After 26 baseball games this spring, several of the Del Norte varsity players still didn’t want to leave the diamond.

This year four players from Del Norte have joined forces with several of their Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 league foes to form the Northern Humboldt Giants American Legion U17 team.

“(The Del Norte players) put a lot of time and effort into getting down here,” said Giants head coach Troy Ghisetti, who also serves as the head coach for Arcata High School. “The closest game for them would pretty much be a Grants Pass game. The kids are committed though and doing a great job. It is always nice to have Del Norte kids down here competing with us. A lot of us (in Humboldt) have been playing locally together or against each other throughout because we are so close, but the Del Norte kids come right in and fit right in.”

Each year, the Giants hold tryouts for all players 17 and under who attend Del Norte, McKinleyville, Arcata and Eureka high schools. Fortuna players mostly play on a Southern Humboldt team, though Ghisetti said Northern Humboldt had one Husky on the squad this summer.

“It is a nice even split, all the schools in the Big 5 are represented on this U17 team,” Ghisetti said. “It is a lot of fun because the first week or so they are just getting to know each other, especially the new guys. Then by now they are all gelling on the same team and they are all having a good time. They love baseball and they have been very respectful on the road as well.”

This year’s Northern Humboldt team had a bit of a head start on the getting-to-know-each-other phase with many of the players now in their third summer together on the Giants. Ghisetti estimated that 12 of the 18 players on the Giants roster are returning from last year.

Last year the Giants went 24-5 overall, winning the district tournament before going 1-2 at the Area 1 tournament to finish the season.

“(Most of) the kids have been playing together for the last couple years, so they all know each other and they get excited to come back and play American Legion,” Ghisetti said. “So they have picked up right where they left off last year. They are playing pretty good ball.”

Of Del Norte’s four players on the team, however, Cole Harper is the only returning player. He is joined on the Giants roster by 2017 graduate Klevon Welch and incoming seniors Ryan Janeiro and Luke Hardy.

Harper has been one of the top hitters on the squad this season for a Giants team that is hitting 0.401 as a team as of Wednesday. Harper is hitting 0.564 overall and leads the team in extra-basehits with four doubles, three triples and a home run so far this summer.

“Harper is playing multiple positions and really swinging the bat well for us,” Ghisetti said.

The rest of the Warriors are also starting to find their niche on the team, which includes five White Star winners and four honorable mention selections for the 2017 Big 5 season.

Luke Hardy picked up his first hit of the summer on Tuesday in a win over the Humboldt Eagles, but Hardy isn’t on the team for his batting abilities. The Warrior known as “Cool Hand Luke” has been one of Northern Humboldt’s top pitchers this summer. He has thrown 12 innings with 10 strikeouts, three walks and four earned runs for an ERA of 2.33. Hardy is also 3-0 overall.

“Hardy is one of the team leaders in pitching and doing and excellent job there,” Ghisetti said.

Welch is hitting at a .323 clip through the first 15 games of the summer and every time he gets on base he puts pressure on the defense.

“Welch is a kid that any coach is happy to have,” Ghisetti said. “He has a lot of speed, so when he gets on the bases he is a threat to steal anytime. In the field he is learning a new position because he was a shortstop up there and now he is doing a nice job for us in the outfield. With his speed even if he makes a bad route he can make up for it in a hurry.”

After a great offensive spring for Del Norte in 2017, Janeiro has suffered a bit of a hitting slump to start the American Legion season with a 0.240 average. Janeiro has still been able to help the Giants, despite the slump at the plate, thanks to his versatility in the field.

“Janeiro is another kid that can come in a play multiple positions whether it is first, third or second,” Ghisetti said.

Janeiro has also got a little bit of work on the mound this summer, pitching seven innings with two strikeouts, two walks and just one earned run for an ERA of 1.00.

Although Ghisetti said the level of competition in American Legion Baseball varies depending on the tournament, most teams at least have a strong offensive lineup.

“The competition is a little bit better than it is in high school,” he said. “It is getting these kids ready for their senior years, and those of them that are moving off to college can see what it is like to compete at the JC level when they get there.”

Ghisetti said this is one of the oldest and most experienced U17 American Legion teams he has ever coached.

“They have high expectations. We play a pretty competitive schedule when you look at it,” Ghisetti said. “We are going to tournaments in Reno, Grants Pass and into Sheldon and Eugene. They are playing some pretty good teams throughout the summer to get ready for districts and the area tournaments.”

Ghisetti said the Giants’ team strength comes from its deep rotation of pitchers, but they are also helped by a sturdy defense and a offense that has been scorching so far.

“When you are playing six games a week, you have to have a lot of pitching,” Ghisetti siad. “I think we have 10 kids on the roster that can pitch at the high school level and into American Legion. Defensively we also do a pretty good job and the kids have been swinging the bat really well. It is all coming together right now. It is just a matter of if they can hold it down throughout the summer.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com.

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