team-leading 1.42 ERA is the fourth best in the state.
Uskali came on particularly strong in the second half of the season and went undefeated during a stellar month of April. He initially gave a verbal commitment to Division II Lubbock Christian in Texas, but a sharp performance against Ventura on April 21 changed his fortune.
After throwing a complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts and no walks, Uskali received a scholarship offer from the University of Hawaii. Uskali’s former high school teammate Casey Ryan is a junior on the Warriors’ baseball team and he helped seal the commitment.
“It’s just an exciting feeling to get it out of the way, actually,” said Uskali, who struck out 76 batters and walked five this spring. “Just to be able to finish this season strong and focus more on my team now instead of worrying about where I’m signing.”
Jenkins, who was named the 2016 Cuesta Male Athlete of the Year on Tuesday, signed his letter of intent during the November signing period to play baseball at the University of San Francisco.
Miller has said Cuesta’s pitching depth has been one of the team’s key strengths, and all three will be available when the Cougars’ open the second round of the California Community College Athletics Association playoffs at 2 p.m. Friday.
Fourth-seeded Cuesta (27-12) will host Foothill Conference champion Chaffey in a best-of-three series with a berth in the regional finals on the line. The Panthers (29-9) enter Friday’s opener on a six-game winning streak and eliminated Canyons in the first round.
State champion pole vaulter and 2016 Cuesta Female Athlete of the Year Augusta Thomason also made her commitment to Texas A&M official Thursday afternoon.
A two-time team MVP and school record holder in the pole vault, Thomason represented a strong contingent of track and field and cross country athletes moving on to four-year schools.
“It became really a goal for me after I graduated high school to get into the SEC and to go to Texas A&M,” Thomason said. “They have a great program there for academics and track and field.”
Other members of the track and field and cross country programs moving on include: Matt Tyler (Cal Poly Pomona), Roberto Bazan (San Francisco State), Joe Dreyer (Long Beach State), Sam Ryan (Southern Oregon), Parker Johnson (Cal Poly Pomona), Christine Moreno (San Francisco State) and Morro Bay graduate Madeline Ogle (Portland State).
Women’s wrestler Kate Nestingen, who went 7-1 this season, will continue her college career next year at Life University in Georgia.
Volleyball standout Gabby David (Hawaii), men’s water polo player Sal Arrendondo (UC Santa Barbara) and women’s water polo star Emily Crane (San Diego State) also will be moving on to four-year schools next fall.
Three members of the Cuesta men’s basketball team have settled on landing spots for next year as well: center Roberto Mantovani (Robert Morris), forward Rafail Eleftheriou (Fresno Pacific) and guard Daniel Sollis (Cal Maritime).