Davis, Franklin and Elk Grove have been the top three baseball teams in the Delta Valley Conference for much of the past ten seasons. The other DVC clubs – Laguna Creek, Grant and Monterey Trail - just haven’t found ways to nudge one of these three perennial baseball powers out of the playoff race.
It’s been quite a long post-season drought for Laguna Creek. The last time the Cardinals were playing in the playoffs was 2000 when current head coach Josh Lex hit a towering walk-off home run against Davis to win the Delta League baseball championship. A photo of Lex’ feat is framed and hanging in the Laguna Creek gym.
The last time the Cardinals finished above .500 was 2005. That team was coached by current Oak Ridge head man Todd Melton and featured guys like Ryan Nill and Adam Wood on the roster.
Lex is now in his third year of rebuilding the Cardinal baseball program to the stature he knew when he was a budding baseball player.
“It’s slowly changing,” Lex said last week while he was scouting at a Franklin home game against Oak Ridge. “We’re starting to get that more experienced, that travel-ball type of player. The kid that plays more summer ball.”
He says getting the more seasoned baseball player really benefits the entire program at Laguna.
“You don’t have to start from square-one with that kid,” Lex explained. “You don’t have to teach all the fundamentals. You can hit the ground running with that kind of player that comes in.”
Those boys typically had been attending some of the other schools in the area, but now with a coach with Lex’ experience – five seasons playing in the minors after a pair of years at Sacramento City College and one at Oral Roberts University – the local baseball-minded student will now enroll at Laguna Creek.
“We’ve seen the talent level really come up with the incoming freshman class and we have a really strong sophomore class,” Lex said. “We got a transfer in Kale Leach, from El Camino, a big kid. That’s something else, too, we’re getting a bigger kid coming in.”
One thing that Lex has done this season to raise the bar a bit for his players is to schedule tougher opponents.
“If I don’t do that for the pre-season and for the summer then it hurts us when we get to the league (games),” he said.
This week the Cardinals are spending a chunk of spring break at the big Fresno Easter Tournament. That’s the first time they’ve competed out of the area in a long time.
“The kids are excited about it,” Lex said. “We also played in a tournament in Santa Cruz during the summer, spent the night, build a team camaraderie, some team chemistry. It builds the character of the kids.”
Leading the Cardinals on the mound this spring is pitcher Zach Smart.
“He threw well against some good teams during the summer and pitched really well,” Lex said. “He’s blossomed as a senior.”
After Smart, there’s some untested pitchers such as Anthony Poindexter and Zach Wassall who will need to come through this spring if the Cardinals will have a chance for the playoffs.
Otherwise, it will mean the bats must come alive in a big way.
“I have the best hitting team since I’ve been here,” Lex said. “It hurts to lose a Malik Pruitt and a Justin Beatty (to graduation), but overall we have more depth in pitching, more depth with the hitting and it’s looked really good thus far.”
Through Thursday, the Cardinals were 2-4, defeating McClatchy and Roseville, losing to Sheldon, Pleasant Grove, Oakmont and Wood.
“I’m feeling pretty good for this season,” Lex added. “This will be an interesting year with several good pitchers gone - Franklin losing (Kyle) Von Ruden and (Josh) Pigg, Davis losing (Ben)Eckles. But, Elk Grove has great hitters and (Dave) Smith and (Mikey) Wright are throwing well. It should be an interesting year.”