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College of the Canyons baseball preview

Matt Warr comes back to SCV to play for Cougars

Posted: January 29, 2009 10:39 p.m.
Updated: January 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons third baseman Matt Warr reaches for a grounder during practice Wednesday at College of the Canyons.

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Local talent figures to be the key in the College of the Canyons baseball team’s quest to reach the 30-win plateau for a second straight season in 2009.

Coming off a year where the Cougars went 30-13 overall and 23-5 in conference play to win the Western State South Conference crown, COC has 17 players from the Foothill League on its roster this year.

“It’s great to be back here,” said third baseman Matt Warr, a 2007 Canyon graduate, who spent last season at Cal-State Northridge. “Coach (Chris Cota) gave me a chance to play, and I’m excited to take it and play with so many guys I’ve played with before.”

Recruiting some of the area’s best local talent has helped the Cougars reload for a season that has the potential to result in another conference championship.

“We like to get guys from the area,” Cota said. “It helps build camaraderie among the team, and it lets them play in a place they’re comfortable and familiar with.”

Warr figures to be a big part of an offense that could be the most potent in the Western State Conference.

“One to nine, there are no easy outs in our order,” Cota said. “A big goal of ours is to throw nine guys out there who are going to make pitchers work hard to get them out.”

One of the toughest outs in the Cougar lineup will be second baseman Brian Hernandez, who hit a team-high .454 on his way to an all-conference first-team selection in 2008.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this season to get started,” Hernandez said. “I want to get out there and help our team do well. As long as we’re playing well I’m happy.”

College of the Canyons’ success may hinge on its young pitching. Caleb Deville, a 2008 all-conference first-teamer and owner of a 10-1 record and a 2.40 ERA last season, figures to anchor the staff, but the Cougars may have to follow Deville with four freshmen in their starting rotation.

“We’ve got a lot of new guys that are going to have to step up on the mound,” Cota said. “It’s going to be important that they come along quickly.”

One freshman pitcher who could be instrumental in putting together another successful campaign is West Ranch alum Charlie Gillies. The 6-foot-1-inch right-hander should see action in the Southcoast Tourney when the Cougars open the season on Jan. 30.

“There are a lot of good players on this team,” Gillies said. “It’s a fun group of guys to play with, and I think we have a good team makeup. We just have to make the playoffs and go from there.”

Much of the team’s makeup is a reflection of its ninth-year head coach. A member of the last COC team to win a state championship in 1986, Cota sees this team as having similar potential.

“These kids want to win a championship,” Cota said. “We have a lot of goals to achieve before we can start thinking about that, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to take the steps to make it happen.”

The Cougars’ young players will have to evolve quickly if COC is to fulfill its lofty dreams. Outfielder Brian Charnock is the only player other than Hernandez returning to the team that played more than 20 games last season.

Still, newcomers like Warr and outfielder Trevor Bloom, a transfer from New Mexico State, should help fill any holes in the lineup.

“I’m interested to see just how good our offense and our team can be,” Warr said. “I think our lineup is pretty stacked, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch us.”

People will get their first chance to watch the College of the Canyons against El Camino Friday. The Cougars then play a doubleheader against East Los Angeles on Saturday.

“I think if our freshman pitching comes along then we’ll have a good shot at repeating,” Cota said. “Right now I think we’re ready to play. Our guys are sick of scrimmaging against their teammates. It’s time to play ball.”

kdamore@the-signal.com

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