Hilmar varsity baseball is going to have a tough time competing in a very tight Trans Valley League this upcoming season after the top three teams tallied 10-plus league victories just a year ago.
The Yellowjackets finished fourth in the TVL last year at 7-8, as the team failed to make the postseason for the third consecutive year. But there is something going on in the fields at Hilmar High, a belief within the team that anything is possible this year, including a playoff run.
“We are definitely building off last year,” said second-year head coach Bobby Swedberg. “Having time to build the bond since it was a new coach and new faces, it really helped and is paying off for both sides, it was beneficial for the kids and the coaching staff.”
Hilmar might have lost one of the best lefty pitchers they have ever had in Jacob Ahid, but the team returns a pool of talented players who are good all-around and two of last year's top hitters for the 'Jackets.
One of those talents is last year's All-league first baseman and utility player, Jarrod Willis, who led the team with a .375 batting average and a .481 slugging percentage and showed promise as the team's best pure hitter.
“Jarrod Willis really will anchor the middle of our lineup,” said Swedberg. “This year we will rely on him a lot to drive in runs and Alex Chavez coming in as a senior as well after he had a great summer, lot of speed, having him in the middle and having Jarrod to drive him in will help a lot.”
Chavez was third on the team last year with a batting average of .317 and provides lots of speed, especially since he torched cornerbacks on Friday nights during football season, amassing over 1,000 receiving yards.
Look for Brandon Almeida and Noah Batista to assist Chavez in the outfield and for the three to provide the Yellowjackets with a unique blend of speed they haven't seen in some time.
“This team is big on hard work,” said Swedberg. “They have some taste of winning since they come off a good football year and so forth, but we have great leadership and we have guys that want to win and we also have a lot of team speed. We might be the fastest outfield in league, we will challenge guys.”
Behind a tough outfield will be a young infield that includes returning junior Preston Costa, who showed sparks at shortstop and will look to anchor the infield.
Sammie Agueda will look to be the team's ace pitcher and Austin Sutton will be the catcher. Bryce Durjava, who recently suffered an injury, will not be available until mid-March.
“Last year we had our ups and downs, finished strong and started to build on things at the end of the year. But our guys now, I expect us to just be better overall, we have a better approach,” said Swedberg. “We will rely on all nine guys to get the job done.
As for their league competition: “The TVL is tough, I think it's a little underestimated, lot of good competition and great minds as far as coaches and players, but our philosophy is to get in the playoffs,” Swedberg added. “Get a record to get in the playoffs and league is a goal and seniors want to go and do it since it's been a couple years.”
In the last 10 years, Hilmar has never placed first in league and placed second twice, in 2006 and 2008.