The Christopher High baseball team peaked at the right time last year en route to winning the program’s second Central Coast Section championship.
This season, the Cougars won’t be sneaking up on anyone and longtime coach Ryan Dequin knows and expects the team to have a superior regular-season compared to last year.
“We were sub-.500 going into the CCS playoffs last year and didn’t have a great regular-season because we were young,” Dequin said. “We got hot at the end of the year, hit the right buttons and got on track at the right time. That gave a lot of our young kids a big confidence booster that they can actually compete and carry that over to this year. A lot of them are better for that and more prepared for going into this new league, which is going to be a huge test for these guys.”
The Cougars entered the week at 3-1 and were scheduled to open Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division play with a two-game, home-and-home set against Willow Glen. Christopher is coming over from the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division, and while the two divisions have notable perennial powers at the top, the Mount Hamilton is probably deeper from top to bottom.
That’s why having three uber talented pitchers in Nic Valentine and brothers Matt and Will Anderson will be one of the biggest keys to the season. Sophomore Matt Anderson only pitched in the first month of the 2022 season before being shut down due to arm fatigue. His return to the mound “is huge,” Dequin said.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander has committed to Alabama, which says it all because as rich as the baseball talent is in the section, just a handful of players get offered by an SEC school every year.
“Matt throws hard but we’re rehabbing him back in,” Dequin said. “With him, Will and Nick, it’s huge having three guys that can go three to five innings down the road and compete.”
Valentine and Will Anderson have picked up where they left off from last season, when they had monster postseasons. Valentine knows how to change speeds and mixes pitches well, and works the ball in and out throughout the zone.
The left-handed sophomore had some stellar starts in the 2022 postseason, and Will Anderson collected six RBIs in three CCS playoff games. Another left-hander, Anderson has a hard fastball but also good command with his off-speed pitches. The Anderson brothers have potent bats, with Will hitting No. 3 in the lineup and Matt in the No. 6 spot.
“Will being a senior, knows our system and knows how to lead,” Dequin said. “He’s our leader-type guy.”
Christopher has additional arms in Mason Dubenko, Aaron Van Kerkwyk and Peyton Nellis, and other players are looking to come to the forefront as well.
The Cougars return the vast majority of their starters off last year’s team that went just 8-13 in league play before making a dominating run in winning the CCS Division V championship.
Aiden Simeon, a junior shortstop, had a breakout 2022 season and his ceiling is higher than most. Depending on how things shake out, Simeon could also start or close for the team at some point this season.
“He can ride his ticket anywhere if he continues to do what he does,” Dequin said.
Ricky Wilkerson, a junior third baseman, has been productive and bats in the cleanup or No. 5 spot.
“Just a stud,” Dequin said. “Ricky has definitely been solid for us. He’s adjusting his swing a bit and his hitting is coming around.”
Dubenko, a junior, has excelled at second base. Senior left fielder Alex Gonzalez has hit leadoff early in the season and taken well to the role, Dequin said. Junior outfielder/second baseman Mateo Alcantar looks to repeat a solid 2022 season.
CHS has quality talent and depth at catcher, with returning sophomore Diego Enriquez and the emergence of freshman Aiden Mojica, who hit the go-ahead two-run homer in a 4-2 win over Evergreen Valley on March 7.
“Diego is solid defensively and Aiden is very skilled and knowledgeable behind the dish,” Dequin said. “There’s a battle for [who gets the starter’s spot] behind the dish and we tell all our guys having healthy competition is good. It keeps you on your toes. Some players worry and some step up to the challenge, which is always a good thing to get better that way. It’s exciting to see what our guys are going to do.”