There were rumors that since it is Oakdale High baseball coach Hondo Arpoika’s final season as the Mustangs’ skip, the Valley Oak League would name him Coach of the Year and the Mustangs champions for the seventh straight year in advance.
If only that were the case.
The 2013 season may be Arpoika’s most challenging task yet. While he has reaped the benefits of legitimate collegiate-caliber pitching season after season, the remainder of the VOL will be sending them to the bump as well.
Manteca, East Union, Sonora and Kimball all return big-time starting pitching. The Mustangs will definitely have their share of arms to combat, but walking off into the sunset with another league title won’t be a walk in the park.
“The VOL is stacked this year,” Arpoika said. “It’s going to be interesting to say the least.
“It’s going to be a tight race.”
Oakdale has lost several key members of the 2012 squad that rallied to beat Sonora 12-2 in the championship game of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Between graduation, transfers and a track-bound slugger, the team is without eight players who recorded hits during last year’s postseason run.
Ace Logan Handzlik and his brother Craig both transferred to Hoover in the offseason, but the Mustang pitching staff has a nice addition in Nick Ippolito, a longtime Oakdale youth player who lives just beyond city limits and spent his first three years at Downey.
Ippolito joins a bullpen that returns the savvy talents of Eddie Machado and Bryce Dyrda. The three should thrive behind the support of a hard-hitting lineup that will improve all year as players compete amongst themselves for a starting spot.
“We’ve got a good nucleus,” Arpoika said. “It’s obvious we lost some good starters last year, but we had a big group with a lot of juniors and some returning guys.
“Thus far it’s been good.”
The Mustangs wasted no time testing their wits this season, and enjoyed a 12-3 rout of 2012 SJS Division I South runner-up, Buhach Colony (23-9 last year), during a nonleague scrimmage on Feb. 20.
Ippolito and Nik Garza (catcher) knocked in two RBIs each while Christian Acosta and Colt Parshall tacked on two hits. Ippolito, Machado, Dyrda, Drake Judd and Taylor Leach all spent time on the mound during the outing. Machado had five strikeouts amidst three innings of work.
“We’re just going to play the game,” Arpoika said. “We’re going to pitch and put runs together. We’re looking for solid pitching performances, to make the routine plays, to get runners on and produce runs.”
Arpoika is closing as decorated a run as the VOL has seen on the baseball diamond, winning five Sac-Joaquin Section titles in six seasons. The Mustangs have racked up six league titles over the same period, and even though it’s his final chase, the race is still the same.
“It’s still the same process,” Arpoika said. “You still go through the same work, you still put in the time; still doing the same stuff. Even when I’m gone the guys behind me, we have been together, it’s just about keeping it going.
“We’re all about keeping this program going.”
Oakdale hosts Tokay on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 12:15 p.m. to kick off the preseason.