Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Baseball Preview: Elk Grove's Experience, Tradition Hard To Beat

The Elk Grove baseball team of 2006 was pretty special. Not only did they defeat Colin Kaepernick and Pitman High School that year for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship, but also all nine starters went on to play college baseball.

Two of them, first baseman/pitcher David Freitas and catcher Dwight Childs, were drafted three years later and today they toil in the minor leagues. Freitas with the Baltimore Orioles’ Triple-A franchise in Norfolk and Childs recently inked a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As the 2015 season dawns locally Elk Grove High School coach Jeff Carlson seems some similarity between that squad of 2006 and the one he has currently.

“Time will tell over the season,” Carlson said. “Obviously, that team was special and we’ve had lots of special teams. The chemistry of (the 2006) team was outstanding. This team matches up with that one as far as chemistry and our individual talent.”

Two other members of the 2006 team are back at Elk Grove, but in different roles: Raymond Hernandez is the head coach of the Herd’s freshman squad and his pitching coach is Eric Otterson, who tossed a no-hitter during the 2006 playoffs.

EGHS' Jeff Carlson (middle) starting 15th Season as head baseball coach
His dad, Rick, helps Raymond in the frosh dugout too. Rick occasionally flies off to Arizona and watches his oldest son David, a 2003 grad of Elk Grove, pitch for the Diamondbacks.

“That 2006 team lost a few games, had to overcome adversity and that was what made that team very special,” Carlson said. “We’ll have to see if this year’s team can be like that. Every year our team is different.”

It’s this kind of baseball tradition Carlson loves to talk about 20 years after arriving at EGHS and starting his 15th season as the head baseball coach. And, he’s no less excited and motivated today than he was in 2000 when he took over the reigns from Rusty McClain, who is now coaching baseball at Pleasant Grove.

“I’m always learning, figuring out different ways to motivate the players,” Carlson said.

Carlson admits he’s a bit different coach today than he was even back in 2006 in the middle of a run where his teams won four Section championships in a five-year span between 2003 and 2007.

“Obviously, I’m more experienced and I’ve seen a lot of things over those years, but I hope I am a better coach,” he said. “I do see things differently than I did in year one.” 

Carlson’s intensity hasn’t changed, though. In Saturday’s official season opener at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, he was thrown out of the game after questioning the umpires a bit too much.

“I have calmed down a lot since year one, but I must say the magic word or something. I don’t know what it is,” he explained. “One thing about me. I won’t lose my fire. I will stand up for my kids. I do it on the football field. I do it on the baseball field. I will battle for them.”

Carlson’s battling to build a prominent baseball program has resulted in Maxpreps ranking the 2015 version of the Herd in the top 25 in the state, something that Carlson downplays a bit.

However, as far as varsity playing experience there isn’t a team in the Delta League that can match up with the Herd. Only centerfielder Derek Hill, who was the first round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers, and leftfielder Max Hull are gone. The rest of the starters return for another year.

“This year’s team is the most experienced varsity team I’ve had, as far as the amount of four-year and three-year players I’ve had,” Carlson said.

Returning for his fourth season of varsity baseball is shortstop Nick Madrigal, a member of USA Baseball last summer and headed to Oregon State University in the fall, unless a Major League Club drafts him.

“When you see him play you have to put him at the top of all players in northern California,” Carlson claimed. “Even in our program, he has to be one of the top guys of all time. We’ve had some great players here.”

Madrigal, the Herd lead-off hitter, isn’t a Freitas, a J.D. Davis or a Rowdy Tellez, Elk Grove grads who are now bombing the fences in the pros, but he’s special in his own way, according to Carlson.

“He puts more pressure on his opponent than about anyone I’ve ever seen,” Carlson remarked. “He gets on first and they are worried about him. I always get compliments from teams we play on how do you get that guy out? How do you keep him off the bases. Then you add his defensive abilities to that – his range, his ability to attack the baseball. He’s a very special player.”

Carlson returns with an experienced pitching staff led by seniors Chris Martin, Ty Madrigal and junior Austin Del Chairo. Kevin Kyle, a transfer from St. Mary’s, will also be in the mix on the mound.

Plus, Elk Grove has some power in the middle of the lineup in Carlson’s oldest son, Dylan, now a junior, and in third baseman Brooks Day.

As in seasons’ past, Elk Grove features a non-league schedule loaded with some of the top baseball programs in the state. This weekend, the Herd travels to Fresno to play Buchanan, Clovis West and Frontier of Bakersfield in the Central California Showcase. Plus, they’ll once again host the northern California part of the Boras Baseball Classic that begins March 30 at McAuliffe Fields in Sacramento.

The Herd won the 2014 Boras Classic.

This season all baseball teams in the Delta will play each other twice - on a home-and home basis.

The defending Section champions are the Davis Blue Devils, who eliminated Elk Grove in the North Section playoffs last year. Though the Blue Devils were hit hard by graduation, they do return one of the top players in the Section in Ryan Kriedler.

Also figuring into the Delta League championship discussions are perennial powers Jesuit and Franklin.

Joe Potulny, the dean of Delta coaches, has several impressive players at Jesuit including pitcher Chris Loeb.

In his third season as head coach at Franklin, Brian Kilby has a quality keystone pair in seniors shortstop Hank LoForte and second baseman Damien Chavez. LoForte is planning on attending college on a baseball scholarship at Fullerton State. Last season he batted .408 with 11 doubles and 14 stolen bases.

Zachary Tresemer and Isaiah Engman will lead the pitching staff for the Wildcats.

At Pleasant Grove, McClain takes over for Rob Rinaldi, who is now coaching the Eagles’ freshman squad. McClain’s biggest task will be to try to replace a bunch of quality seniors who left last May following a 21-5 season.

Lefthander Dalton Gomez is one of the Delta League’s top pitchers. He went 6-1 with a 1.67 ERA last year.

Kellen O’Brine batted .369 last season and Beau Boyle stole 12 bases while batting .319. They return along with junior infielder Josh Urps.

Sheldon coach Matt McGrew may have to wait a couple more weeks before he sees his top pitcher, Matt Manning. He’s still playing with the Huskies’ basketball squad.

Manning, who was 2-4 with a 4.48 ERA in his sophomore season a year ago, is considered one of the top righthanders in the Delta League. In fact, despite his prowess on the basketball floor for the league champions this winter, Manning has verbally committed to pitch for Loyola-Marymount.

Monterey Trail, a team that won just one game a year ago, is hoping to begin to right the ship after hiring long-time Pleasant Grove assistant Tom Alston to head up that school’s baseball program.

In Division II locally, Cosumnes Oaks’ head coach James Murdock is hoping for a Capital Valley Conference championship this spring. Last year the Wolfpack was 21-10, 14-4 in the Sierra Valley Conference and lost to Manteca in the Division IV semi-finals.

Laguna Creek’s first year in the Metro Conference may be a very good one under interim head coach Mark Nill. The Cardinals should flourish behind players such as seniors Jack Walsh and Cruz Ramos and junior Josh Congress.

Florin was 7-19 a year ago, 3-9 in the Metro in Randy Davis’ fourth season at the helm. The Panthers opened this season with a pair of wins.

Valley is coached by Troy Quirollo, now in his eighth season. The Vikings were winless in the Metro Conference a year ago, 2-24 overall.

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