With the spring baseball season looming beyond winter’s wrath, Sonoma State University is primed to improve upon its previous 24-21 record thanks to a bevy of strong arms, quick bats and leaders with enough experience to navigate the highs and lows of a long year.
For most teams, veteran leadership is the key to consistency and success. Ask any MLB executive what they think is most vital in creating a winning roster and they will each provide the same response: veteran experience.
Without experience at the core, there’s a greater susceptibility to late game collapses and overall underperformance. But, with this installment of Sonoma State baseball – anchored by manager John Goelz and supported by transfer students, returning leaders and a talented freshmen class brighter days are on the horizon. Just ask senior first baseman Jake Sahagian.
“As a team, we need to be more consistent in our day to day approach and attack everything with the same intensity whether or not it’s a drill at practice, or in a game that we need to win to secure a national championship,” Sahagian said. “We’re extremely deep as a team and have good leadership to help us prepare for big moments, that way the moment won’t be too big for us when it’s right there in our face.”
National titles are few and far between and don’t happen without consistency. Unless you strike lightning in a bottle and the stars perfectly align, baseball doesn’t usually work that way and Sonoma State is no exception to this. For a lineup that ranked ninth in the conference in batting average (.277) and scored an anemic 237 runs -- good for second to last in the conference -- offensive stability is an area that severely lacked.
Although players such as Grant St. Martin, Daniel Caresio, and Nathan Mann each posted strong individual numbers from the batter’s box, the team’s inability to push runs across the plate is in direct correlation to them barely missing the postseason. Even though these two statistics alone don’t fully explain the deficiency in runs, one thing is clear: last year’s team had a good enough on-base percentage (.376) to win more than 24 games.
“I think a lot of it had to do with just not executing,” said senior shortstop Rayson Romero. “We weren’t a very good situational hitting team last year. With runners in scoring position and less than one out, a lot of times we just struggled to score those runs and left guys stranded. We’ve focused in on those things this fall, so hopefully we can just carry it into the season and execute.”
Players like Romero and Sahagian, both seasoned veterans, will bear some of the responsibility as returning seniors of this team. But, in Romero’s eyes, not all the weight will be placed on them with the next generation of teammates making their way to the roster.
“I’m very impressed with a lot of our newcomers,” Romero said. “We have a talented freshmen class that has shown a lot of maturity and poise. We also have a handful of transfer players that fit in and mesh really well with the returners.”
Among the transfer athletes, Dan Deely, an infielder who previously played at Sacramento State, will provide a smooth glove while also supplying a spark in the batter’s box and on the base paths.
On the mound, former Skyline Community College pitcher Rory McDaid has the potential to aid a pitching staff reeling from the graduation of a number of innings crunching pitchers.
Of the pitchers still remaining, Matt Hammonds, will likely take his post as the ace of the staff, after a season in which he started 12 games and led all Sonoma State starting pitchers with an earned run average of 2.98 in 63 ⅓ innings of work. In a league littered with golden arms, Hammonds is vital to any hopes of flying high in the postseason.
But, at the end of the day, baseball is a game of minimizing failures. It always has been and always will be. Sonoma State’s best shot at a championship lies within its ability to limit mental mistakes, score more runs, and just remain consistent on the mound and at the dish. If every player commits to each other with the common goal of winning one day at a time, anything can happen.
“I think the thing that I have observed the most from this year’s team so far, is that our guys want to ‘buy in’ and everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction,” Romero said. “Overall, I think both players and coaches recognize that we have a special group of guys that have the chance to prove we’re a playoff team. We need to take things one game at a time and to be as present as possible, and if we do that, it will be a good recipe for success.”
The journey for a championship begins Friday against Holy Names, with first pitch starting at 2 p.m. at the Seawolf Diamond.