Lack of pitching depth has plagued the Ventura College baseball program in each of Gary Anglin's 10 years as coach. This season appeared no different as left-hander John Grove and right-hander Shane Espitia were projected as the only two solid pitchers.
And when Grove was sidelined with an injury March 12 and Espitia was ineffective in early starts, it looked like the beginning of Anglin's second decade at Ventura might follow the form of his first, during which the Pirates never won a Western State Conference title.
Anglin turned to the closest thing he could find for solace--Tony Solis.
The right-hander has come through with a record of 4-0 and an earned-run average of 3.03, helping Ventura to a record of 19-7-1. The Pirates are 10-4 in WSC play and sit atop the standings of the Northern Division.
"Tony has been exceptional," Anglin said. "He and Dave Townsend have stepped in as starters and pitched very well."
Townsend does not have a decision but his 2.54 ERA indicates he gives Anglin four or five quality innings before the bullpen is summoned. Top man in relief is Ed Leger, a side-arm throwing right-hander who has three wins and five saves.
Although the Pirates have several tough opponents on their schedule--including a doubleheader Saturday against Canyons, which is unbeaten in WSC play and in first place in the Southern Division--reinforcements are on the way.
Grove, who was stabbed in the abdomen while trying to halt an off-the-field brawl, returns this week. Espitia, a freshman who got off to a shaky 3-5 start with a 5.63 ERA, pitched well Tuesday in a 5-3 win over Santa Barbara.
"We're still looking for more consistency out of our pitching staff," Anglin said. "But if John comes back strong, we should be in a good position."
While the pitching staff has been the source of pleasant surprises, Ventura's hitters have exceeded what were originally high expectations. The team batting average is .325 and .332 in conference play.
Right fielder Kevin French is batting .376 with 25 runs batted in and 25 runs scored, left fielder Brent Cookson is batting .391 with 31 RBIs and 23 runs, third baseman David Dunn is batting .395 with 28 runs and 13 stolen bases, and first baseman Paul Gonzalez is batting .392 with 25 RBIs, 5 home runs and 10 stolen bases.
The Pirates average 8.1 runs a game.
"On top of it all, we've played excellent defense," Anglin said. "We've made several key plays with runners on base and games on the line."