Baseball: Cougars on rise, eye CCS playoff spot

Christopher's Brennan Wilson waits for the throw to second as Palma slides safe during their game Tuesday.

Senior pitcher Brian Ransom said he’s been playing with senior catcher Ryan Fredricks since they were 9 years old.

The longtime batterymates share a close bond that punctuates the rise of Christopher High’s baseball team from new-program upstart to Central Coast Section playoff hopeful.

“I know when he’s going to spit, and I know when he’s going to take a step off the mound,” Fredricks said of Ransom. “I know his pitches, so that really is an advantage.”

Ransom and Fredricks have given the Cougars an advantage as the team gradually became a factor in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division.

The best example yet of Christopher’s progress came with a 2-1 win at San Benito on April 16. In only their third year of full-fledged varsity play, the Cougars had beaten the Balers, a perennial CCS contender with nine league titles since 2002.

“That was definitely a big win for us,” Christopher coach Ryan Dequin said. “Just to keep us in there in the hunt for the playoffs (with) five automatics in this league is big. It was a big momentum builder, morale builder, and let the guys see that we could win and compete with these guys.”

Christopher pitchers Nathan Bonsell, Makaio Duyao and James Hagan combined on a two-hitter, with Duyao getting the win and Hagan picking up the save as the Cougars won for the second time in three games.

“That game was huge,” said junior shortstop Brennan Wilson, who went 2-for-3 in the win over San Benito. “That was really one of the first games we came together as a team and played together.”

The Cougars (7-15-1, 5-9) sit in fifth place in the Gabilan through Tuesday, which is significant because the division is guaranteed at least five CCS playoff spots.

Christopher achieved success last year, going 19-9 overall and 14-4 in league. But that came in the “B” division while playing several five-inning, run-rule games, and the Cougars eventually dropped their CCS Division II playoff opener with a 7-3 loss at Leland.

Now in one of the top divisions in the CCS, the Cougars are being challenged with seven-inning games against elite competition on a regular basis. Dequin said the move up has been a welcome change.

“It’s definitely better for our players,” Dequin said. “The competition level is up there with the West Catholic (Athletic) League. It’s good to have these guys play against competition like that. It just gets us better physically and mentally.”

Junior third baseman Tyler Fhurong agreed.

“You learn new things from new teams, more competition,” Fhurong said. “You just get better each day.”

Ransom was named MBL Most Valuable Pitcher as a junior, and Dequin said his ace has been a leader his senior season.

Ransom has faced many of the top teams in the CCS this season, but he’s emerged with a 3.15 ERA through Monday. The right-hander pitched a five-hitter with five strikeouts and no walks in an 8-1 home win over Monterey on April 19, putting together an 89-pitch complete game.

Bonsell threw six scoreless innings and was the winning pitcher in a 6-0 win at North Salinas on April 11, and Duyao tossed 4 1/3 scoreless frames with two strikeouts in the victory over San Benito.

“Our pitching staff is good,” Ransom said. “Even with a couple of our seniors leaving, they’ll be good next year.”

Offensively, Christopher has had a steady leadoff hitter in Pat Valdez, who is batting .308. The senior center fielder leads the Cougars in both hits (20) and stolen bases (eight) through Monday.

“He’s a great center fielder. He tracks down balls,” Dequin said of Valdez. “He’s been a guy who’s getting on base for us, giving us speed. He wants to win, (and) you can tell he wants to win to help the team.”

Left fielder Sean Corral is batting .302 with two home runs and 15 RBIs through Monday, and teammates Fredricks, Wilson, Fhurong and right fielder Robert Driscal have helped form a potent lineup.

But the biggest area the Cougars have improved can’t be found in a box score, Fredricks said.

“It’s team chemistry, knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Fredricks said.