By Ray Hamill — Believe it or not, the Ferndale Wildcats are scheduled to open league play in baseball next Tuesday, which is a few weeks earlier than usual, but they should be as prepared as anyone for the challenge.
This season, the team returns several key players, including a core group of seniors and juniors who bring plenty of experience to the lineup,, and a group of players that won a North Coast Section championship two years ago.
They have experience and weapons throughout their lineup, none more so than on the mound, where they’ll need to be sharp in a Little 4 that features some quality pitching this year.
“It’s a group that has been playing together for years,” head coach Justin Andersen said. “They play well together and they understand what the person next to them is doing.”
The Cats return a potent one-two punch on the mound to lead a deep staff, giving the head coach plenty of options.
Senior Austin Hughes and junior Landon Gomes both had outstanding seasons a year ago, and Andersen is looking for more of the same in 2019.
“I expect the same results they were able to give us last year,” he said.
Gomes, one of the best athletes in the county, is one of four sophomores on the team, a group that have plenty of starting experience between them.
It’s a class that includes Nico Alejandre, Putter Walters and Brent Luster, and one that will be key for the team this year.
“They’ve all been starting for two years, and we’re hoping that experience is going to play off,” Andersen said.
Four seniors are also expected to play a major role, none more so than the versatile Shaun Leonardo, a four-year varsity starter who will see playing time almost everywhere except behind the plate.
“He’s kind of our utility guy,” Andersen said of Leonardo, adding that he “brings that energy level” to lift his team.
“Every time he plays the game, he plays so hard,” the head coach said.
In addition to Hughes and Leonardo, fellow seniors Cody Collings and Ronnie Lockett are expected to play big roles.
Three sophomores, Jenner Christiansen, Garrett Christiansen and Kyle Radelfinger, each also saw plenty of playing time a year ago and will be expected to fill even bigger roles in 2019.
“This is kind of a chance for this group to step up and take this team to the next level,” Andersen said.
The Wildcats have been building momentum in recent years.
Last season, they finished second to St. Bernard’s in the Little 4, putting together a third consecutive winning campaign and making it to the second round of the NCS with an overall record of 15-9.
The Crusaders are likely to be the Cats’ toughest challengers once again this season, although both Hoopa Valley and South Fork appear dangerous in what is shaping up to be a loaded Little 4.
Especially on the mound, with St. Bernard’s Caleb Ruiz and South Fork’s CJ Van Meter among the best pitchers in the entire county.
“I think the pitching quality should be outstanding in the Little 4,” Andersen said.
Because of a scheduling conflict later in the month, Ferndale will travel to play St. Bernard’s on Tuesday to open the Little 4, in what will be a key game for both teams.
The Cats, who are 1-0 after beating Del Norte 9-2 almost two weeks ago, are scheduled to play Middletown on Friday, in a game that is likely to be moved to Bomber Field in Eureka.
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