SEASON PREVIEW: Mustangs want respect – and a league title

Gilroy's Reed Kienle jumps over the ball as he races to third

Two ragged looking sheets of paper are taped up inside the
Gilroy High baseball team’s dugout.
One reads,

Get me the extra 90 feet

and the other simply says
Two ragged looking sheets of paper are taped up inside the Gilroy High baseball team’s dugout.

One reads, “Get me the extra 90 feet” and the other simply says “Compete.”

“They touch those before they go up to the plate,” second-year GHS manager Johnny Ramirez said at practice last week.

It’s no secret by now that the Mustangs are active on the bases. The philosophy of live and die on the base paths isn’t new. Gilroy stole 231 bags last year and so far through seven games this season the Mustangs have 48 stolen bases – 41 of those swipes came in GHS’s five victories while GHS managed a combined seven in its two losses.

“The first thing we do at practice is work on our base running,” Ramirez said. “What we do on the bases, no one else does. This year they understand it. They’ve done it now for the year. They get on the bases and know what to do. It’s a good thing for us.”

Coming off of an 18-win campaign (third place in the Tri-County Athletic League) and a 1-1 Central Coast Section playoff appearance in 2010, the Mustangs feature a completely revamped pitching unit and five first-year varsity starters now holding down slots in the lineup.

Despite some of the different faces the mission is still the same and a league championship is the top priority.

As the pieces begin to fall into place for the Mustangs in 2011, Ramirez has repeatedly affirmed his team’s drive for a league crown, often saying that his group is playing with a collective chip on its shoulder, out for respect he and the players believe is due.

“They feel like they still aren’t being respected and they are playing angry right now,” Ramirez said.

“It’s not angry, angry. It’s a controlled angry. They want to show that they are the real deal and what they are made of. They have so much confidence and swagger this year. We don’t want to be cocky but we do want to defend our field.”

With the departure of all-leaguer and ace Taylor Chris, Michael Hartman and Tyler Price, Gilroy’s three starting pitchers from a year ago, Ramirez’s rotation topped a short list of concerns he had entering this season.

However, Ramirez, who is not one to doubt his players in the least, is seeing starters Aaron Cimino (2-0) and Eric Brolin, who he said will hit 90 miles per hour on the radar gun, developing into go-to assets in the hill.

“A lot of people doubted us with our pitching this year, and it was our biggest concern,” Ramirez said. “But with Eric coming into his own, Aaron, Ryan Alba, Jesse Martinez, we feel like we can run six or seven guys out there. I think we have filled the void there.”

Brendan Holler will also see plenty of innings on the mound for the Mustangs, already notching his first win against Alisal on Thursday, striking out six and surrendering three runs in six innings.

With five spots in the everyday lineup needing to be ironed out as well, sophomore Ronnie Reed, who occupies the second spot and plays first base, already has four multi-hit outings (11 total hits), equaled in that category by Alba, who sees most of his time in left field. Matt Brotholic in right, who has three outfield assists already, and Peter Palma in center, round out a new-look outfield.

“They want to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and that they still are going to compete,” Ramirez said.

The core of the Mustangs’ returners is in the infield with all-leaguers, senior Eric Vegas at third and junior Bubu Garcia at shortstop. Senior Reed Kienle at second base along with junior catcher Jordan Dexter, combine with Vegas and Garcia to make up the meat of the Mustangs’ order.

“We have a loose team with a lot of heart,” Ramirez said. “It’s fun to coach.”

The Mustangs were off and running to begin the season, picking up four straight wins to open the year, including two against crosstown foe Christopher and a TCAL-opening victory against Salinas on March 8.

Since then, GHS dropped its home debut to the Cowboys 9-5 last Thursday, rebounded the following day, topping TCAL counterpart Alisal 13-3, and lost 8-2 to visiting Rocklin on Saturday.

There is little room for error in the TCAL and this week the Mustangs twice face Palma, who has already jumped out to a 3-0 league mark.

Gilroy travels to Salinas to face Alisal on Tuesday to begin the week, making their way back down the coast Thursday for the first of two with the Chieftains on Thursday before a home tilt Friday.

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