BASEBALL: Hawks show progress in preseason, open CAL play against Anchorpoint Christian

 

So far this season, the Anzar Hawks have defeated St. Francis of
Watsonville by a 9-7 margin, topped Greenfield by an even narrower
4-3 margin, and just barely lost to Gonzales 9-7, a game in which
was called after four full innings due to darkness and in which the
Spartans posted five runs in the final frame.
On the surface, it was three solid games for the Hawks, who
boast a 2-3 overall record through non-league play. But dig a
little deeper and the three games tell a different story when
compared to last year, including even the close loss to
Gonzales.
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA

So far this season, the Anzar Hawks have defeated St. Francis of Watsonville by a 9-7 margin, topped Greenfield by an even narrower 4-3 margin, and just barely lost to Gonzales 9-7, a game in which was called after four full innings due to darkness and in which the Spartans posted five runs in the final frame.

On the surface, it was three solid games for the Hawks, who boast a 2-3 overall record through non-league play. But dig a little deeper and the three games tell a different story when compared to last year, including even the close loss to Gonzales.

Last season, Anzar lost two games to St. Francis, of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League, by a combined score of 24-0. It lost another two games to Gonzales, a member school of the Mission Trail Athletic League, by a combined 10-0 deficit. And while the Hawks didn’t play Greenfield last season, their one-run victory on March 4 over the Bruins, another MTAL team, has simply furthered the question some coaches already were asking.

When will Anzar, which will play its second season in the Coastal Athletic League this year, go back to the more difficult MTAL?

“They want us to go back, especially now,” Anzar manager Andrew Barragan said, noting that the lack of an eighth school in the MTAL has forced teams to take an unwanted one-week bye.

“I don’t know,” Barragan added. “I think we’d have to win league a couple of times for us to go back.”

It was only two years ago when Anzar last played in the MTAL, and the memories are perhaps still fresh. The Hawks struggled to compete, posting an 0-14 league record in the process.

Last year’s move to the CAL allowed the Hawks to find their footing, though. They compiled an 8-9 overall record a season ago, 5-3 in the CAL, and finished runner-up to Anchorpoint Christian by just one full game.

And with nearly all of last season’s squad back — Anzar graduated just one senior — the Hawks appear deeper and more experienced already through their five-game non-conference slate, which has yielded wins against higher-division teams.

Moreover, opposing coaches are starting to talk.

But what has Barragan so excited this year is the team’s pitching staff. The fourth-year manager has a slew of arms, including his top two starters in junior Nico Mendoza and sophomore Nick Salgado — the two having spent much of the offseason working with former Major League ball player and Hollister resident Daniel Barone, who pitched for the Florida Marlins in 2007.

“And you can notice the difference, not so much mechanically, but mentally before the game,” Barragan said. “They’ve got their game faces on, they’re doing long toss, warming up … stuff you had to yell at them to do.”

The results are noticeable during the game as well. In Anzar’s 4-3 win against Greenfield, Mendoza struck out nine batters over 7.1 innings, allowing just four hits and two earned runs on 86 pitches.

“(Last year), we just had to hope our starters went deep into the game,” Barragan said. “Now we’re pretty solid all the way around.”

Barragan is able to couple his two starters with Adam Huaracha — the hardest thrower of the bunch — and Devon Parish, who has moved into the closer’s role after being the Hawks’ ace last season.

“I feel a lot more comfortable doing it,” said Parish, who, along with teammate Daniel Ornelas, are the only two seniors on Anzar this season.

“I get to throw a lot harder and not have to worry about tiring,” added Parish, whose services are more needed at first base and in center field. “I get to work with my stuff and show them what I have.”

Anzar’s development at the plate is also noticeable with another glance to last season’s preseason schedule, when the Hawks were held scoreless in four of their six non-conference games.

This season, Anzar is averaging more than five runs a game.

“It’s all about being selective at the plate,” said Barragan, who owed part of the improved run production with the team’s recent acquisition of a batting cage.

“That probably has a lot to do with it,” the manager added.

With no automatic postseason bid handed out in the CAL — the league has just four teams, including Anchorpoint, Trinity Christian and recently added Marina — the Hawks have to switch goals somewhat.

While Marina is the newcomer and Trinity Christian earned just one win last season, all signs point to Anzar renewing its rivalry with Anchorpoint — same story, different sport.

“We’re playing for a league championship,” Parish said. “All the guys are still competing. It’s still exciting and it’s still good baseball.”

And as for the MTAL, the Hawks say they are happy competing in the CAL, at least for now.

“We could be in that league,” said Salgado, who will be Anzar’s No. 2 pitcher this season. “But we’re comfortable with where we’re at right now.”

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The Anzar Hawks open up CAL play in San Juan Bautista on Wednesday where they will host Anchorpoint Christian at 3:30 p.m.

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