When nonconference play began this season, Glendale College baseball coach Steve Coots wondered if his experienced pitching staff would fall victim to a weak offense.
But 16 games into the season and only a day away from his team's Western State Conference opener, Coots is seeing a delightful combination: strong pitching and surprisingly strong hitting. All of which has left the Vaqueros with a 10-6 record and a bit of optimism as they prepare to open at home Friday against Santa Monica.
"We're very competitive this year," said Coots, who is in his 11th season as Glendale coach. "Our pitching is probably a little bit stronger than normal."
Not many junior college teams can boast of having six returning pitchers. Glendale can. Often, two-year schools with two or three experienced pitchers can dominate because the best pitchers are swept away by four-year schools or the professional draft.
Coots, whose Vaqueros were 17-21 last season--only his second losing season--said he will be counting on sophomore Brad Stone to lead the staff. Stone, 20, has started and completed two games this season and has appeared in four others--and with welcome results. In 29 1/2 innings, Stone has struck out 25 and walked 6, while compiling a 4-1 record with 2 saves.
Stone missed last season because of injuries suffered in an automobile accident. He said work in the off-season has helped him recover.
"I'm really doing good," said Stone, a right-hander. "I played over the summer and learned a lot. I think I'll be strong this year."
On the mound and off.
"I'm trying to help the guys," he said. "I'm trying to show some of them what to do."
Another bright spot for Glendale has been the pitching of sophomore left-hander Bill Berry. In 32 1/2 innings, Berry is 2-1 with 27 strikeouts, 14 walks and a 2.51 earned-run average. When he's not on the mound, Berry fills in at first base.
Left-hander Rick Zubiate and right-handers Charlie Williams, Chris Possemato and Dimitri Gross are also returning pitchers.
Another reason for Coots' optimism is the Vaquero outfield, which may be among the best in the WSC.
Right fielder Eric Oliver is batting .391, left fielder John Sutton, who can also play in right, is batting .345 with 2 home runs, and center fielder Greg Vaughns is batting .328 with 20 hits in 16 games.
The infield may be cause for concern, although sophomore shortstop Jay Carballo, who is a defensive back on the Glendale football team, is batting .375 with 3 home runs.
And Steve Paknik, the team captain last season, returns at third base.
"We have been playing excellent defense," Coots said. "I believe it's one of our strengths."
The Vaqueros, Coots said, are still without a legitimate catcher, although there are four to from which to choose. Coots said whoever plays the best defense--Tom Ball, Tony Jaime, Troy Knox or Robert Trujillo--will get the nod.
"The preseason tournaments were good for us," said Coots, who is 181-123-2 at Glendale. "Our pitching depth was tested quickly and we got a good idea of how we're going to use everybody. Also our hitting improved in the tournament games."
Glendale has not won a conference championship since 1980, but Coots remains optimistic.
"Potentially, we have a chance at winning conference," he said. "We have shown signs of brilliance on defense. Offensively, we're really starting to come around."