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2014 COC Baseball Preview: Cougars' hefty hill to climb

Posted: February 24, 2014 10:27 p.m.
Updated: February 24, 2014 10:27 p.m.

College of the Canyons sophomore outfielder Corey Sims is one of two returning sophomore hitters in the starting lineup this year.

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Even in the good years, College of the Canyons baseball takes a little bit of time to hit its stride.

That’s why COC head coach Chris Cota isn’t highly concerned about his team’s sluggish start to the 2014 season.

“We’re not playing horribly,” said the 14th-year head coach. “We’re just trying to get that first win at home going. We’re trying to play a tough schedule.”

And a very young starting lineup mixed with a tough schedule has translated to a 3-8 start for the Cougars, who are 0-6 at home.

One of the better hitting teams in the state last year is now struggling to score runs.

It’s not hard to figure out why the hitting numbers have dropped since a season ago, when COC led the state with 20 home runs and ranked second in the Western State Conference, South Division in runs and RBIs.

COC finished second in conference last year and made it to a Super Regional playoff game for the first time since 2003.

And that came after COC’s 5-9 start to the season.

Similar to last year, COC is playing a difficult non-conference schedule again. The Cougars have already played five teams ranked top 20 in Southern California.

The conference opener against Glendale is on March 4.

But this isn’t last year. The Cougars are without reigning CCCAA All-Southern California Player of the Year and catcher Alex Bishop as well as All-WSC South first-team honorees Chad DeLaGuerra and Quincy Quintero in the lineup.

Bishop is now playing at Long Beach State and Quintero is playing at Pepperdine University.

On the hitting side, COC is left with just two returning sophomore hitters, outfielders Nick Vigo and Corey Sims. By and large, the rest of the hitters are fresh out of high school.

“(We’ve seen) a lot of improvements from fall,” said center fielder Nick Vigo. “They’ve grown very well as baseball players and we’re starting off a little weak but I feel like it’s going to get better. They’re going to mature a little more and we’re going to be pretty good.”

The only returning All-conference player for COC this year is sophomore starting pitcher Ryan Cruz.

The right-handed power thrower is one of the leaders of a group of solid and experienced arms.

He’s one of five players who is back on the staff this year after throwing significant innings in 2013.

“The pitching staff is the veterans of the group and as long as we do our thing and put up zeroes every day, hopefully our freshmen offset that and our young guys can put up a couple runs,” said Ryan Paramo, a left-handed returning sophomore pitcher.

And with as much experience as the pitching staff possesses, some of the new guys are the ones making the biggest impact.

J.C. Cloney, The Signal’s 2012 All-Santa Clarita Valley Baseball Player of the Year while he was at West Ranch High, comes in after spending a year red-shirting at Long Beach State.

Through three starts and 17 innings, Cloney has a 2.65 ERA and 18 strikeouts.

Cloney is joined by sophomore and Saugus graduate Chad Bennett along with promising freshman righty Tim Han.

On the offensive side, COC brings in sophomore outfielder David Oppenheim, who transferred in from Pepperdine University and has been the No. 3 hitter for the Cougars this year.

Two other hitters come in after brief periods with NCAA baseball teams, including West Ranch graduate and second baseman J.D. Krauskopf (Sonoma State) and Saugus graduate and infielder Andru Cardenas (Cal State San Bernardino).

“We have a couple guys in our lineup that can produce runs, but I feel like we’re going to be a scrappy team, scrap together some runs,” Vigo said.

Growing pains are expected for this time of year, Cota says.

The bottom line is COC’s offense will need to right the ship if this team is going to put together a repeat performance of last year’s late-season turnaround.

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