“It’s a whole new ballgame.”
That’s the assessment of Warren Dickey, the ninth-year head coach of the Santa Ynez High School baseball Pirates as his team readies for the 2019 season.
The Pirates took the field last week for one of their rare outdoor practices.
“I wish it wasn’t raining but we need the water,” said Dickey. “We haven’t been able to get much time on the field because of the recent rain storms. Once we get a couple games under our belt, we’ll be alright.”
The Pirates finished 2018 with a 20-10 record, 16-5 in the final season of the Los Padres League, a game behind Templeton (17-4 LPL) and just ahead of Lompoc and Cabrillo.
But the LPL is no more — disbanded after the Santa Maria area and San Luis Obispo County high schools moved to the CIF Central Section.
Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Cabrillo remained in the CIF Southern Section and will now join the Channel League, with holdovers Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and San Marcos.
“The league is going to be tough,” said Dickey. “There’ll be three automatic (CIF-SS) playoff berths and maybe a fourth, at-large team. Whoever makes the playoffs is going to be battle tested.”
Santa Ynez is the smallest school is the new league.
In fact, the three former LPL schools are all the smallest in the league, about half the size of the Santa Barbara schools.
“I can’t speak for Lompoc and Cabrillo’s coaches but I think we all have something to prove,” said Dickey. “I think we have the players to do it.”
“The size of those other schools doesn’t bother us. We know we can compete. We’ll just go out and play them,” said senior infielder Casey Hickman. “I’m looking forward to the new league, to playing different schools.”
“I’m also looking forward to playing different teams and better competition and I get to pitch this year,” said junior pitcher/outfielder/designated hitter Tyler Rasmussen who was strictly and outfielder/DH last season. “I like playing any position where coach puts me but I like pitching the best because you’re in on every play and you have full control of the game.”
While Dickey has only 14 players on his squad, it’s still a veteran lineup with seven seniors and four juniors returning from last year’s team. One sophomore and two freshmen fill out the roster.
“We were actually hit hard by graduation but that just opened the door for some of these boys to get more playing time,” said Dickey. “Some of these boys were mostly backups last year so it’s good to see they’re getting their shots. We’re only 14 players deep so everybody plays but we’re pretty versatile and have a lot of moving parts — a lot of guys who can play multiple positions.”
While 10 of Dickey’s players will take the mound at some time during the season, the Pirates starting rotation will rely on three main pitchers – senior Merek Mercado, Rasmussen and freshman Victor Heredia.
Coming in from the bullpen or moving to the mound from field positions will be seniors Dante Berouty, Aiden Sisemore, Cole Knightley and Justin Koslosky, junior Brock Dix, sophomore Logan Ast and freshman Jackson Cloud.
“Knightley is injured and will start the season on the shelf but he’ll be back with us soon, I hope,” said Dickey. “Merek is just joining us after basketball season. Merek and Tyler will play in the outfield when they’re not pitching. Our freshman, Victor, can really pitch. He’ll be at shortstop when he’s not on the mound.”
Senior Ben Perez will start at first base, junior Mason Young is set to start at second, and Hickman will man third base or switch to shortstop when Heredia is pitching. Junior outfielder Justin Davidson rounds out the squad.
“I’m ready to get the season started,” said Hickman. “I’m excited for the better competition I expect we’ll get in the Channel League. It will make us better and really get us ready for the playoffs.”
When he’s not pitching, Berouty will be the starting catcher with Dix taking over behind the plate when needed.
“Like I said, we’re pretty versatile,” said Dickey.
The Pirates opened the season Saturday with a doubleheader at home against Pioneer Valley.
“I’m excited for the games to begin,” said Rasmussen. “I’m excited for a season of big time challenges — excited to see where it takes us. Everything is good so far, except for the rain, so we’re good to go. I’m just ready to get into it.”
“The new league is going to be interesting. We’re looking forward to the challenge.” said Dickey. “This is always an exciting time. The boys are ready to go and can’t wait to take the field.”
In the sweep of Pioneer Valley, the Pirates opened the year with a 5-2 victory and followed it was a 14-2 win.
"The pitching was great," Dickey said. "Tyler Rasmussen started game one and went five, allowing three hits and striking out eight."
Dickey said Heredia started the second game for the Pirates and also went five innings, giving up just two hits while striking out seven batters.
Young went 3-for-4 with three runs scored for the Pirates in the opener. Berouty and Ast drove in two runs apiece.
In the second game, Heredia went 3-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs. Mercado finished up 2-for-2 with three runs and three RBIs. Dix went 3-for-3 with a run and three RBIs.
The Pirates next play home against Nipomo on Thursday and will then play at Santa Maria on Friday.