Mustangs aim for big turnaround

Mustangs pitcher Sergio Sanchez will play a key role all season. Photo by Robert Eliason,

After going 3-15 in Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division play last year, the Gilroy High baseball team has nowhere to go but up this season. And that’s exactly what the Mustangs plan to do.

“I’m expecting to compete a lot better,” Gilroy coach Billy Holler said. “Last year we lost quite a few games by a run or two. This year I think we can end up on the other side of that. The majority of our guys are seniors, so that can make a big difference. We’ve also got some younger guys who are really good, so we should compete better than last year—absolutely.”

The Mustangs return a solid nucleus, led by a pitching trio of Sergio Sanchez, Alex Benavides and Max Pierce. Through last week, Holler said Sanchez had put together the best performances while also noting that Benavides and Pierce could also contend for the No. 1 starter’s role at some point.

Gilroy has a standout and potential future star at the college level in the 6-foot-3, 170-pound Benavides, who has signed to play at San Diego State.

“He’s probably only 75, 80 percent of the way there (in terms of filling out physically and maturing),” Holler said. “He’s got a lot of potential left in the tank. He’s going to be a special kid when he gets older, and a lot of possibilities and a great future in him if he continues to work hard.”

Holler also expects consistent production from Pierce and Sanchez, as both pitchers possess a strong arsenal of pitches to stifle opposing lineups. All three pitchers are also capable offensively, and they’ll be playing different positions when they’re not on the mound. Richard Perez, a senior center fielder, and Dylan Hsu, a senior shortstop, are expected to make an impact throughout the season. Nolan Filippi and junior David Martinez also figure to make strong contributions for a Gilroy team that last won a league championship in 2013. In an 11-8 win over Salinas last Friday, the Mustangs got off to a big lead only to ease off the pedal and let the Cowboys back into the game. Holler hopes that proves to be a learning experience for all of the players.

“We hit real well and then we got complacent,” he said. “They have to keep battling no matter what. This league is tough, so you have to battle the whole way. The good thing is we’re getting better every week, it’s a good group of kids and I’m definitely proud of them.”

Sanchez is armed with a variety of off-speed pitches, and he can also play pretty much anywhere on the field but catcher.

“I can put him in any location and you don’t have to worry about him,” said Holler, who noted Sanchez and Martinez’s hitting prowess.

It’s no accident Sanchez is thriving. Before Holler even gets to practice, Sanchez is there working on his game.

“He’s a special kid,” Holler said. “I haven’t even opened up the baseball field, and you see him out there throwing. I didn’t open anything to get into the stadium, and he jumped the fence. It’s like the old American tradition of having that kid down the street who plays baseball everyday. I don’t even know if he realizes he’s working that hard. In all my years here, he’s probably the hardest worker and most dedicated player I’ve had here.”