A fter eight seniors graduated from the Del Norte baseball team following a 13-12 season last spring, the Warriors will be a significantly younger squad in 2019. Del Norte returns two seniors and four juniors from last season’s squad, and they will be expected to help lead a roster with 10 first-year varsity players.

“We have a good group in the junior class and we are expecting a lot out of them,” said Del Norte head coach Travis Johnson. “We will see if they are up to the challenge, because we lost a lot of senior leadership from last year. Hopefully the seniors that we do have can step up, and our juniors can follow suit and they will have a good year.”

Del Norte has four seniors on its roster this season with Sebastian Puente and Justin Goudelock both back for on the varsity roster this spring. Fellow senior Brennan Thornton, who has played varsity golf for the past three years, has also joined the baseball team along with senior foreign exchange student Daniel Bertelsen of Denmark.

They will be joined by a big class of 10 junior players, including six players heading into their first season of varsity baseball. Juniors Kaden Ritter, O.J. Calleja, Giovanni Gonzalez, and A.J. Schulz are all back on the team this spring after playing varsity baseball as sophomores last season.

Although most of the players are new to varsity baseball, Warrior players said the team has done a good job of gelling together during early season practices.

“We have been having a lot of fun and joking around but we also take stuff seriously,” Calleja said. “We want to be good at it, but we can have fun while we are doing it, too.”

With so many new players, projecting the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s squad is a bit tricky. Johnson said he sees a lot of potential for this team at the plate, however.

“I’m hoping we will be good at hitting,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of good hitters on the team. Whether they come to play everyday still remains to be seen, but I think that will be one of our big strengths. I see a lot of line drive hitters on the team this year. We should be able to get a lot of base hits and doubles. We may have a home run here or there, but that is not something that I’m counting on. I think our main goal will be to put the ball in play, hit line drives, and run the bases.”

Puente and Ritter are the Warriors top returning hitters from last spring after both players finished the 2018 season just a shade below a .300 batting average. Puente finished with a .293 batting average in 75 at bats while Ritter hit .297 in 64 at bats.

Most of the Warrior batters will be getting used to taking the plate against a new level of pitching, however.

“Obviously we are getting used to varsity pitchers still, because this is the first time most of us have played at the varsity level,” Schultz said. “We are just trying to get some experience at the varsity level, mainly for next year. We will be coming back with a lot of seniors next year.”

In the field the Warriors return four position players from the team’s regular lineup last season. Del Norte feels that the team’s fielding should be another strength for the team this season.

“I think our defense is going to be pretty good,” Schultz said. “We have a good infield, and our centerfielder is really good as well so our outfielder should be good.”

Johnson said the biggest question mark for Del Norte heading into the season lies with the Warriors’ pitching staff.

“Our pitching is a work in progress so far,” Johnson said. “We have some pretty good throwers, but we need to turn them into a little bit better pitchers. They all have good arms. We just need to work on a few things, tweak a few things, and get them ready for game situations.”

Puente is Del Norte’s top returning pitcher this season after throwing 45 innings, making 11 appearances including eight starts, while going 4-5 overall with a 4.20 earned run average. Schultz is the only other returning pitcher with significant experience after throwing 14 innings last year with an ERA of 5.50. Johnson said Calleja and Gonzalez will also be counted on to pitch for the Warriors this season.

“Hopefully we can get a lot of productive work out of them, because we are not very deep at pitching,” Johnson said. “When you only have four or five pitchers you have got to have starters that are going to throw strikes, stay in the game, and try to get as many complete games in as you can.”

The key for the Warrior hurlers will be accuracy. Johnson said his main goal for the preseason is to get his pitchers consistently putting the ball across the plate.

“We are going to have to throw strikes, because if we don’t throw strikes then we can’t play defense,” Calleja said. “We are just going to have to help put the ball in play and trust our defense.”

The Warriors are off to a 0-1 start to the season after playing a rare February varsity baseball game to kick off the season back on Feb. 22. Del Norte fell 9-2 on the road in Ferndale in their season opener.

“I think what we learned from that is that we need to have more confidence. We went into that game not very confident — they were nervous,” Johnson said. “That is why I wanted to have an early game this year — to try to see what we have to work on, and to let them get the nerves out. Hopefully we can use that game to build on so we are ready when we go to our tournaments coming up this month.”

Del Norte will be back in action on Wednesday with a trip to Gold Beach before heading to the Yreka Tournament on Thursday to kick off a three-day tournament.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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