By Ray Hamill — The St. Bernard’s Crusaders will begin the Little 4 as heavy favorites this weekend, but there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot separating the rest of the league and that should make for a competitive few weeks in the race for second.
An experienced Crusaders team that is expected to compete for a state championship later in the season opens league play with a doubleheader at Hoopa on Saturday, while Ferndale travels for a pair of games at South Fork.
St. Bernard’s is 3-1 and coming off a loss to Arcata in last weekend’s Crusader Classic championship game, but head coach Matt Tomlin has an assortment of top-class pitchers and offensive weapons at his disposal and anything less than a league championship will be considered a huge upset this season.
Most notably, the Crusaders roster includes senior Nick Dugan, who is one of the top pitching prospects in the nation and has committed to play at Stanford after graduation.
And Dugan, who has also been on fire at the plate early in the season, is just one piece of a loaded lineup, which won’t make it easy on the Warriors this weekend.
“We’re going to go in with high morale and give it our best shot, and see what happens,” Hoopa head coach Joe O’Rourke said of the challenge. “We know we’ve got our work cut out.”
But defensively, the team has shown some spark through the early going, particularly shortstop Darvin Davis IV and center fielder Brian Gulley.
“It’s a young team. It’s just a matter of building their confidence and that just comes with experience,” O’Rourke said. “But we’re right there. We’re right on the precipice of getting it.”
Ferndale (0-4) is in a similar position with a young lineup that needs more game time, but one that is taking notable steps in the right direction.
“We’re slowly but surely getting better,” head coach Justin Andersen said after an 8-4 loss to Willits earlier this week. “We still have a lot of learning to do, but they competed for seven innings.”
Both coaches admit that a lack of games so far, especially against similar sized programs, has hurt their teams’ development, but both also know they will only get better when league play rolls around.
“After St. Bernard’s, I think there are going to be competitive games,” the Hoopa coach said. “And I think that’s what we need.”
South Fork, meanwhile, is 2-5, and also features a young lineup, with 11 freshmen and sophomores on a squad of 18.
The seven juniors and seniors, however, gives head coach Chris Contreras a solid foundation to build on, most notably senior Tanner Curran and junior John Harding, two very talented multi-sport athletes.
This year’s team also has some depth and flexibility.
“I have a very versatile team,” Contreras said. “Lots of players can play multiple positions.”
Both of Saturday’s doubleheaders are scheduled for 11 a.m.