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Season Preview: Pitching, speed and depth will carry Vaqueros

John Jensen, a sophomore from Santa Barbara High, hit .338 last year and was the MVP of the WSC North. He's signed to play for UC Irvine next year. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)
John Jensen, a sophomore from Santa Barbara High, hit .338 last year and was the MVP of the WSC North. He's signed to play for UC Irvine next year. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)

Pitching, speed and depth will be the calling cards for SBCC Baseball in 2018.

The defending WSC North champions open their season with home games on Friday and Saturday vs. Napa Valley at 1 p.m. The Vaqueros are ranked No. 12 in the Southern California preseason poll.

"We won the conference last year and our best players are returning – John Jensen, Jake Holton, Reinhard Lautz and our best starting pitcher, Jayden Metz," said seventh-year head coach Jeff Walker. "That's a good core group."

The Vaqueros went 23-18 last year and made their seventh straight trip to the Southern Cal Regional. Fourteen players return from that squad, including Jensen, who hit .338 and was the WSC North MVP. Jensen will move from third base to left field this season.

Other returning starters are Holton (infield/pitcher), Lautz (right field), Shane Hersh (second base) and Metz.

"Pitching and speed will be our strengths," said Walker. "We have some guys who can hit. The difference maker is always our depth compared to other teams in our conference."

Pitchers
"We're pretty pitching heavy," Walker stated. "Last year, we were a 'pitcher by committee' team and we'll do some of that again. We have four to six legitimate starters and four to six legitimate relief pitchers.

Brett Vansant, a 6-foot-9 right-hander who transferred from Western Kentucky, is expected to be a starter along with Metz. Brett Gregory is back after a redshirt year and left-hander Steven Elliott was a stellar reliever last year (6-1, 2.38 ERA). Holton (1-0, 2 saves) will play the infield and pitch in closing situations.

Ian Churchill is a 6-2 left-hander from San Marcos High who earned first-team All-Channel League honors. Joshua Ashley is a 6-3 freshman left-hander from Westlake High and left-hander Jonathan Keller returns from last year along with Kyle Basch.

Catchers
Zack Stockton (.289) and Mitch Sancier are veteran catchers, who played 18 and 14 games last year. Kyle Gonzalez was a first-team All-Channel League catcher and the baseball Player of the Year at San Marcos.

Infield
Phil Quartararo, who was the Marmonte League MVP for Oaks Christian in 2016, will play first base. Freshman Patrick Caulfield, whose brother Phil played with former Vaquero star and first-year assistant coach Spencer Erdman at Loyola Marymount, has a good bat and is a potential starter at second base. Ryan Guardino (San Marcos High) could start at shortstop with Holton or Hersh at third.

Nicholas Prainito, a transfer from the Univ. of Oregon, will also see time in the infield.

Outfield
Jensen, who hit four homers and drove in 20 runs last year, will start in left field and Lautz (.298 average) will be in right. Elijah Hodges, a left-hand batter, will battle Boston Hubbard for the center field spot. Hodges is from Miramonte High in Orinda, the same school that produced ex-Vaquero and UCSB outfielder Joey Epperson.

Schedule
The Vaqueros are playing a typically tough schedule with a three-game set at Saddleback and nonconference games vs. Empire Conference powers like Orange Coast, Fullerton and Riverside. They'll also face perennial power El Camino in a home-and-home series. SBCC was 15-5 at Pershing Park in 2017.

The WSC North is the same with six schools (SBCC, Cuesta, Hancock, Moorpark, Ventura, Oxnard) playing each other four times. The WSC added a division and now has 17 teams in three divisions (North, South and East).

The Vaqueros, who've won two of the last three WSC North titles, open their 20-game conference season on March 6 at Hancock.

Goals
"The standard is always going to the postseason and we've done that the last seven years," said Walker. "We're the defending conference champions and that's a difficult task but we embrace the bullseye we have on us.

"We're going to be the team to beat in our conference and I think everyone knows that. Talent-wise, I think we're as good as we've ever been here. There's a lot to look forward to but it's also a long season."

Live Stream
All Vaquero home games will be available on Live Stream on the Internet. The cost is $12.95 per game or $21.95 for the entire home season.