Life on the baseball diamond was tough for Hilmar High this year. After finishing in a two-way tie for third place in the Trans Valley League the previous season, the Yellowjackets entered 2015 with a youthful enthusiasm that was reflective of their roster and of their expectations.
But Hilmar started the season with a 1-11 record and their hopes for a regular season performance worthy of playoff berth were quickly dampened. That didn’t stop the ‘Jackets from hustling, however. After losing to rival Escalon High 7-2 in late March, Hilmar turned things around with a 5-2 win over the Cougars on April 2. The victory reinvigorated Hilmar as its players won eight of their last 12 games, the last of which came against Riverbank on Tuesday by a score of 5-1.
“It was definitely important for us,” Hilmar head coach Bobby Swedberg said. “Starting out 1-11 wasn’t an easy road, but we showed a lot of improvement down the stretch.”
Hilmar made sure it ended the season in the winner’s column by scattering hits through the third and fifth innings to drive in runs while also picking up runs early in the game with the help of Riverbank errors. The performance was par for the course as far as the two teams were concerned because the Bruins were the only team to be swept by Hilmar through the season.
“Beating Riverbank was a good moment for the seniors that worked hard, ending on a high note,” Swedberg said.
Now with the season over and with only four seniors lost next year due to graduation, Hilmar is expecting a contrasting season next year. Taking into account its four one-run losses and three two-run losses as well as the sheer amount of returners, the ‘Jackets (9-15 overall, 5-10 TVL) are intent on earning a playoff berth in 2016.
“If you look at our record, a lot of games were close,” Swedberg said. “We battled some of the best teams and had some of the best teams on the ropes all year, we just had a difficult time finishing at the end.”
“But they never threw in the towel and they continued to work hard,” he added.
This season’s top three hitters — Alex Chavez, Bryce Durjava and Colton Dutey — will be back next year alongside players like Preston Costa.
Dutey will also be back to pitch for Hilmar after filling the number two spot this season.
“We’re looking for those guys to lead us next year with a pretty good and solid group of sophomore coming up who can contribute right away,” Swedberg said. “We’re definitely optimistic about the future.”