JC Baseball Preview 2017: Talented Hawks look to repeat as conference champs


Cabrillo looking for first state title since '92

APTOS — Charlie Parker’s exhortations rang around Carl Connelly Stadium as the Cabrillo College Seahawks ran through a series of drills during a grueling Thursday afternoon practice.

“Alright! First gear. Second gear. Come on! I’m going to run you ‘til you all shut up!” yelled Parker, Cabrillo’s strength and conditioning coach.

Conference play can’t start quick enough for the ‘Hawks. They’ve plowed through the muck of the early preseason and a talented lineup sets them up nicely to silence the rest of the conference and capture yet another Coast Conference title.

“This is the most talented team I’ve ever coached,” said Cabrillo head coach Bob Kittle.

It’s high praise considering the record Kittle has compiled in his eight years at Cabrillo. The Hawks have been Coast Conference champs three times since 2013, they’ve appeared in the regional playoffs every year since 2011 and the super regionals in each of the past three seasons.

They’ve set their eyes on a larger prize this season: the program’s first state championship since 1992.

Whether their talent will translate into victories is yet to be seen. Many variables (including the wettest winter in Santa Cruz County in a decade) stand in the way. Obstacles aside, the Seahawks, who are currently ranked 10th in state, according to the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association, appear to have the players needed to get it done.

Clayton Andrews bats leadoff and plays centerfield. The sophomore from Santa Rosa, who’s accepted an offer to play Division I baseball at Cal State Long Beach, owns a .345 batting average, is smooth in the field, has a strong arm and will be one of Cabrillo’s main contributors out of the bullpen.

“When we step out on the field we feel like we’re the best team on the field at all times, no matter who we’re facing. We got a lot of talent on this team.” Andrews said. “Coming to Cabrillo was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Digger Gugale-Sanchez plays first base and is off to a torrid start at the plate.

Gugale-Sanchez, or “Big Digs Biggie” as his teammates often call him, has recovered from a back injury that sidelined him the entirety of last season. So far, he’s batting .351 and has smacked six doubles.

The Monterey High grad is confident in the Seahawks’ even keel and their ability to stay consistent.

“Even if it’s a good day or a bad day it’s all the same. We’re good at picking each other up when things aren’t going very well,” Gugale-Sanchez said.

Catcher Nick Ciandro is another Seahawk off to a rapid start. The sweet-swinging backstop has knocked in 10 RBIs and has thrown out five would-be baserunners.

Ciandro has his eyes set on Fresno, host of the 2017 California Community College Athletic Association State Championship.

“I think we can accomplish our goal, which is Fresno. We have enough talent. We got the pitching. The sky’s the limit,” Ciandro said.

The Hawks stand tall on the mound and have the unique luxury of having several position players, such as Andrews, who can come in and pitch.

So far this season five Seahawks have split time in the field and on the mound.

Sophomore pitcher Brett de Geus has a power arm and throws three to four pitches with good movement and accuracy.

In a recent outing against San Joaquin Delta, one of the top squads in the entire state, de Geus pitched eight innings of shutout ball, allowing only three hits and striking out eight batters.

“Our main motto is ‘on or out in three.’ If we can get a guy on our out in three pitches that’s going to save arms and let us go deep,” de Geus said.

Pitching on three days’ rest, de Geus showed why major league scouts are interested in the righthander with a 1.50 earned run average.

Six-foot-8-inch redshirt freshman Josh Rodriguez, from St. Francis High, certainly has the size and continues to hone his velocity.

Cooper Krug is a sophomore transfer from the University of Nevada and has proved to be another weapon at coach Kittle’s disposal. At 6-foot-6 inches and 250 pounds, the big righthander from Reno also splits time at first base.

Because of the wet weather, the boys of summer look like the kids in the mud.

The field is saturated. Mud thick as quicksand has necessitated the improvisation of boards and other such material used as crude bridges over the mire. Some players wade through in their bare feet, later rinsing them off before putting on cleats.

The Hawks have another few more days of the preseason ball until their early conference opener against Gavilan College on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

Until then they’ll dry out, stay healthy and, they hope, get ready for a trip to Fresno.

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