The Del Norte baseball team is looking to fill a few holes in its lineup after seven players from the Warriors 2017 squad left the team due to graduation.
The cupboard is far from bare, however, as Del Norte brings back much of its infield, along with a couple of the Warriors’ top pitchers and hitters from a season ago.
“Practices have been good so far,” said Del Norte head coach Travis Johnson. “We have a small core of returners from last year that are going to be big for us this year, and a good group of younger kids that have stepped up into the spots of the kids that we lost from last year. I think we should be pretty good, and the league is going to be wide open.”
All of Del Norte’s players with varsity experience are infielders this year. 2017 white star winner Ryan Janiero has been a bit of a utility player for the Warriors, spending time at second base, third base and shortstop last year. Harper, who earned a white star in 2016, spent most of last season behind the plate as the Warriors catcher. Fellow seniors Jorge Landeros and Luke Hardy also have some starting experience at second and first base respectively.
Although the infield will look similar to last season, the Warriors outfield will be completely new to the varsity level with all three starters from last season graduating at the end of the year.
“Right now we have a pretty experienced infield, but we lost all three of our outfielders from last year,” Janiero said. “It is just going to take a little time for them to play together. It is kind of like a bond out there between those three. So they should get better as they get more experience with each other.”
Del Norte’s coaches and players said they expect the strength of this year’s team to be its offense.
Last year, the Warriors scored a total of 72 runs in 24 games for an average of three runs per game. Del Norte did that without the benefit of much power in its lineup, as the Warriors only recorded one home run all year.
With several new players in the lineup this year, Janiero said the Warriors bats may have a little bit more pop than fans saw last year.
“Some of the younger kids have some power coming up,” Janiero said.
For the most part, and especially early in the year, the Warriors expect to play more small ball on offense once again, focusing on getting runners on base where they can put additional pressure on the pitcher and defense.
“I think we will be playing a lot of small ball this year — just doing whatever we can to get runs,” Harper said. “The power will come, but until then we just have to do what we can to score runs.”
The Warriors return two of their top four or five pitchers from last season in Janiero and Hardy. Hardy led Del Norte last year with a 3-1 record, while posting a 3.39 ERA in 33 innings pitched.
Johnson said he also expects senior Jackson Reese, junior Sebastian Puente and a few other first-year varsity players to spend some time on the hill for the Warriors this season.
Although the Warriors are confident in their hitting and pitching ability, Del Norte’s success this season may hinge on how well it can play in the field.
“Defensively, our main focus has got to be on making the routine play every time,” Harper said. “The fancy stuff will come when it needs to, but we just have to make the routine play whenever we can.”
“Last year we struggled with some mental mistakes that if we could have limited would have helped us a lot,” Janiero added.
The Warriors are coming off of a 5-7 finish in Big 5 play last season, which put them in fourth place overall. The HDN will likely look much different this season, however, with graduation hitting most of the teams in the league fairly hard.
“I think the whole league is going to be pretty young except maybe Eureka,” Johnson said. “They have a lot of returners coming back, but other than that it should be pretty wide open.”
Del Norte was originally scheduled to open its season today at the Yreka Jamboree, but the first day of the three-day competition was cancelled due to inclement weather. Friday’s and Saturday’s games at the Jamboree were still expected to be played as of Wednesday.
Reach Michael Zogg at email@example.com .