The Hancock College baseball team has just three returning regulars back from the 2018 squad that narrowly missed a playoff berth, and veteran Hancock coach Chris Stevens said his 2019 group is still largely in a state of flux.
"There's still competition for a lot of starting spots," Stevens said after his 18th season at the helm was three games old. Hancock, after taking two of three from Los Angeles Piece College, was 2-1 when Stevens spoke before a recent practice.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs moved to 5-2 with a 14-5 win at the College of the Canyons.
With so many new players, "It will take some time for us to know what the biggest strength of this team is," Stevens said after a loss to Pierce in the Bulldogs' second game of the season.
Hancock was in the hunt for a post-season berth last year until it dropped the last two games of the season to arch rival Cuesta.
The Bulldogs do have three returning regulars from that team — pitcher-infielder Izzy Hernandez, pitcher-first baseman Jake Shusterich and catcher Reed Odland.
Most of the Hancock pitching staff Odland has is new, but the catcher said he had considerable time to work with them during fall practice.
"Fall practice started Dec. 5," said Odland.
"I had plenty of time during fall practice to adjust to our new pitchers. I got to know them, got to know the adjustments they made when they were pitching. It was a positive experience for everybody."
Shusterich said, "We have a very young team, but we have good chemistry. I think we can make another run toward a conference title."
Hernandez said, "Our young guys made a lot of progress during fall ball. They got a lot of confidence, and it's starting to come together. All that hard work is paying off."
The Cabrillo High School graduate worked mainly long relief when he pitched last year.
This year, "I've been a closer," he said. "It's suited me. I play third base when I'm not pitching, and when I come in to pitch I just throw fastballs, throw heat, for one inning to try to close it out. It's easier on the arm."
Two freshman newcomers, St. Joseph graduate Isaac Baez and Santa Maria High School grad Trevor Garcia, have each had a pitching start for the Bulldogs.
Garcia went 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs scored in the win over Canyons on Saturday. Zach Rudd, a sophomore out of Righetti, had five RBIs and went 4-for-5.
Two veterans and a newbie handled the pitching for the Bulldogs in an 8-3 win at Pierce Tuesday, and they were all solid.
Shusterich, the starter, gave up three runs, all earned, in his five innings of work. Daxton Miller worked three hitless innings then Hernandez pitched a scoreless ninth.
"Right now, Jake is our third pitcher," in the starting rotation, Stevens said.
Odland is the regular catcher. Shusterich plays first base when he isn't pitching. Davey Demeter is the regular shortstop. Hernandez plays third base when he isn't on the mound.
"Jeff Ray is our second baseman right now, but Travis Welker has played there too," said Stevens.
"In the outfield, we have Cameron Hirahara. He plays either right field or left. Rudd plays left field or center. We have two guys who are platooning, Mike Mclean in center field and Ryan Pearce in right.
"We have had a different designated hitter every game."
Rudd leads the team with eight RBIs. Lompoc grad Jeffrey Ray was leading the team with a .400 batting average after Saturday's win. He's also scored nine runs.
Garcia leads the team with 13 innings pitched and a 0.69 ERA and 15 strikeouts on the season.