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Preview: Yavapai baseball carrying a quiet confidence into the 2019 season
Junior College Baseball

Yavapai College baseball head coach Ryan Cougill talks to players at practice Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Yavapai College baseball head coach Ryan Cougill talks to players at practice Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Righty flamethrower Hamel gets the nod to start Game 1 Friday at GateWay Community College

PRESCOTT — The quiet confidence of a veteran club looking to make another postseason run was ever present at Yavapai College baseball practice this week.

Problem is, with only six returners, a handful of transfers and 14 freshman, Yavapai is far from acquiring a “veteran” label.

Not to mention the club hasn’t made a postseason appearance since 2016, when they completed an incredible run to hoist the storied program’s fourth NJCAA national championship trophy.

But when you talk with players and their leader, skipper Ryan Cougill, Roughrider fans need not worry as the young group is oozing with talent, especially within the freshman ranks.

“I like the team,” Cougill said at practice earlier this week. “You’re always hesitant early in the year to give your true opinions because they may not become a reality, but I think this year, we looked at it as a staff, our guys have done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’ve bought in, they are off campus right now and they just pick up a baseball, go to a parking lot and go play. That usually tells me they are pretty apt to handle adversity.”

That explains the quiet confidence and a group certainly ready to prove itself as it embarks on another junior college season in Prescott this spring.

TOP RETURNERS

On the hill to start game one of the 2019 season, ace right-hander Dominic Hamel gets the nod, Cougill confirmed Thursday night.

Hamel, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound Chandler native is looking to continue a stellar 2018 season when he made 10 starts and finished with a 2.67 ERA while striking out 75 batters in 67-1/3 innings pitched.

The Dallas Baptist commit said he’s excited to the ball in game one against GateWay Community College in Phoenix on Friday.

“Whenever they put the ball in my hand, I’m going to go out there and do what I need to do, but definitely excited to get the opening nod,” Hamel said.

Cougill said the expectations of Hamel this season are a “reality” for him.

“He’s a professional prospect, division one commit and hard-throwing righty with a ton of talent,” Cougill said. “He is our most experienced pitcher, so we’re going to run him out there game one. He knows there will be people in the stands watching him, he knows that he’ll have a direct impact the first four or five innings of the game. We feel comfortable in putting it his hands that early.”

Logan Williams, who is expected to be behind the plate or getting his hacks in as the designated hitter this season, is excited to see what the righty can do.

“Dom, he’s an amazing pitcher. He has good off-speed pitches, good velocity. I’m excited to see how he’ll do this year,” Williams said.

Other top returners include sophomores Gianni Tomasi, Tommy Sacco and Cody Holtz.

Tomasi, a Paradise Valley native, is expected to start in center field this season and hopes to improve on his .304 average from a year ago.

Sacco, who will move from second base to shortstop this season, isn’t expecting too much of a transition defensively.

“I had to really change my clock, it’s a little faster than second base,” said Sacco, who is committed to TCU for 2020. “I still have the arm, you just have to change the clock a little bit.”

Sacco hit .312 for the Roughriders in 2018, stole 20 bases and was 13th overall in the country with 139 assists. He was second on the team in runs scored (50), doubles (16) and led Yavapai in walks with 40 a season ago.

“He was a high school shortstop, he’s a shortstop first. … He’s put in the work, the preparation, so now it’s about him going out and being comfortable playing and with Tommy, you don’t have to worry about comfort, he’s a pretty slick dude,” Cougill said.

TOP NEWCOMERS

Cougill expects to regularly start four freshman this spring. Left fielder Will Long, right fielder Matt Novis, third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand and first baseman Nick Adams may get the bulk of playing time at their respective positions.

Other newcomers to watch for include Grand Canyon University sophomore transfer Channy Ortiz, Cal State Fullerton sophomore transfer Tyler Smith, and freshman Arizona State transfer Sasha Sneider.

UP NEXT

The Roughriders (0-0, 0-0 ACCAC) take their first step today toward a hopeful postseason appearance this season, traveling south to open the 2019 season against GateWay Community College at Gene Autry Park in Mesa.

First pitch is set for 2 p.m.

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is news/sports editor for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SoundCloud at @TheEditorDesk. Email bbergner@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.

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