Last season, the Truckee baseball team stumbled out of the gate to an 0-2 record, losing 10-0 at Colfax and 9-3 at Spanish Springs.
Their final 33 games were a different story, however, as the Wolverines caught fire and ended the year on a 29-4 tear en route to their first state baseball title since 1994.
The defending state champs are off to a similar start in 2013. They went 0-5 in a mostly large-school tournament in Reno last week, but recovered to defeat Colfax 6-5 on Monday.
Now, after shaking the offseason rust, Truckee skipper Mike Ellis expects his team to steadily round into championship form.
“We’re getting better every game,” said Ellis, whose Wolverines traditionally get off to slow starts as winter lingers into spring in the Sierra Nevada, forcing the team to practice indoors or travel to find bare ground. “We actually did pretty well in the Reno tournament, except for one day. Everybody is just starting to come around.”
Truckee lost nine seniors from last year’s state championship squad, including 3A All-State MVP Steven Baker, as well as All-State first-team selections Trevor Auldridge and Tony Buranzon. Baker and Buranzon were the Wolverines’ one-two punch on the mound.
Not to worry, Ellis said. Despite the losses, the Wolverines return plenty of talent from a year ago while they also gained several quality ballplayers from junior varsity, including a two sophomores and a freshman.
Senior leadoff hitter and middle infielder Aaron Pado was voted to the All-State first team last year, and senior catcher and third baseman Jackson Rohlf made the second team. Senior outfielder Andy McKechnie, a gap-hitting, All-League slugger, also returns to help anchor the Wolverines as a co-team captain, along with Pado and Rohlf.
And like last year, the Wolverines have plenty of pitching arms — a crucial component with the number of doubleheaders on their schedule.
Ellis said senior right-hander Erik Holmer has established himself as the No. 1 starter: “He’s our guy right now. He’s throwing lights out.” Pado and McKechnie are both solid No. 2 starters, Ellis said, while seniors Chris Towle, Travis Ferre and Branden Deeter all pitch, as well as Rohlf and junior Ty Vaio. Deeter, who is still competing in Nordic skiing and has yet to join the team, and Vaio are both left-handers.
“So we’ve got the pitching. We’re just waiting for the bats to come around a little bit,” Ellis said.
While the batting order is a work in progress, the front end is pretty well set, starting with the speedy, contact-hitting Pado leading off. Towle has been hitting in the second slot, while Rohlf is third and McKechnie in the cleanup hole, followed by Holmer or Ferre.
When going well, the Wolverines can rake. It just hasn’t happened yet this year.
“A lot of our seniors have been swinging for the fences, and that’s why they’re not getting hits; they’re popping out and stuff,” Ellis said. “But we’ve been lecturing them, ‘line drives, line drives,’ and they’re starting to come around. We’ve got some power, but it hasn’t shown up yet. They need to stop going for the fence.”
Aside from their seven returning seniors, juniors Thor Retzlaff and Riley Guiragossian, sophomores Teagan Pado and Gavin Broad — a transfer from Portola — and freshman Bradley VanSchoonhoven round out the roster. Ellis said Guiragossian, a second baseman, moves over to short when Aaron Pado is on the mound. Cooper Krug, who was called up to varsity as a freshman last year, now attends Reno High.
Ellis expects his team to contend for another title in the Division I-A (formerly 3A), despite the fact that the Southern Division I-A added several schools over the offseason that are up to four times the size of Truckee.
“We know what’s up here. But down there, with all the new schools, we don’t know what to expect yet,” Ellis said. “After watching football, there are some big schools down there. But we’ve got a good program and we’re coming around. I think we’ll be able to carry our weight. We have a lot of young guys, but our returning seniors have been there, and they know what it takes.”