By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
In the movie, “Bull Durham,” Tim Robbins’ iconic character Nuke LaLoosh found himself in a situation in which he really wanted to throw a fastball against the advice of his catcher, played deftly by Kevin Costner.
“I want to announce my presence with authority.”
It didn’t go well for LaLoosh. Perhaps he could’ve learned a few things from the 2015 San Ramon Valley High baseball team.
The Wolves announced their presence back on March 13 in a showcase game victory over Baseball America’s National Preseason No. 1-ranked College Park-Pleasant HIll at Banner Island Park in Stockton. Senior pitcher Joey Matulovich provided the authority.
Matulovich carved up the vaunted Falcons lineup, allowing just one hit and striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout. The win demanded Matulovich become a pitcher to keep an eye on, and that the Wolves had more then enough talent to defend their 2014 North Coast Section Division I championship.
“I’m excited. It’s a good group,” San Ramon Valley coach Chris de Clercq said on April 27 as the Wolves held a 13-3 record and were one game out of first place in the super-competitive East Bay Athletic League. “They work hard every day and do what we ask them to do. They also understand their strengths and try to bring those out when we play our games. … We felt we were gonna be pretty good. As good if not better than last year.”
There was going to be a good amount of position talent returning in 2015, but pitching was going to be a question mark. The Wolves had a trio of senior pitchers work 144 of a total of 186 innings a year ago. That veteran depth meant Matulovich had just six innings of work as a junior.
With the prospect of earning a rotation spot as a senior, Matulovich mapped out a plan.
“He looked at his upcoming season as 12 or 13 starts, and figured “˜I only get 13 chances to play, and I’m going to do what I can to make the most of each of those chances,'” de Clercq said. “He told me that a few months ago and it’s been really cool to see him follow through on it.
Matulovich followed his one-hit shutout of College Park with a March 21 no-hitter against Palo Alto (which included 11 strikeouts), and an April 3 no-hitter against Amador Valley-Pleasanton (14 strikeouts). For the season, he has a 6-1 record with a 1.37 ERA and 71 strikeouts in just 46 innings of work.
But while Matulovich has grabbed on-lookers’ attention with his pitching success, its keeping a very good offensive team in the shadows.
San Ramon Valley is hitting an impressive .341 as a team with four regular starters batting over .400 through April 27, and another hovering just over .350. Senior Ray Soderman “” another player who re-committed himself in the offseason and grabbed the starting catching job after never having played the position at any previous level “” is leading the Wolves with a .462 average and 16 RBI.
“He’s made himself into a catcher, and that’s probably one of the hardest things for someone to do,” de Clercq said Soderman. “He’s been such a nice surprise. Offensively, he’s really carrying us.”
Other offensive standouts for the team include senior outfielders Connor Doyle (.451 and a team-best 23 hits) and Greg Lowe (.419 with 12 RBI), along with senior shortstop Nick Poirer (.346 with 13 RBI) and junior third baseman Nick Moroney (.357 with 13 runs scored).
Poirer and Moroney are in their third straight year of sharing the left side of the infield together. They are the cornerstones of a starting defense that includes four three-year starters.
“Part of the reason we felt so good about this team was its experience,” de Clercq said. “We knew we were getting four guys back who had about 150 varsity starts between them.”
San Ramon Valley will begin the second half of EBAL on May 1. The Wolves were tied for second through April 27, one game back of Livermore.
“Our goal every year is to simply to win that league,” the Wolves coach said.
“There’s so much talk about NCS, but we play in one of the toughest leagues around. And if you can win that, it says volumes about the team you have.”
San Ramon Valley took a big step toward that on April 25 when it defeated De La Salle and ace Justin Hooper 2-1 in Danville. According to de Clercq, it as the closest thing to a complete game the Wolves had played so far this season.
However, for San Ramon Valley to get back to the NCS Div. I final and defend that banner, de Clercq said the biggest factor will be the development of pitchers not named Matulovich.
“I think that we have to continue to evolve on the mound,” the coach said. “You’re not going to win NCS with one guy. That’s been proven over and over again. … If we work on that and stay humble, I think we’re on the right track.