By Ray Hamill — For a young team, the St. Bernard’s Crusaders have plenty of experience.
And for a team lacking in seniors, they have plenty of senior talent.
“We only have one senior, but he might be the best senior,” St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin said. “He could be as good as anybody in the county.”
Tomlin is talking about Caleb Ruiz, the lone senior on a roster of 19, and a pitcher who could be the most dominating on the North Coast this spring.
His coach certainly believes it.
“I think he’s the top pitcher in Humboldt County,” Tomlin said. “And I expect him to have a big season.”
Ruiz is coming off a sensational summer playing for the Humboldt Eagles U17, a team that finished runners-up in the state.
He is one of a group of four players expected to lead the way for the Crusaders this spring, and just one member of a deep pitching rotation.
Behind the plate, junior Hunter Davis is also one of the top at his position in the area, giving the Crusaders a potent battery.
“He’s the best catcher in the H-DNL, either league,” the head coach said. “He’s the real deal, and our captain behind the plate.”
Hard-throwing sophomore Bode Joyner gives Tomlin another strong option on the mound, as well as a productive and consistent bat.
Joyner, according to his coach, led the H-DNL in RBIs last season with 25, and will hit fourth in the lineup.
Junior Lane Thrap, one of the best all-around athletes in the Little 4, gives the coach another strong option on the mound, as well as versatility in the lineup.
“There’s so much he can do to help this team,” Tomlin said of Thrap, who will bat second and play second base and shortstop.
First baseman Cole Petrusha is another player expected to play a major role this season, after getting an all-league honorable mention a year ago.
A pair of freshmen, meanwhile, are expected to have an immediate impact with the team, particularly at the plate.
Cayden Lee and Taholo Vainuku-Johnson both bring power to the lineup.
“They can really pound the ball,” Tomlin said.
But while the Crusaders possess the bats to challenge the best pitchers in a loaded Little 4, this team’s strengths lie somewhere else.
“We really like our pitching depth,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got four arms we can put on the mound.”
Lefty Logan Petrusha rounds out the four-deep staff of solid starters.
And Tomlin knows he’ll need all of them to challenge in what should be a tough and deep Little 4 this spring.
“The league’s going to be really tough this year,” he said. “Landon Gomes is as good a baseball player as you’ll find in the Humboldt-Del Norte League, and CJ Van Meter is right there with Caleb Ruiz as the best pitcher.
“And Hoopa has a new coach, John Snell. He’s a St. Bernard’s graduate and a good baseball guy. So we really expect a competitive league.”
Another player the Crusaders are expecting good things out of this spring is junior Ayden Hamanaka, a utility player who returns to the team after skipping his sophomore season.
Football standout Will Omey will also see plenty of time in the outfield.
“He gives us a good athlete in the outfield who can run down the ball,” Tomlin said.
Because of a scheduling conflict later in the month the Crusaders will open the Little 4 against Ferndale on Tuesday at Bomber Field in Eureka.
The Crusaders will also play Middletown at Bomber Field on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.