Haybalers begin quest for CCS title

Moises Salazar figures to be a prominent pitcher in the Balers' rotation. Photo by Robert Eliason.

It’s often said there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. When it comes to the local high school sports world, it’s virtually guaranteed San Benito High will roll out a solid baseball team. So it is for the Haybalers, whose degree of success encompasses a multitude of factors, including league championships, advancing in the Central Coast Section playoffs and players taking up roster spots for college programs, and, in some cases, playing professionally (see Daniel Barone, Connor Menez and Darin Gillies).

The only thing missing from the Balers’ resume is a CCS title. If the Balers are to win it all this season, they’ll need great pitching, solid hitting, tough defense and excel in the fundamentals. Over the years, the Balers have developed a solid reputation for doing those things well.

“We’re swinging the bats really well and the pitching has been good,” Balers coach Billy Aviles said. “I like where we’re at on the mound and think we’ll score some runs. We definitely have more of a balanced offense than we had last year.”

San Benito returns a solid set of arms, including seniors Jordan Yeager, Matt Campo, Moises Salazar and Kaleb Guttierez. Yeager is a returning all-Gabilan Division First Team player and possesses a fastball, curve, slider, and change-up. Fellow senior Campo utilizes a sharp curveball to get hitters off-balance, Salazar has a lot of potential and Guttierez uses a variety of off-speed pitches to record outs.

“Right now we’re looking at Kaleb to be our closer,” Aviles said. “He did a good job for us last year.”

Said Campo: “I think Kaleb has a chance for another really good season. I’m really excited about the team and our pitching should be good. We have a lot of talent.”

In addition to the seniors, expect freshman Jackson Pace to make a huge impact throughout the season. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Pace possesses quality stuff, including a mid-80 mph fastball, curve and a slider with tremendous movement. Pace comes in with top-notch credentials, having played two years for the Northern California National Team Identification Series (NTIS). From there he was one of 15 players selected to represent the NorCal region at the USA Baseball Training Complex, and then was one of a small group of players selected to attend a special National Team selection workout in attempts to make the 15U National Team this summer.

“I knew he was good, but he’s really good (after seeing Pace for a sustained period of time),” Aviles said.

The Balers kicked off the season with a 2-1 win over Alisal last Saturday, with newcomer Aiden Shaw hitting a home run and Guttierez, Salazar and Pace combining on a two-hitter. Jeremy Ashford had a team-high two hits in a strong season-opener. Some of the key returnees in the lineup include catcher Jacob Burley, shortstop Brady Miguel and catcher/outfielder Marcus Aranda. Miguel will hit leadoff and is a potent base-stealing threat, while Aranda has added another dimension to his game.

“Marcus became a more complete hitter in the off-season,” Aviles said. “He looks good physically and he can flat-out swing it. He’ll produce some runs for us.”

Campo figures to drive in some runs as well. When Campo is not on the mound, he’ll be in the outfield. Campo has been reliable and consistent, a type of player every coach appreciates. In the off-season, Campo focused on packing some extra muscle to his frame, and he said he gained 10 pounds and is now up to 195 pounds.

“I’ve noticed a difference, mostly on the mound,” he said. “On the mound my velo(city) is up 2 to 3 mph from last year. I can feel added strength in my legs, and my endurance and stamina are a lot better.”

Campo has been playing baseball since age 5 and started pitching when he was 7. He’s always had a solid role model in his dad, Dave, who “has always been the one to show me the way, especially from the mental side of the game.” Dave constructively critiques his son’s performances, harping on the mental aspect of the sport like being perceptive and looking at hitters’ tendencies and what their swing path is like. Dave also taught Matt the value of hard work.

“When it comes to work ethic with baseball, it’s not just taking reps, but it’s about quality and doing it over and over again,” Matt said. “And when you do something, do it with a sense of urgency and have a purpose with what you’re doing. Think about what you’re doing and if something is wrong, step out for a second, think about it and correct it and keep going. That is what my dad has taught me, and it’s been great advice.”

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