2010-04-08 / Sports

Lions have all hands on deck

O.C. baseball team battling through injuries
By Stephen Dorman sdorman@theacorn.com

CANNON ARM—Oaks Christian junior shortstop Drew Hacker fires a ball toward first base. Hacker was one of four Lion hitters who entered spring break with a batting average above .400. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers CANNON ARM—Oaks Christian junior shortstop Drew Hacker fires a ball toward first base. Hacker was one of four Lion hitters who entered spring break with a batting average above .400. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers Injuries can derail any team’s season.

Since losing three starters with various physical ailments, the Oaks Christian baseball squad has had to mix and match younger players at a multitude of positions.

The results, thus far, have been outstanding.

Oaks Christian entered this week’s Bishop Gorman Easter Classic in Las Vegas with an 8-3 overall record and a 4-0 mark in the Tri-Valley League.

“Everybody has come right in and done what they’ve needed to do to pick the rest of the team up,” said Tim Penprase, the Lions’ second year head coach.

“We were fortunate to have depth at the beginning of the season, and fortunate to have a lot of position battles early on. That really helped guys improve so that when someone went down, there was another guy right there to come in and take his place.”

Team captain Drew Hacker, a junior shortstop, has taken on an increased leadership role.

Hacker, the Lions’ leadoff hitter, traveled to Las Vegas with a .433 average and a team-leading six doubles. On defense, he works as the point-man in directing OCHS infielders with proper positioning.

“I do my best to keep everyone ready and just be a commander out there,” Hacker said.

“I work a lot with Nate Palace to my right because he’s a freshman at third base. I want to make sure he’s comfortable, and make sure everyone else is informed about what plays are going on.”

Before going down with a hamstring injury, senior Vince Dingman was hitting .500 and served as one of the Lions’ workhorse starting pitchers.

In Dingman’s absence, much of the pitching load falls on the shoulders of junior Travis Radke, whose 2.07 earned-run average and four wins top the team.

According to senior catcher Sam Wales, Radke can choose from a repertoire of five pitches in any situation.

“The thing that gives (Radke) an edge is his ability to throw so many different pitches for strikes,” Wales said.

“A lot of pitchers have problems when they get behind in the count, and they end up going back to their fastball. He’s able to throw a curveball with a full count for a strike. Or a changeup. He keeps the hitters totally off balance.”

Penprase said senior Armand Pizzicarola will see increased time on the mound because of Dingman’s injury. Pizzicarola is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning with a 3.87 ERA.

While it remains to be seen if the pitching staff can hold up during the second half of the season, the Oaks Christian lineup appears loaded for the long haul.

In addition to Hacker and Wales, junior center fielder Evan Ocello (.412 average, 10 RBI) and junior first baseman Trevor Gretzky (.333 average, 13 RBI) have played major offensive roles on a squad that’s logged a collective batting average of .306 and seven home runs.

“We don’t have the most power in the league, but we definitely can hit gaps—getting doubles and triples—and that’s more important than a home run here or there,” said Ocello, who hits second behind Hacker.

Other Lion starters are junior Mikey Gose at second and Palace, the freshman, at third. In the outfield, junior Josh Davis plays left if he’s not catching, while freshman Cole Taylor patrols right. Taylor also spends time at designated hitter.

Senior Tommy Knapp, juniors Luke Zirretta, Taylor Cochran and Christian Louey, sophomore Brake Howell, and freshmen Brandon Evans and Phil Bickford round out the active roster.

In limited plate appearances, Louey is hitting a robust .462.

Junior Blake McFadden and senior Sean McCarthy are both injured. McCarthy is aiming for a late-season return, Penprase said. McFadden suffered a severe elbow injury and is likely out for the remainder of the year.

In a unique twist, Penprase is working with his father, Rick, who joins Daniel Denham and Wade Anderson on the coaching staff.

“Working with my dad is pretty cool,” said Penprase, a graduate of Cal Lutheran and Moorpark High. “He’s been with me for three years now, since I was with the JV team.

“No one really gets an opportunity to coach with their dad, so that part’s been awesome.”

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