Warriors locked, loaded for state title run | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Warriors locked, loaded for state title run

Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune Whittell High School baseball coach Don Amaral hits infield practice to his team on Friday in Gardnerville.

By Steve Yingling

Tribune sports editor

Don Amaral remembers a story nearly six years ago that served as the impetus to becoming Whittell High School’s baseball coach.

He read a local newspaper account of how Bishop Manogue pounded the hapless Warriors all over the lot, winning a doubleheader by a combined score of 65-3.

A week later, he saw the Warriors play in person. Those memories remained vivid when the school announced that it needed a baseball coach 10 months later. Amaral didn’t hesitate to take over the moribund team, envisioning making the program respectable by the time his son, Carter, entered high school.

Carter now is a Whittell freshman and few baseball programs around the state can rival what the Warriors have done under Amaral’s tenure: 108 wins, a state title, five consecutive zone final appearances and four trips to the state tournament.

“Carter is the reason I took over the program,” Amaral said. “I said, ‘My son is going to play baseball. We’ve got to get this program going.'”

His players appreciate what Amaral has done for the program.

“He helps everyone get better and makes our team as best as it can be,” said senior pitcher Chris Shapiro. “We have a completely different mindset in baseball. In basketball we hope to make a little noise and make zone, but in baseball we expect to win.”

With the talent Amaral has returning from a third-place performance at the Nevada 2A state tournament a year ago, Carter doesn’t have a free ticket into the starting lineup.

“The best nine kids start. It’s always been that way when he was in Little League, when he was on all-star teams and when he was in Babe Ruth,” Amaral said.

Last year, the Warriors let their bats do the talking as they routinely delivered more than 10 hits per game. While the hitting shouldn’t tail off one bit, the Warriors may possess more pitching than Amaral has ever had at his disposal.

Shapiro, the only junior since Amaral took over to make first team all-state, won nine games and compiled a 2.57 earned run average last year. Hitters had a hard time making contact with Shapiro’s pitches as he averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

White Pine would like to forget Shapiro. Shapiro and Chris Pavich, who graduated, threw back-to-back no-hitters in a doubleheader last year.

“The question people ask me is can this team be as good as the 2000 (state title) team? That year I handed the ball to Brandon Lee and I knew if we scored one or two runs we’d win the game. To see if Shapiro develops into that type of dominate pitcher … he has the ability to do that. He just needs to stay healthy.”

But the Warriors’ season doesn’t rest on one shoulder. Jeff Young, who started at shortstop for Douglas as a freshman two years ago, is Whittell’s second starter. Juniors Ryan Gosh and Cody Harrington are Amaral’s third and fourth arms.

“Absolutely, it’s the most depth I’ve ever had pitching-wise,” Amaral said.

When a starter can’t go the distance, Amaral will bring in the team’s strongest player, Marcus Mellberg, a senior second baseman. Mellberg can bench press 240 pounds, making him a novelty among second baseman: a power hitter.

Last year, Mellberg hit seven homers, one shy of the school record. But the home run record doesn’t mean much to Mellberg.

“It would be nice, but my main goal is to help the team to win any way possible – if I have to DH or pitch. I want to hang a banner that says 2005 state champions.”

Mellberg tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a trampoline accident prior to the 2004 state tournament so he has some unfinished business in 2005.

“Definitely, my injury was really hard,” Mellberg said. “Dr. Orr and my physical therapist helped me a lot to get back to where I needed to be, so I could be good for this season.”

Handling the talented pitching staff is Vacaville transfer Brian Peate.

“He has a great arm. Nobody is going to run on us,” Amaral said.

Other projected starters are three-year regular Tommy Esquivel in right field; Gosh in center field; leadoff hitter Brian Vogt, third base; Harrington at second base, third base or DH; Brian Hanshew or Ryan Reed in left; and Carter Amaral at first. Shapiro and Young will split duty at shortstop and see some spot starts at second or third bases.

Like they were in 2000, the goals are clear-cut: Amaral and the Warriors will only be satisfied with state, regional and Northern 2A Division championships.

“Our goal is pretty much to win state,” said Shapiro, a co-captain along with Mellberg. “We have a really, really good lineup from front to back and we’re really deep in pitching.”

A murderous schedule that looks like it was copied from a 4A program should help prepare the Warriors to meet their lofty goals.

“I don’t see any downside with the schedule,” Amaral said. “We might not break the school record of 28 wins, but we’re gonna be a better team when it comes time for zone. We may have double-digit losses for the first time because we’re playing some very tough competition.”

Whittell first difficult test is next Monday at Northern 4A favorite Wooster. The Warriors will also play Carson, South Tahoe and possibly McQueen besides their normal protocol of not ducking any area 3A teams.

“I think we’re going to show some 3A teams that we are good and the 4A teams that we’re a lot better than our school size shows,” Mellberg said.

In addition, the Warriors will continue their tradition of making Easter break anything but a vacation. They are the smallest school entered in the Sacramento Invitational a year after playing in a national tournament in Las Vegas.

Whittell will scrimmage Douglas at 3 p.m. today at Douglas High in Minden. The Warriors will open their season at the Yerington tournament on Friday. They will play Smith Valley at 9 a.m. and Fernley at 3 p.m. On Saturday, the Warriors are scheduled to meet Mammoth at 9 a.m. and Big Pine at 1:30 p.m.

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