Warriors’ chances hinge on youngsters
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
Don Amaral didn’t think his Whittell High School baseball team could get any younger than last season’s club.
Welcome to 2007, where the eighth-year Whittell coach could start up to five freshmen.
“We have only three returning starters and we’ll play 12 games prior to our first league game to gain experience,” Amaral said.
Returning starters include Amaral’s son, Carter, a Northern 2A first-teamer last season who hit .490 and drove in 21 runs. More importantly, he made only one error in 78 chances at second base.
“We’re a young team that is improving rapidly,” said Carter Amaral, who is enjoying his role as a team leader. “I like the responsibility. People come to me with questions and I like answering them.
“There’s a lot more pressure, but hopefully some of the rookies and sophomores step up to relieve some of the pressure on me.”
The Warriors lost Northern 2A co-MVPs Brian Peat and Jeff Young to graduation. Their consistent offensive production will be irreplaceable, but the Warriors will likely miss their defense more. Peat was the team’s primary catcher a year ago, and when Young wasn’t mowing down hitters, he was a reliable shortstop.
“They are definitely a huge loss for our team,” Carter said.
Other returners include senior catcher Misael Arellano and junior first baseman Christian Hernandez. Will Jaffe, a senior, is a third-year player who will give the team experience in the outfield. Sophomores Rio Delucia and Nick Shepack provide Amaral with speed in the outfield.
“Everyone is starting to make plays and we have a new outfielder coach,” Jaffe said. “He’s changing what has been done in past; he’s getting us to run up on the ball and make better throws. It’s making a difference.”
Among the new players to watch are freshmen Jordan Morgan (pitcher), Cody Nelson (shortstop), Adam Laub (outfielder, pitcher) and Nick Werner (outfielder). Of the four, only Nelson hasn’t played in the South Tahoe Babe Ruth League.
“I like their attitudes; they all have really good hearts and really want to be out there,” Carter Amaral said. “We have some pretty good young talent for next year and we’ll be a league championship contending team.”
The pitching staff will be anchored by returner R.J. Gardner and Morgan. Laub and transfer Anthony Torrico are among other arms Amaral will count on.
Coach Amaral may collect another coach of the year award if his Warriors keep their streak of regional playoff appearances alive.
“To continue our streak of eight consecutive zone qualifications, the team must mature during the season,” coach Amaral said. “The keys are pitchers Morgan, Gardner and Torrico and developing a shortstop (Nelson or Torrico) and not giving the opposition more than three errors a game. It’s a big challenge, but I’m confident we can get there.”
Qualifying for regionals hasn’t exactly been the primary goal for most of Amaral’s teams. Five of his seven clubs have qualified for state, including the 2001 Nevada 2A champions. And with Amaral in charge, anything can happen.
“He keeps everyone motivated; he keeps everyone into the game. He’s the one who made Warrior baseball a lot of fun. He’s the one who kept me playing,” Jaffe said.
Whittell opens its season on Friday in the Yerington tournament. The Warriors will play Dayton at 9 a.m. and Smith Valley at 1:30 p.m. Both games are scheduled for Smith Valley High.
Coach: Don Amaral, eighth year
Last year: 10-14 overall, 5-5 league, regional qualifier for seventh straight season
Key returners: Carter Amaral, R.J. Gardner
Key losses: Jeff Young, Brian Peat
Opener: Friday, Yerington tournament (9 a.m. vs. Dayton, 1:30 p.m. vs. Smith Valley at Smith Valley High).