After coming up one game short of playing for a sectional title last season, the Minarets baseball team, with six returning starters, is gearing up for another run with second year coach Jesse Darrah. Losing just one starter from the infield, Darrah enjoys the luxury of a seasoned team with a good mixture of seniors and underclassmen.
Last year the Mustangs (18-9, 8-2 West Sequoia League) were firing on all cylinders as they entered playoffs after a second place finish in league play behind Caruthers (9-1 WSL). But the Mustang’s quest for a D-V section title was derailed by Central Valley Christian.
This season, the team has set two goals - Win the WSL and win the D-V Central Section title.
Senior pitcher and first baseman Hunter Thompson, who wields a ‘big stick,’ is expected to anchor the squad. Behind the plate is three-year starter Connor Reardon, a solid blocker with a strong arm.Centerfielder Drew Robertson, the Mustangs leadoff hitter, should lead the Mustangs with ‘on base percentage’ and have his share of RBIs. Christian Conti, the Mustang’s shortstop will bat third or fourth in the lineup and is capable of changing the game at anytime.
Matt Blumberg is expected to see time in the outfield as well as back up Reardon behind the plate. Another one of the Mustangs speedsters, it will be hard for teams to find a gap in the Mustang outfield. Josh Weir is Darrah’s utility player capable of playing just about every position on the field. Wyatt Wristen will be another utility man off the bench.
Speed, along with good defense, should be the Mustangs’ strength this year as all four of Darrah’s starting seniors are capable of making the West Sequoia League All-League Team.
The underclassman are just as impressive. Matt Painter, a junior, is expected to fill the ‘closer’ roll for the Mustangs, while also seeing time at shortstop and second base. E.G. Walden plays outfield as well as infield and has speed on the bases. He will also be one of eight players who will see time on the mound.
Another speedster, Jacob Cullen will be in left field.
Darrah is carrying five sophomores on the varsity squad. Tyler Painter, brother to Matt, Chris Bowe, Luke Batty, Blake DeMaria and Aaron Hall round out a talented Mustang team that is expected to complete that drive to a sectional title this year.
Bowe will keep the pressure on the senior infield players, as he is a smart ball player that knows how to get on base.
Assistant coaches are John Summerville and Nick Crisswell.
“My expectations are very high this year ... we’re experienced and battle tested, returning six starters,” Darrah said. “We have three to four solid pitchers on the mound this year and I think this team has the talent to possibly make it to the D-V finals. It will come down to their work ethic, attitude, and coming together as we did last year.”
Two tournament wins
The Mustangs opened the season with two wins in its own “Battle of the Mountain” tournament - a close 3-2 win over Parlier on Feb. 22 and a 10-1 victory over McLane on Feb. 25.
In the Parlier game, the Mustang’s first run came on a suicide squeeze bunt by catcher Reardon. Starting pitcher Thompson kept Parlier at bay by picking off two base runners. With Parlier down one run, Reardon threw out a runner attempting to steal third to end the comeback.
Against McLane, Thompson worked four innings with five strikeouts. The Mustang offense came from Hall (3 hits), lead off hitter Robertson (3 hits), Conti (2 singles, 2 RBIs), Bowe (2 hits) and base hits from Cullen and Thompson.
The tournament resumes this week and next week, with Minarets playing Sierra this Saturday.
The Mustang JV team is looking just as promising under the leadership of varsity football coach Becher Marr who has college playing experience. Marr inherits a talented team that is off to a 2-0 start behind the arm and bat of Connor Heidebrecht.
Boosters raise $20,000 at dinner/auction
The Minarets Baseball Boosters held its annual dinner/auction Feb. 16 at Minarets High School, raising $20,000 with the help of 250 generous baseball fans who attended the event. The event included a live and silent auction as well as live entertainment from the Minarets school band led by music teacher Brett Moglia.
Guest speakers at the dinner were Mustang Coach Jesse Darrah and his high school coach and Valley baseball legend Tim Thiessen.
Thiessen, a man of faith, shared his remarkable story of contracting the West Nile Virus and recovering from a 105-degree fever which shut down nearly his entire body. He told how the experience changed his life, comparing it to struggles you face on the baseball diamond and in daily life.
Already famous for his achievement on the diamond, Thiessen is now famous for his miraculous comeback from the deadly disease passed by a mosquito bite. He is the only high school coach in the Valley that has won Valley titles at three different schools - Immanuel in 1993 and 95, Bullard in 99, and Clovis West in 2004. He is now coaching middle school ball where he teaches P.E. at Granite Ridge.
Auction items included a five-night vacation to Steam Boat Springs Co. that went to the highest bidder for $1,600 - a private cabin cocktail party and sunset cruise at Bass Lake for $1,300 - a Fresno Grizzles suite for 14 guests including throwing out the first pitch that went for $1,100.
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler served as auctioneer.
The Mustangs newest improvement to its ball park, one of the finest in the Valley, is new grass on the infield and outfield on the varsity diamond. The boosters are planning on building a permanent cover for the Mustangs batting cages, including the bullpen mounds, which will provide protection from the elements as well as shade in the hot summer months.
The dinner was organized by Kim DaMaria, Deborah Hough, with Debbie Bunyard’s family catering the dinner.