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Local small schools rebuilding baseball rosters
Denair baseball
Denairs Patrick Dudley works on his batting during an afternoon Coyote practice. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR / The Journal

The 2013 baseball season has been one of youth and rebuilding for Delhi, Denair, Turlock Christian, and Hilmar High. All four schools have hit the field with a roster made up of players with little varsity experience, but their rawness hasn’t detracted from their game-time efforts. Though growth may be a steady and sometimes difficult process, Hawks, Coyotes, Eagles, and Yellowjackets alike are taking up the challenge and swinging for the fences.

Denair has returned five seniors this season including ace pitcher Chris Walden, relief pitcher Nick Mirza, and leadoff hitter Patrick Dudley. Four underclassmen—three freshmen and one sophomore—have been added to the mix, including Kaleb Arraiz on the mound.

Leading Denair is Mike Souza, an assistant for the past 13 years and first time head coach.

“We got a good group of seniors this year,” Souza said. “Our first goal is to win league, of course, and the next goal is to make playoffs.”

Though the Coyotes remain winless so far this season, those losses have come by close margins, giving Souza and his boys a positive outlook for the rest of the year.

Delhi enters the season with only three returning starters from last year’s team—second baseman Corey Figueroa, ace pitcher Ryan Saavedra, and short stop Marvin Maceas. Newcomers Nick Hernandez and Juan Pullido have stepped in to assume pitching and catching duties, respectively. Although Delhi dropped all five of its pre-season games, first year head coach Scott Bittner is confident his team will improve with time.

“One of the things we wanted to get back to was the basics; start from the ground up and develop not just for this year, but for years to come,” Bittner said. “The team has continued to grow and they’re making great strides. Hopefully we can take those lessons we’ve learned from pre-season and take them into league where we can be competitive and win games.”

TC is in a similar situation as its Southern Athletic League rivals, boasting a roster that includes seven freshmen. Austin Ellefson returns as the only Eagle with varsity experience from last season but the return of Chase Gonzalez as TC’s ace on the mound after a season off from baseball and the arrival of Soren Jerner as his relief pitcher has helped the team take major steps as league play approaches. Nick Steeley has also proved to be a valuable asset for TC from the plate.

“Right now we’re focusing a lot on the basics. With this many freshmen it’s to be expected,” TC coach Shane Smith said. “Our goal is to improve from game to game.”

After a SJS Division V Section Title appearance last year, Hilmar returns with two veteran players—three year varsity catcher Breck Smith and second baseman Ryan Oliviera. On the mound, the ‘Jackets are relying on a trio of newcomers in Jacob Mullins, Beau Balswick, and Seth Burke.

“We’re really young so we’re still trying to figure out our pitching rotation,” Hilmar’s head coach Justin Steelman said. “Last year we went through the same thing and we ended up in the section game against Escalon.”

With its young roster, Hilmar has struggled at the plate, scoring only one run in its first three pre-season games. The ‘Jackets are counting on chemistry and rhythm coming with time, however, as they throw their hats into the race for another section title appearance.

“The main goal for us right now is to have the guys coming together and play as a family. Once that happens it makes a real difference,” Steelman said. “We would love to be there every year, that’s all of our dreams—to go back to sections and win—but right now we’re just trying to score some runs and get some wins under our belts. We’ll play that note when we get to it.”