Baseball looks to repeat

The Orange Coast College baseball team plays a recent game at Wendell Pickens Field.

After a dramatic walk-off win in the California Community College Baseball State Championship in May, the Orange Coast College baseball team is already prepping to defend its title.

The Pirates road to back-to-back titles won’t be an easy one, with only one player from the championship winning starting lineup returning, third baseman David Morgan.

Although the official team roster is not yet set for the 2020 contest, head coach John Altobelli is already working toward replacing the 16 sophomore players.

“We are more sophomore heavy on our pitching staff, which is good,” Altobelli said. “So I think our pitching staff will be the carrier of this team, and the hitters will hopefully rally up and come around as well.”

Of the 12 pitchers on last years squad, eight of those were freshmen.

Returning to the team will be left-handed pitcher Michael Ryhlick, who Altobelli and pitching coach Tim Matz look to as one of the many team leaders. In 63 and 2/3 innings pitched last season, Ryhlick had a 2.83 ERA, and did not allow a single home run.

After winning the third state title since 2014, the Pirates will enter yet another season with a target on its backs, and the team accepts it.

“Our guys kind of understand that the culture has been built over the years of what to expect and why we do certain things, and it comes down to the new guys trusting us,” Altobelli said. “They [the players] understand that there are standards that they have to keep going that players before them have built up and strive from there.”  

As the season inches closer, team cohesion is the top priority, and Altobelli leans heavily on his sophomores to set the standard for OCC baseball.  

Altobelli highlights first baseman Justin Brodt as the biggest position player leader for this year’s squad.

“The guys get tired of us talking all the time, so when it comes from a peer, it hits home more.” Altobelli said.

In order to repeat as State Champions — a feat Altobelli and the Pirates have done once before — the Pirates set smaller goals throughout the season. According to Altobelli, the focus entering non-conference play, is winning each series, as it prepares the team for the playoff format.

However, the end goal remains to be in Fresno come May, winning the State Championship.

“Winning state is every teams goal. I think if you don’t have that goal, you shouldn’t be out there playing.” Altobelli said.

The 2019 season was one full of accolades for the Pirates, winning the Orange Empire Conference for the third straight season, and Altobelli earning 700 career wins — the 16th coach in California Community College Athletic Association history to do so. Altobelli also will be honored with the American Baseball Coaches Association’s Diamond National Coach of the Year next January.

“I’ve had a lot of great players and great coaches,” Altobelli said. “It’s nice to have that magic number of 700, and hopefully I can be here long enough to get 800.”

The Pirates will return to Wendell Pickens Field to wrap up the preseason on January 16 and 18.

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