By Dave Loveton, sports information
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012
New faces, same goal for Vaqueros
Defending WSC champs open on Friday at home
New faces are everywhere on the diamond at Pershing Park, from the infield to the pitching staff to the head coach. But the goals of the 2012 SBCC baseball team remain the same -- win the Western State Conference, go to the playoffs and compete for a State Championship.
“That’s been our goal since Day 1,” said head coach Jeff Walker, who takes over the Vaquero program after playing and coaching at Loyola Marymount. “We’re not trying to make the playoffs. Our expectation is to make the playoffs and try and win a State Championship.
The journey begins this weekend with a three-game, season-opening series at home against Cabrillo. Friday’s opener is set for 2 p.m. with a doubleheader on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m.
Two starters return from last year’s 24-17 edition that captured the WSC North title for the first time since 2007 and advanced to the Super Regional for the first time in school history.
Those starters are Joey Epperson, an all-conference outfielder who batted .317 last year, and third baseman Pat Cavalier, a sophomore from San Marcos High. Epperson will start at first base with Joey Gonzalez (Santa Barbara High) or Taylor McKnight at second, Steven Reveles (Dos Pueblos) at shortstop, Cavalier at third and Colin Eaton (SBHS) behind the plate.
McKnight, who played at Fullerton College last year, is the son of Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, who recently became the all-time winningest boys basketball coach in CIF Southern Section history.
“We have a young group but we look good as a team,” said Epperson, one of 11 sophomores on the 29-player squad. “That’s how we won last year by working well as a unit. I like Coach Walker a lot. I’ve learned more from him than I could have hoped to learn in a season. He brings a lot to the program and we’re lucky to have him.”
The outfield has a few college transfers -- Tyler Sharpe, from Chabot, in left field and Brandon Laubhan from Southern Nevada in center. Zach Zehner, a redshirt from last year, is slated to start in right field. Matt Lloyd and Robin Landazuri are both expected to see time in the outfield.
Mark Jebbia, a 6-4 freshman from Maranatha High, will share designated hitter duties with McKnight.
“I think our offense is better than last year,” Epperson added. “Obviously we lost some guys on the bump that are hard to replace. It’s all about hard work. I think it’s going to be like last year when we surprised a lot of people by doing things the right way.”
SBCC had the sixth-lowest ERA in the state last year (2.93), led by Southern Cal Pitcher of the Year Chris Joyce. The left-hander was a 19th-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the Major League Draft. Kylin Turnbull, another strikeout specialist and all-conference choice, went in the fourth round to the Washington Nationals.
The Vaqueros’ No. 1 starter is Rich McCaffrey, a 6-2 left-handed transfer from the College of San Mateo. He began his college career as a redshirt at UCSB. The No. 2 starter is Brendon Shoemake, a freshman from La Canada. Shane Turner, a redshirt freshman, will be the closer.
“We’ve got high expectations,” said Walker. “We’re the defending conference champs, so we know we have a target on our backs.”
He cited pitching and defense as the keys to success.
“I like our pitching a lot and we’ve got to be able to make plays behind them,” Walker noted. “We’ve just got to take care of the baseball. We’re not going to out-athlete anybody. We’ve got to be smarter than our opponent. We have to execute the pitch and execute the plays offensively.
“I think we’ll hit a lot better than we did last year. Our lineup is a tough lineup to go through.”