Christopher pitchers come up aces

Cougars pitchers Sean Straub, Jonathan Newman and Jacob Ornellas have been strong all season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Armed with a three-man rotation that is right up there with the best in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division, the Christopher High baseball team seems primed for a second-half run and upper-tier finish in the standings. The Cougars entered the week at 6-6-1 overall and 3-5 in league, with four of the losses coming by two runs or less.

It’s no wonder Christopher feels it is on the verge of breaking through in a big way. The three Christopher starters—seniors Jonathan Newman and Sean Straub and junior Jacob Ornellas—are a big reason why the Cougars have been in every league contest thus far. Cougars coach Ryan Dequin has described the trio’s performance as phenomenal, and the stats bore that out.

Newman and Straub have nearly identical numbers, having pitched 27 2/3 innings entering this week’s action. Both have allowed three earned runs (0.51 ERA), and walked five. Newman has 39 strikeouts and Straub 27, meaning the two combined are averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

Ornellas has come on strong in his first season on the varsity, pitching 9 1/3 innings and allowing 10 hits and five earned runs while striking out six. Since the three pitchers have been fantastic, they drive each other to be better through friendly competition.

“We’re performing so well right now there is a supporting and building up of each other type of competition,” Newman said.

Newman and Straub both said their best performances of the season came in the two-game set against San Benito to open up Gabilan Division play. In Newman’s start, he allowed just two hits and no runs over seven innings in a 2-0 loss; in Straub’s start, he yielded just four hits and one run—zero earned—in 6 1/3 innings in a 1-0 defeat.

Newman had his fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup working, while Straub has an equally similar potent pitching game. Ornellas said his best start came in a 4-3 loss to Monterey, a game in which Ornellas pounded the strike zone and let his defense make plays. Ornellas, who is armed with a 2-seam fastball, slider and changeup, is the least heralded of the three but quietly making an impact.

The 6-foot, 175-pounder had a key breakthrough the summer before his freshman year, when he dropped his arm angle on his delivery, resulting in a tough freshman season on the freshmen team. After working out the kinks, Ornellas had a strong sophomore season on the junior varsity squad before earning a spot on the varsity this season.

Ornellas credits DUB Baseball’s Erik Wagle for helping him with the change of arm angle, which Ornellas credits for changing the trajectory of his career for the better. Ornellas has already started meal prepping, which many pro athletes either do or have someone do for them to eat healthy and fuel the body for peak performance.

Ornellas used to be a competitive skateboarder before his friends encouraged him to play baseball. As the years went on, baseball came to the forefront and skateboarding faded into the distance. For Straub, baseball has always been his No. 1 sport. The 6-2, 195-pounder started playing the sport at 6 and pitching at 11.

Over the years, Straub’s changeup has become his bread and butter pitch, something he can throw on any count with supreme confidence. Straub’s changeup has plenty of movement, and combined with his mid-80s mph fastball and curveball, it’s no wonder batters are having a tough time making contact.

“My changeup has got a good break to it, and I can use it in any situation,” he said. “It’s a pitch that has always been there for me, and most of my strikeouts come from that pitch, so it’s a huge factor.”

Straub credits his travel ball pitching coach, Mike Coderolli of Hardtke Baseball Academy, for helping his body stay balanced and his mechanics sound so “I can get the pitches where I need to be instead of everything being so fluid.” Straub’s youngest brother, Owen, is a catcher for Gilroy’s freshmen team.

“Growing up he would catch all my bullpens, and it was really fun sharing that experience with him,” Straub said. “I love pitching because you’re in control of the game.”

Newman expressed similar sentiments, falling in love with pitching from the first time he took the mound as an 11 year old for the Double-A Kanas City Royals Little League team in Folsom.

“The team needed someone to pitch, and I hopped on the mound,” he said. “After the first pitch, I knew it was something I loved and something to strive for. I like controlling the tempo of the game and playing a big part in leading the team to victory. The pitcher and catcher have supreme roles because they set the tone for the game.”

Newman played his first two years of high school ball at Sobrato High—he made the varsity as a freshman—before his family moved from South San Jose to Gilroy for his junior year. Newman really came into his own last season, and this season he’s been better than ever. The 5-11, 147-pound right-hander pointed to his freshman season as playing a key role in his development.

“Being exposed to a high level of competition at such a young age will definitely make you better in the long run,” said Newman, who has remained steadfast with a strong work ethic. “Talent helps, but reaching a high level has more to do with the work ethic. After you put in a lot of work, there is a certain beauty to see how it has transformed your game as a player.”