When Josh Barriga crossed home plate in the Del Norte High baseball team's season finale against Arcata on May 15, a tumultuous season ended on a high note.
The Warriors scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat the Tigers, 8-7, for their second Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League win of the season. It was a show of resilience quite unlike any the school had seen on a baseball diamond in some time.
"That was the best game they played all year," Del Norte head coach Travis Johnson said. "You could see on their faces - they were ecstatic."
The game capped off a season that almost wasn't - the team was without a coach until Johnson was hired, days before spring practice - with the memory of an 0-13 season in 2012 still fresh in returning players' minds. Johnson and assistant coaches Mark Pease, Nick Jager and Terry Cromwell were virtually working from scratch.
"This was a learning year for everybody," Johnson said. "Next year we're going to go a little more in-depth and bring guys in that can help us out."
The Warriors started out hot in nonconference play, amassing a 5-5 record before hitting a wall in HDN Big 5 play. Del Norte finished with a 6-15 overall record (2-10 HDN Big 5).
The Warriors pitching (team earned-run average of .451) and defense carried them through struggles at the plate (.280 team batting average).
"I think our pitching was very good," Johnson said. "It would've been better if we could've scored some more runs. We didn't get our pitchers a lot of run support most of the games."
In the last two weeks of the season, with the team mired in an eight-game losing streak, eight players quit the team or were dismissed due to poor grades, bringing the number of rostered players from 22 to 14.
"The ones that wanted to be there stayed," Johnson said. "The ones that didn't really care or didn't have the grades weren't there at the end."
Seniors Barriga, Luke Seats, Juan Chavez and Chase Cantrall will graduate in June, leaving behind a young and talented corps.
Junior Nathan Porter led the team with a .441 batting average, and fellow junior Chris Bray was second on the team (.296). Sophomore Steven Maready and freshman Austin Healy provided key contributions in the field, in the batter's box and, when needed, on the pitcher's mound.
"Austin is a kid that can play anywhere at anytime," Johnson said. "Steve, he's got the potential to be one of the best ones."
Seats and sophomore Jonathan Calderon were Del Norte's top two starting pitchers. They were responsible for five of the six wins but also nine losses, going deep into games and keeping opponents in check.
Having acclimated himself to the rigors of high school coaching, Johnson has begun thinking of ways to improve upon the talent he figures to have in 2014.
"First of all, have less kids so I can focus on a number of kids in certain positions rather than try to rotate all these different kids," Johnson said. "I want more one-on-one time with each individual player, time that I didn't have this year because of what was going on."
Johnson believes the Warriors have the talent to improve upon the 2013 campaign and perhaps even record the program's first winning season in four years.
"We're going to miss the kids that we lost for sure, but I think we got a good solid core coming back next year," he said. "It's going to be fun. We've got a lot of kids that don't like to lose."
Reach Robert Husseman at email@example.com .