Truckee baseball | Team shows promise under first-year coach
The Wolverines are scheduled to open Northern Division I-A play with three home games against Fallon this Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game starts at 3 p.m. and Saturday’s doubleheader is at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Depending on field conditions, the games will be played at either the high school or Truckee River Regional Park.
A new era of Truckee baseball is under way.
Coming off an emotional season during which the Wolverines’ longtime head coach, Mike Ellis, died from a heart condition, Ellis’ protege leads the team into 2015 along with a cast of fellow Truckee graduates.
“There’s a little bit of motivation to pick up where he (Ellis) left off and carry out his goals and his dream,” Murphy, a 2004 grad, said after he was hired in July. “I kind of felt that obligation, and I’m excited about that. But his spirit will still be around, definitely.”
In addition to the coaching change, Truckee’s field that Ellis worked tirelessly to improve during his 10-year coaching tenure received a makeover this past fall.
The Forever 18 Field of Dreams project, spearheaded by the mother and grandmother of former Truckee player Andrew Metlenko — who died in a single-car rollover days before his graduation in June 2013 — greatly enhanced the Wolverines’ diamond.
With help from Larry Harper from the Good Tidings Foundation, the old infield was replaced with new sod and a high-dollar, professional-quality infield dirt mixture. Crews also replaced the pitchers’ mound and outdated sprinkler system, painted the dugouts and foul poles, and put in new outfield fencing.
Former major league player Eric Byrnes and the Oakland A’s helped by donating money to the project, which raised roughly $50,000, according to Harper, whose foundation helps rebuild athletic fields in areas of need. Murphy, who described the field as “gorgeous,” said the Wolverines will host a dedication ceremony with Harper and the Metlenkos on April 18.
As for his Truckee squad, Murphy is pleasantly surprised after its season-opening tournament in Reno this past weekend. Although the Wolverines went 1-4, they showed signs of improvement from last year and played competitively against much larger schools.
“We were extremely happy with how the weekend went,” said Murphy, who is joined on the coaching staff by Truckee grads Daniel Galvin, Scott Decker and Kevin Embertson, as well as Bret Churchman. Truckee grads Ryan Zusy, Michael Taylor and Kevin Decker are coaching JV.
“Just some relief pitching is the only thing that cost us. That’s something we’ll have to work out as the season progresses. But the guys hit the ball well, which is where we’ve always been behind at the start of the season.”
Like last year, the Wolverines are young, with four sophomores and nine juniors making up the bulk of the 18-player roster. They’ve been tasked with learning a new system under Murphy, a former pitcher who played college ball for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State University.
“We have new signs and new defensive plays and situations than what they’ve had before — so we’re throwing a whole new program at the kids,” Murphy said. “But they’ve exceeded my expectations.”
Murphy said he kept the same batting order throughout the opening tournament.
The speedy Gavin Broad, a second baseman, center fielder and pitcher, leads off the lineup. He’s followed by sophomore pitcher and infielder Connor Bullion and sophomore utility player Jayden Commendatore in the three hole.
Senior first baseman and pitcher Cam Hollabaugh bats cleanup — and proved he belongs there with a deep home run in the tournament. Senior catcher and third baseman Teagan Pado bats fifth, senior Conor Nicholas, who swaps positions with Pado, is sixth, and junior pitcher JJ Bellon is seventh. Junior outfielder Jack Szekely hits eighth and senior outfielder Johnny Spaich ninth.
Junior starting pitchers Bradley VanSchoonhoven and Miles Guiragossian are currently out but are expected to rejoin the team soon, said Murphy, adding that the Wolverines will pitch by committee until they return to full strength.
Other pitchers on the team include sophomores Collin Caruso and Max Wingard, and juniors Brian Riofrio and Britton Brophy. Junior utility player Joey Gravel saw significant playing time last season, while junior outfielders Will Churchman and Diego Abundiz also bolster the roster.
The Wolverines will look to return to the Division I-A state tournament after missing the playoffs last season for the first time in six years.