Coach: Hondo Arpoika (12th season)
Key Returners: S P/OF Brennon Williams, SR P/OF Matt Butler, JR 2B Kody Simons, SR SS Braydon Stephens, SR 1B Zach Abbott
Key Newcomers: SR P/OF Russell Longworth, JR 3B Andy Morris, JR C Lane Branch, SO OF Spencer Thomas
Team Strength: Despite how solid Oakdale is at the plate, their best attributes may be pitching and overall team speed. The team worked in the off season to get stronger and faster, and it’s translated to the diamond. A deep bullpen with aces Williams and Longworth (Butler closes) should propel the team to wins all season. Oakdale’s defense had a few minor hiccups in preseason play, but has the potential to be excellent as the year progresses.
VOL Outlook: The Mustangs certainly plan on taking things one game at a time, but are heavily favored and the team to beat yet again. A fifth consecutive title is in the works, considering Oakdale has topped two teams (Atwater and Tokay) who have already bested the likes of Oakdale’s stiffest league competition (Manteca, Sierra, East Union). Manteca returns a big crop of players, and Sonora is always tough, but Oakdale is expected to reign supreme in 2011.
Fast Fact: Oakdale is an incredible 156-36-3 since the start to their 2005 campaign.
When it rains, it pours.
It’s the theme of skies these days, and the motto Oakdale High’s varsity baseball team seemed to capture in the bottom of the third inning of a highly anticipated showdown with Division II stalwart, Rocklin, on Saturday.
Oakdale (D-IV) and Rocklin each won Sac-Joaquin Section titles last year, The Thunder edging Granite Bay 4-2 while Oakdale ousted El Dorado 9-4.
Nearly 10 months later, Oakdale showed why the Mustangs are still the team to beat in their division by landing eight runs in a furious third inning rally and pushing past Rocklin in an 8-3 decision at home.
“We just really executed in a situation that presented itself,” Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika said. “Rocklin is a very good team, and it was nice to get a win against a team of that caliber.”
The Mustangs are 8-2 on the year, and kicked off Valley Oak League action with an 11-2 rout of visiting VOL newcomer, Kimball, on Wednesday.
Oakdale is expected to challenge for its fifth consecutive conference title and fourth SJS banner in five years. It’s a tall order, but considering Oakdale graduated just three slots in the lineup that won a section title a season ago, it’s certainly possible.
“Our expectations are the same as they are every year,” Arpoika said. “We want to compete at the highest level possible every day. First we have the battle to win league, and we want to compete for a section title.
“This team has high expectations, and we want to get better every day and work on our weaknesses.”
Whatever Oakdale’s weaknesses are, they certainly aren’t in their lineup. The team has scored 68 runs in the last nine games, and has a habit of starting hot on the bat of leadoff stalwart, Mark Ortiz.
Ortiz has hit safely in all but two games this year, and has a team high seven stolen bases. His base hit was one of seven in Saturday’s third inning stanza that saw Braydon Stephens, Ortiz, Matt Butler, Kody Simons, Brennon Williams, Spencer Thomas, Andy Morris, Russell Longworth and Stephens (second time around) reach base in nine of 10 consecutive plate appearances.
Longworth earned the win after a five-inning gem that forced four Thunder strikeouts and gave up three un-earned runs. Andy Morris landed a scoreless sixth and saw team closer, Butler, mow down two more in the final frame.
Butler is a common sight the last inning of games this season after his closing prowess earned notoriety when he struck out the final two hitters of last year’s blue banner game against El Dorado.
“It takes a lot of guts and courage to come in there with everything on the line,” Arpoika said. “Butler welcomes that pressure, and in those situations he has stepped in and done tremendously well for us.”
With the bullpen Oakdale has, save situations may not be incredibly common this year. The team returns the wining pitcher of their section championship game, Williams, and has replaced graduated starter Tanner Combs with the strong arm of Longworth (senior).
Both Longworth and freshman pitcher Bryce Dyrda made the last round of cuts for the U.S. National team in North Carolina last summer, and both are expected to do big things for Oakdale in 2011.
Thomas, Morris and Zach Abbott also have the experience to see time on the mound this year. All three have been sharp at the plate, while Morris has landed some spectacular plays from his post at third base.
Stefan Aguilar doubled and knocked in two runs during the VOL win over Kimball, and has been excellent at the plate as well. It was the same game that saw two more base knocks from the team’s leading hitter, Ortiz.
The Oakdale junior saw some action at the plate in 2010, but a successful summer with C.V. Nitro of Manteca gave Ortiz a look at talented pitchers in action from Bakersfield to Arizona.
His own improvements at the plate, combined with big production from a deep cast of returning players, has Ortiz buzzing with excitement these days.
“When you grow up you want to be a Mustang, and every kid dreams of playing varsity baseball,” Ortiz said. “We have a lot of experience and talent and we can go pretty far.”