After losing 2014 league pitcher of the year Paul Andersen and All-County second team catcher Kai Bedell to graduation, leadership is something the reigning PAC 8 champion Paso Robles High baseball team will be looking for.
“Hopefully guys will fill in and have the same team chemistry of last year,” said coach Derek Stroud, whose team finished 13-4-1 in the then-PAC 7 and 20-7-2 overall last season.
The Bearcats return The Tribune County Player of the Year in senior shortstop Bailey Gaither, who hit .500 and stole 32 bases, but will look for other players to step up.
Paso Robles is also returning a deep stable of pitchers with Nolan Binkele, Jonathan Baldwin, Martin Salas and Tyler Ridino, who all saw action last year.
The Bearcats will attempt to overcome early season injuries to Ben Mechum (concussion) and Christian Erickson (knee) and are off to a 4-0 start.
Arroyo Grande is returning senior All-County second teamer Ryan Teixeira, who had a .437 batting average with 23 runs, 21 RBI and a team-high 11 doubles. Teixeira signed a letter of intent to play Division II baseball at Colorado Mesa.
The Eagles are also returning Nash Ackerman, who had a .367 batting average with
26 runs and 16 RBI as a sophomore.
San Luis Obispo ended 2014 with a 5-22 record, but has started this year 4-1, behind All-County first teamer Jeremy Jess. Jess has started 2015 with a .667 batting average and seven RBI in four games. Senior Brooks Hollister also has had a solid start, with a .500 average, and is 1-0 as a pitcher.
Atascadero lost a strong senior class last year, losing its top five hitters. The Greyhounds finished with a 7-20 record, and will be under the direction of new coach Casey Belt.
Ty Townsend returns for Atascadero after hitting .270 last season.
Mission Prep coach Scott Dodge, fresh off his first season at the helm, looks to pilot the Royals program in the right direction while taking on PAC 8 competition for the first time.
Dodge said he has implemented a year-round program that he started last summer to focus on the fundamentals of baseball and weightlifting.
“We beat ourselves a lot (last year) with physical and mental errors,” he said. “It took awhile but everyone seems to be buying in. I can see the difference of having them year-round doing work.”
Carson O’Connor started every game last year for the Royals, and Chance Keegan hit over .300, each as freshmen. The Royals will also be returning Owen Bagby and Eddie Fernandez when their playoff run in boys basketball is over.
Eagles look to soar in Los Padres League
Templeton returns senior Jake Walsh, who had a team leading average of .309 with 21 hits and 10 RBI in 27 games as a junior.
The Eagles also return All-County first teamer Mac Lardner, who boasted a 6-2 record with a 1.08 ERA in 642⁄3 innings pitched and was the LPL Pitcher of the Year as a freshman.
Lardner verbally committed to Gonzaga in the offseason. Templeton finished second in the Los Padres League with an 8-4 record, and has started this year 2-5.
Morro Bay went 5-7 in league play last year, but finished the season on a four-game win streak. Noah Garcia will look to lead the Pirates offense after hitting .357 last season. Morro Bay also has a new coach, Nick Burger, who replaces Cole Nagler.
Nipomo returns several key players, with All-County first teamer Colton Blume leading the way. Blume hit .351 last year with eight RBI, and honorable mention Jose Ojeda — another returning Titan — led the team with 14 RBI. Nipomo also returns three of its top four pitchers in Alex Morales, Jacob Santala and Spencer Poole.
Coast Union went 10-0 in the Coast Valley League and 19-5 overall last season. The Broncos return Gehrig Kniffen, who hit a team high .538 with 27 RBI as a junior, and Luke Sutherland, who hit .421 with 25 RBI as a sophomore.