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Vaqueros Well-Armed for ‘08 Campaign

SBCC opens season with double-header sweep at West Hills-Coalinga.

Santa Barbara City College shattered a number of batting records during last year’s season to remember — a 34-10 baseball campaign that produced the first Western State Conference title in 35 years. This year, the pitching standards could be raised.

"Our strength is going to be on the mound," eighth-year coach Teddy Warrecker said. "This is as good a pitching staff as I’ve had. ... Not only are we talented, we’re deep. This staff has a chance to be very special."

The Vaqueros opened the season with a double-header Tuesday against West Hills in Coalinga, winning the first game 1-0 in 11 innings and the second one, 7-1. SBCC has another road game Thursday at Compton before returning to Pershing Park for its home debut Saturday with a doubleheader against Rio Hondo, starting at 10 a.m.

Nate Klein, a Dos Pueblos High product who spent the last two years at USC, is the biggest addition on the mound.

"He will open as our No. 1 starter," Warrecker said. "He’s a strike-thrower who throws in the upper 80s, low 90s with a good breaking ball."

Blake McFarland, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, is another newcomer from Leigh High in San Jose. Bryce Uhrig, a sophomore from Santa Barbara High, set a school record with 13 wins last year. He injured his elbow in the fall and just returned two weeks ago but has been throwing pain-free.

"We have a deep pitching staff and a great, great defense,’’ said Uhrig, last year’s WSC North Pitcher of the Year. "Our offense is also solid. We’ll be good in the late innings, which is key."

The bullpen will be led by hard-throwing left-hander Greg Pellici, a sophomore from Middletown, Conn., and Connor Whalen, a 6-foot-3 transfer from UCSB. Chris Dyer, who had a 3.79 ERA in 35.2 innings last season, returns as a middle reliever, along with 6-6, 240-pound freshman Jeremy Peterson.

The Vaqueros have to replace seven of nine position players off last year’s squad, which went 20-5 in WSC North competition. Five of those players are competing for NCAA Division I programs — including last year’s WSC Player of the Year, Jon DeAlba, and Steve Cook at UCSB — while a sixth, Brian Buck, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Carlos Alonzo, the No. 1 hitter last year (.379) and a first-team All-WSC choice, will play third base and bat leadoff.

"He’ll be as good as anyone defensively in our league, as he was last year," said Warrecker.

Brenden Pichette is the only other returner with experience and he’ll play center field and bat second.

Andrew Leighty, a converted third baseman from Santa Barbara High, will play second while redshirt freshmen Kai Beam and Tyler Overstreet are competing for the shortstop job. It’s also a battle at first base between sophomores Jon Gardea and Keahi Piiohia.

In the outfield, Aaron Bauman is slated to play left field and/or designated hitter while batting third.

"He may be the biggest surprise of the whole group," said Warrecker. "He swung the bat tremendously in the fall."

Brad Marasco will also see time in left field with Corey Krupp and Jonathan Terrones (Lompoc High) battling for the right field spot.

Jake Tipton, who played for SBCC in 2006, is back at catcher and will bat cleanup.

"We have a good balance of speed and athleticism," Warrecker noted. "I don’t anticipate us having as much power as we did last year but we have a real good execution-style offense. The guys have really bought into creating pressure on the base paths and putting pressure on other teams by playing small-ball."

Last year’s campaign came to an abrupt halt when L.A. Harbor swept the first two games of a best-of-three playoff series. SBCC built a 10-3 lead in Game 2 but the Seahawks stormed back with five runs in the ninth to win, 11-10.

"We talked about that just the other day," said Warrecker. "Harbor was a real vocal, animated team and we lost a little of what we did in that series. The goal is to get back to the playoffs.

"I feel challenged to surpass what we did a year ago. That’s the new bar."

Dave Loveton is Santa Barbara City College‘s sports information specialist.

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