By Nick Giannandrea
Jody Allen has a lot to be excited about as he prepares to launch his 26th season as College of the Sequoias' baseball coach.
* The Giants welcome back a powerful middle-of-the-order batting combination in Andrew Valdez (El Diamante High) and Donte Valdez (Redwood), who were second-team and honorable mention all-Central Valley Conference, respectively.
* COS has battle-tested gloves in the infield, including reigning CVC Gold Glove-winning shortstop Payton Allen (Golden West) and second-team all-conference selection Isaac Gonzalez, who is shifting from second to third base this season.
* The team's winningest starting pitcher returns in left-hander Cade Sakamoto (Highland-Bakersfield), a second-team all-CVC pick.
"We have a pretty experienced group coming back as far as what it looks like position-wise," Allen said. "And we've added some nice compliments as freshmen. We have a situation where we have a lot of guys who will compete for jobs and contribute."
Allen's Giants make their season debut at 1 p.m. Jan. 25 at home against Allan Hancock. COS, which is the preseason No. 11-ranked team in Northern California by the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association, also plays at Allan Hancock on Jan. 28. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Expect outfielders Andrew Valdez (.340, eight doubles, six home runs, 36 RBIs) and Donte Valdez (.283, four doubles, two home runs, 15 RBIs) to be in the middle of a Giants' lineup that also features returning starters in Allen (.299, four doubles, 15 RBIs) and Gonzalez (.273, seven doubles, 30 RBIs).
With Gonzalez shifting to third, Cal State Monterey Bay transfer Elijah Munoz (Redwood) is in line to take over at second, while the competition to man first base includes a group of freshmen in Flavio Perez Jr. (Hanford), Jordan Hammer (Fowler) and Vincent Estrada (Corcoran).
Sophomore David Alcantar (Tulare Western) and freshman Peter Gonzalez (Tulare Union) also provide depth around the infield. Alcantar hit .266 with five doubles and nine RBIs in a part-time role last season.
Sophomores Maverick Souza (El Diamante) and Derek Harris (Porterville) and freshmen Michael McKernan (Mt. Whitney) and Casey Miller (Tulare Western) are battling to flank the Valdez's (no relation) in the outfield. Freshman Kade Kiser (Mt. Whitney) also provides depth in the outfield.
A pair of sophomores who saw limited action last season -- Davis Beavers (Redwood) and Matthew Davis (Tulare Union) -- are expected to handle the bulk of the catching duties, with freshmen Nico Joven (Highland-Bakersfield) and Cole Arteaga (Tulare Western) also in the mix.
Sakamoto (6-6, 4.00 ERA) heads up a pitching staff that also features experienced arms in lefty Zach Mccorvey (El Diamante) and righties Jaylen Rodriguez (Redwood) and Reed Passmore (Monache), Nikolas Gardena (Kennedy-Delano) and two-way player Harris.
An honorable mention all-conference selection last season, Mccorvey (6-2, 2.97) is the team's leading returning reliever. Rodriguez, would could start or relieve this season, was 0-2 with a .4.55 ERA last season.
Bower (2-1, 0.88, 23 strikeouts in 24 innings at Redwood last season) and Pedersen (5-3, 1.67, 64 strikeouts in 46 innings) will get a chance to join Sakamoto in the rotation.
"Those two guys have a chance to be pretty special," Allen said. "With a lot of freshmen, there is a learning curve. They are going to have to learn to pitch a little more than just throw."
Freshmen pitchers Chase Watson (El Diamante), JT Friesen (Immanuel) and Hammer are all expected to log some innings, while fellow freshmen Christian Garcia (Hanford), Alexander Hunter (Bakersfield) and Fabian Luna (El Diamante) add depth to the staff.
"We have a group of guys who I think are working to get better and have a great year," Allen said. "It's always exciting when you have the guys working in the right direction."
COS will be looking to extend its streak of three consecutive postseason appearances. The Giants have reached the Northern California playoffs in eight of the past nine seasons overall.
Key upcoming dates include Feb. 6-8 for the COS Tournament, Feb. 8 for the Giants' Central Valley Conference opener at home against Merced; March. 17, 19 and 21 for a series against rival Fresno City; April 16 for COS' meeting with Fresno City; and April 24 for its regular season finale at West Hills-Coalinga.
"We're capable of competing with anybody," Allen said. "If the guys play to their capabilities, this could be a special season."