APTOS—There is a strut in the steps of every member of the Cabrillo College baseball team this season.
A quiet self-assuredness that seems to permeate the facilities as the “first season” comes to a close and the “second season” gets underway.
Last week, the Seahawks’ (3-0, 8-12) took the field for the start of a Coast Conference South schedule that seems diametrically opposed to their record.
And a closer inspection reveals that the team is certainly buzzing about its postseason potential as the program enters its 13th season with manager Bob Kittle at the helm.
“That was the hardest non-conference schedule I have ever made, but this is the most talented team I have ever coached at Cabrillo,” Kittle said. “That’s where we should be, because that’s who we’ll see in the postseason.”
That’s high praise from Kittle considering his track record of running a program that annually sends multiple players to NCAA programs around the nation, and has produced major leaguers Brett De Geus and Clayton Andrews.
Kittle said this season was compartmentalized into three mini-seasons: non-conference play, Coast Conference South Division action and the postseason.
He made sure to schedule 15 of the Seahawks’ 17 non-conference games against ranked opponents, including 10 that are in the top-10.
Kittle said they weren’t quite ready to play when the ‘first season’ began. But he feels comfortable on where they stand at this point.
The Seahawks are loaded with talented arms, including freshman starting pitchers Ian Koenig of Monte Vista Christian High School, David Eichhorn of Aptos High School and Clayton Ray of Santa Cruz High.
Koenig and Eichhorn, both right-handers, currently have a 2.11 earned run average and a 5.08 ERA, respectively. Ray, a lefty, has a 2.74 ERA for the Seahawks.
Santa Cruz High alumnus Brady Chavez and Cardinal Newman High School graduate Ian Sullivan, who currently owns a 4.91 ERA, anchor the bullpen.
In a combined effort, the Seahawks’ pitching staff ranks 13th overall in the state for the lowest ERA (3.90).
It’s a number made all the more impressive when weighed against quality opponents such as San Joaquin Delta College (5-1, 14-5), ranked No. 7 in the state, and Santa Rosa Junior College (3-3, 13-6), ranked No. 9.
Offensively, the Seahawks have the bats they need to provide their pitchers with plenty of run support.
“There are no easy outs in this lineup,” said redshirt freshman Anthony Kariganopolous. “We have a great mix of guys throughout the lineup that can make you pay when you make a mistake and it’s so much fun doing with guys like Brady (Chavez), Javy (Felix), and Clayton (Ray) that I have played with since high school.
“Plus we get to add studs like Ian (Koenig), and (David) Eichhorn … It just feels like we have something really special here, and I am excited to see where it takes us.”
Kariganopolous, a Santa Cruz High School alumnus, is no easy-out himself and holds two unique distinctions amongst his peers.
He’s the lone player on the roster who walks more than he strikes out, and he’s the oldest player on the roster, despite still holding freshman eligibility.
After a medical redshirt season, followed by both a canceled and abbreviated season due to Covid-19, Kariganopolous had plenty of time to find a template for success to make him appealing to coaches at the next level.
He has tallied 21 hits, six doubles, 11 RBI and four stolen bases at the plate. He’s also paired with the skills to play almost every position on the field, which seems to make the 5-foot, 8-inch Kariganopolous a super-utility lead-off hitter in the modern mold.
The core of this year’s Seahawks lineup is anchored by fellow Santa Cruz alumni Javy Felix, a sophomore third baseman, and Chavez.
Both sluggers lead the team in doubles with seven apiece and have an on-base plus slugging percentage over the .900 line.
“I treat (baseball) like something I am going to do for a long time,” Chavez said. “I am prepared to keep getting better year after year and see the development for seven more years to become a good pro. It helps to be surrounded by a group of guys who have the same goal.”
In addition to his contributions with the bat, Chavez is also a key member of the Seahawks bullpen. He’s been striking out 9.53 batters per nine innings and posting a 3.71 ERA through 17 innings.
Chavez also leads the team in triples with two on the year.
“We have only had three guys who could do both (hit and pitch) in my 13 years here,” Kittle said. “One was Clayton Andrews, the best athlete I have ever coached, one was a kid who we stopped hitting because he couldn’t hit, and the other is Brady Chavez. I don’t think (two-way players) is a trend, you have to be a super athlete to be able to do it.”
Andrews, a left-handed pitcher, played for Long Beach State and was then drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Statistical analysis has become omnipresent in baseball. A new template has emerged for finding offensive success, which is to stack a lineup with hitters who post an OPS that exceeds .800 to get maximum run production.
While the old thought process prioritized runs batted in (RBI) over virtually any other statistical category, contemporary coaches recognize those numbers are much more subject to variables and aren’t always indicative of an individual’s contribution.
Six of the Seahawks’ eight everyday players met that criteria during the first two games of Coast Conference play. They have subsequently scored 66 runs in the past nine games.
Defensively, the Seahawks are the definition of average through 19 games played, ranking 49th out of 87 teams across the CCCAA. They have also recently just been able to cement their lineup with multiple players missing time due to injury or illness.
“We have to focus on the games ahead of us and make sure we take care of business to get into the third season,” Chavez said. “We are heating up and getting locked in, so now we need to stay healthy and get that postseason lottery ticket.”
The Seahawks continue conference play at home against Mission College (0-3,10-10) on Tuesday at 2:30pm.