Hilmar High baseball turned things around after just two seasons.
With the help of five seniors and the leadership of their second year head coach Bobby Swedberg, the Yellowjackets swarmed the Trans-Valley League and surprised many opponents with their ability to compete after finishing third with an 8-4 record following a 7-8 record last year.
“Maturity was the biggest difference, we were able to instill a lot of discipline and a mindset to be able to compete and play the game,” said Swedberg. “Baseball is a mental game, getting the kids to buy in and not just be on the field, but to be competitive and win — it showed.”
They even had the opportunity to compete for second place in their regular season finale, but Escalon held on to that position after winning and the 'Jackets were forced to play on the road in the opening round of the Division V CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Hilmar traveled to West Campus, but the game didn't pan out well for them as they were blanketed and fell 4-1.
“We didn't hit, that was all there was to it, we couldn't get hits together in a row,” said Swedberg. “A lot of hits came with two outs, one of those days...where pitching and defense were solid but when you don't hit and you score one run... well then you won't win many baseball games.”
Hilmar was outhit by WC 9-6 for the game and failed to muster much offense on critical situations throughout the game.
WC scored first after getting two runs in the second inning, followed by a run in the third.
In an instant, WC had gone up 3-0 on Hilmar heading into the fourth inning.
Jarrod Willis scored Hilmar's only run in the fourth after Zach Berberia drove him in with an RBI single to cut the lead to 3-1.
By the end of the fifth, WC had gone up 4-1, even after Hilmar was lurking a run with two runners on and two outs but unfortunately the following hitter got the out.
“Their pitcher made a quality pitch, but we had an opportunity to put runs on but didn't happen,” said Swedberg.
Hilmar started Colton Dutey as the senior went 5 innings and allowed four runs.
The bats were kept quiet for the final two inning as Hilmar was sent early in the postseason, ending the year with a 13-14 overall record.
Just a year ago, Hilmar finished 11-13.
“Early on you don't know what to expect,” said Swedberg. “But once I started and started to meet the kids and understand not just who they were but what to turn the program around, I saw it was very capable and doable but how they responded leaves me proud to know that I was their coach.”
Hilmar baseball will graduate five seniors who were a consistent threat.
Brandon Almeida, Alex Chavez, Jarrod Willis, Colton Dutey and Noah Batista are the seniors that Swedberg and the 'Jackets will be saying goodbye to, but luckily the team will return 10 players.
“Our five seniors, you take those five kids out of any lineup and its big,” Swedberg said. “We have the best outfielders in the district and we lose a lot but we return guys who got extensive playing time and saw success and saw what it takes to be successful.”
An early look ahead at next year's predicted stars will be Preston Costa, Wyatt Amaral, Zach Berberia, Sammie Agueda and catcher Tyler Amarante, who started as a sophomore.
“He [Amarante] really matured as a catcher and there are so many pieces coming back and underclassmen coming in... the program looks bright,” Swedberg added.