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COC baseball: Hitting strides

Slugger ready to showcase his improvements at the plate

Posted: March 8, 2010 10:53 p.m.
Updated: March 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Although injuries have slowed COC first baseman Hugo Hernandez this season, he's still hoping to lead the Cougars to their third straight Western State Conference title.

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In baseball, the No. 4 spot in the batting order has been home to many of the best hitters at all levels.

That’s no different for the College of the Canyons, where the clean-up role is an integral one.

Enter sophomore first baseman Hugo Hernandez, a second-team All-Western State Conference selection last season whose work with his brother Brian and with the St. Cloud River Bats will be important if the Cougars want to win their third straight conference championship.

“My swing feels amazing this year,” Hugo says. “I feel like I got better. I played all summer in a northwest league, and I faced really good competition up there pitching-wise and it made me a much better hitter all-around.”

In limited action for the River Bats of the Northwoods League, he hit .200 and the team finished 32-36.

COC head coach Chris Cota hopes the extra work will pay off.

“He’s going to be a guy that we are going to count on to drive in runs this year,” he says.

Cota remembers Brian Hernandez, who now plays for UC Irvine after moving on from COC in 2008, noting that he could “flat out hit.”

“They both know the game very well,” Cota says. “They play the game hard. They both are great kids.”

Before the Hernandez brothers, the last time the Cougars saw a pair of brothers go through the program was with Dana and Kyle Eveland.

Currently, Dana pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays and has spent time with Milwaukee, Arizona and Oakland.

Hugo hopes to reach that level, a path that could include playing with Brian at Irvine next season.

The Anteaters are currently ranked No. 15 in the country by Rivals.com.

“That’s something I’d really like and something I’ve wanted for a long time,” says Brian, who plays third base for Irvine. “I know he could play here.”

The two have a close relationship and work out together whenever possible.

“He teaches me everything there is to know about the game and my swing,” Hugo says. “We have similar batting stances and swings.”

Brian played with the River Bats in 2008 and says he put in a call to the organization about his brother.

But that only opened the door. The rest has been up to Hugo.

“I’m really proud of the way he has come in and made a name for himself and not by being my little brother,” Brian says. “He’s not tried to be me. He’s tried to be himself.”

Unfortunately for Hugo, who hit .325 last season with five home runs, 21 total extra base hits and 39 RBIs, this year has been riddled with injuries that have prevented him from getting into his groove.

First there was a strained hamstring, and he’s currently battling an injury to his hand.

Still, he has managed a .409 average in 22 at-bats with home run, a double, three RBIs and three runs scored this season.

Though sidelined, the injuries have not prevented him from doing whatever he can to motivate the rest of the team.

“Whenever I’m not playing, I try to keep the dugout involved,” Hugo says.

Last season, Hugo was the only true freshman to consistently be in the starting lineup.

Current sophomore pitcher Trevor McDonald was also on the team last season and says Hugo’s biggest areas of growth are his bat speed and composure at the plate.

Now he’s taking those lessons and passing them on to the younger hitters, which is good news for McDonald and the rest of the Cougars’ pitching staff.

“As a pitcher, that helps my confidence knowing that if I give up a run or two, our offense is going to be able to compensate with two or three runs,” McDonald says.

Hugo is one of the keys to that offense, as is freshman outfielder Cal Vogelsang.

“He’s a great team leader,” Vogelsang says of Hugo. “He’s always positive and always full of energy. He brings that vibe to the team. He gets everyone fired up.”

Hugo believes that influx of youth combined with the added experience of the sophomores has given the team the right combination of talent to make another run at the conference title.

“I felt like this year, we are just better depth-wise,” he says. “Last year, we were only nine deep. This year, we can pretty much have two teams that can go out there and win games.”

For now, the rest of the team just needs to get Hugo back in the lineup.

“That’s the biggest thing is getting him back healthy in that four spot and at first base,” Vogelsang says. “He can be huge for us on offense and defense.”

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