Pleasant Grove’s roster isn’t full of top-shelf talent, yet they’re proven winners nonetheless
By TREVOR HORN | Contributor
Scan the roster of the baseball team at Pleasant Grove High in Elk Grove and there will be an absence of NCAA Division I names.
It’s been like that throughout the eight-year tenure of head coach Rob Rinaldi, and it suits him just fine.
“I’m used to it,” Rinaldi said. “We’ve had one kid go D-1 in my eight years here.”
Despite the lack of top-notch talent, the Eagles have continually been playoff favorites and have never been less than seven games over .500 in school history.
This season, the Eagles are locked in a battle with Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills as top dogs in one of the toughest leagues in Northern California. As of April 28, they shared the top of the Delta River League standings with 7-2 records.
Pleasant Grove is also coming off a successful 2nd Annual Boras Baseball Classic over a spring break in which the Eagles beat Buchanan-Clovis, state-ranked No. 10 by CalHi Sports, Davis and De La Salle-Concord before losing to No. 5 St. Francis-Mountain View in a 2-1 battle.
“When you play teams the caliber of Buchanan, or De La Salle or St. Francis, you hope to get the key hits and the right pitches,” Rinaldi said.
The driving force behind the 14-4 overall record for Pleasant Grove heading into a three-game series against Jesuit-Carmichael in the final week of April has been the leadership of the seniors.
Matt Stafford is a four-year varsity player for Pleasant Grove. The pitcher/third baseman was batting .321 with a team-high three triples. On the mound, Stafford has tossed two complete games and boasts a 2.19 ERA. He went the distance in the 10-3 win over Buchanan.
Along with three-year varsity players in Nicco Toni and Bronson Grubbs, Rinaldi doesn’t have far to look for leadership on this squad.
“Between the three of them, that’s a lot of experience,” Rinaldi said. “They bring a lot of success and focus.”
Toni has been the leader as the backstop this season. The senior catcher has paced the Pleasant Grove offense as well. He was hitting .393 and owned 22 hits going into the Jesuit series.
On the mound, the Eagles have a stable of quality arms. Along with Stafford, fellow senior Brett Elgin (4-1, 0.99 ERA) and junior Dalton Gomez (4-1, 1.11, 31 strikeouts in 31.2 innings) have been the workhorses, starting 15 of the first 18 games.
“We’ve got a lot of good arms,” Rinaldi said.
Toni, though, has also been able to be a student to a former Elk Grove-area great.
David Freitas was a power-hitting catcher for Elk Grove High seven years ago. Now, the 25-year old catches for the Bowie Baysox, the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He is the older brother of Pleasant Grove senior infielder Kyle Freitas. Rinaldi said the elder Freitas comes in and helps out in the offseason when his schedule allows. He’ll spend time with Toni and the other catchers while also working with his younger brother.
“They’re about as close as brothers can be,” Rinaldi said. “Kyle really looks up to him.”
Pleasant Grove has reached the Div. I North playoffs every year since 2007 with an overall playoff record of 11-12. In 2008, the Eagles reached the North finals against eventual-section champions Jesuit. But Pleasant Grove has yet to reach the Div. I championships.
The Eagles returned a large core of players from last season’s team that advanced to the North semifinals before a 6-1 loss to Franklin-Elk Grove ended the season.
The quality wins this season have added up to a No. 18 state ranking, but Rinaldi is not content for this team to sit on its laurels.
“To this point, we really haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Rinaldi said.
He does feel that if his team has an advantage, it is in its depth.
“When you have a team like this, we can go one through nine at the plate and go deep on the mound, too,” Rinaldi said.
Six players are batting at least .320 for Pleasant Grove, including leading hitter Kellen O’Brine (.404), Aaron Pierce (.381), and Beau Boyle (.320) to go along with Stafford, Toni and Freitas, who is batting .390.
With just a three-game series against DRL opponent Sheldon-Sacramento to follow the Jesuit series, Rinaldi knows the playoffs are not a given this season.
But with the overall success of the program since its 2007 inception, the goal is no longer making the playoffs for Pleasant Grove — which can sometimes be overshadowed in its own neighborhood by Elk Grove, and in its own league by Jesuit and Oak Ridge — is it finally time for the Eagles to hang a blue section title banner?
“It will all be decided soon,” Rinaldi said.
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