With Its First 10 Games, Clayton Valley Baseball Announced Its 2017 Presence With Authority
Story By Mike Wood | Photos By Samuel Stringer
Clayton Valley Charter High-Concord baseball is out of the gate quickly this season. How fast?
Try a 10-0 start, with five shutouts.
Thanks to a stingy defense and two solid veteran starting pitchers, the Ugly Eagles have allowed more than one run in just one of those 10 wins.
The defense makes plays that stop foes right in their tracks. In Clayton Valley’s March 30 win over Pittsburg, one gem came when centerfielder Chad Treppa made a highlight-reel shoestring catch. Another occurred when third baseman Milan Mijanovic turned a double play that thwarted a hint of a Pirates rally. Those type of standout plays aren’t unusual.
“It’s been like that all year; it’s been a huge key,” said pitcher/designated hitter/outfielder James Biles. “Our bats have come in, slowly, but they’re coming, so we’ve really been riding our defense all year.”
Stellar defense has paid dividends with close wins, like Clayton Valley’s 2-1 victory over El Cerrito on April 1 to kick off the Alhambra Easter Classic.
“It’s defense — that’s the main thing we practice in practice,” added Biles. “We go over bunt D, we go over hit-and-run D, We do all sorts of things that most teams don’t practice, and we take time to practice that. So that’s why we’re so good at it.”
It’s a philosophy that runs deep for veteran Ugly Eagles coach Casey Coakley and his staff. “We try to put balls in play and let our defense play,” Coakley said. “Our pitchers have done a good job for us in forcing contact and our defense has made plays behind them.”
As Clayton Valley’s lone four-year varsity player among an experienced roster, Biles personifies the poise and confidence of the Ugly Eagles. With third-year varsity pitcher Matt Freeman, another of the club’s 12 seniors, Biles forms an experienced starting rotation.
“James being on the mound sets the tone; he goes out there and no matter what, he doesn’t get rattled,” Coakley said.
When wrapping up a win, the Ugly Eagles are the kind of business-like team that acts like it’s been there before. Win streaks are not unfamiliar territory — Clayton Valley opened the 2014 season by winning its first 19 games.
“We try to build on each game, Coakley said. “We leave each game with a few things we need to work on, which is good at this point of the year. You’re not playing the best baseball you can, but you are playing good enough to win games. And our pitchers are putting us in position to win.”
The continuity begins with the coaches. This year Coakley has reformed a coaching alliance with his brother-in-law, Bob Ralston, the former Clayton Valley head coach and for the previous five seasons, head coach at Cal State East Bay. They first worked together in 1998. Now Ralston is back, and given that his son Bill plays shortstop, it weaves the family ties even stronger. Chris Bodishbaugh, former Freedom-Oakley and Los Medanos College-Pittsburg star, coaches the pitchers.
Then there’s the extensive senior leadership. In addition to Freeman, Biles, Bill Ralston and Treppa, the lineup against Pittsburg boasted three more seniors: left fielder Justin Roper, first baseman Vince Lontz and second baseman Kevin Snyder. That creates an atmosphere of confidence.
“We expect to win,” Coakley said. “We enjoy our victories, though even with a win comes room for growth.”
The quick start and veteran moxie all lends to great timing, as the Ugly Eagles have moved to a tougher, deeper league in the Diablo Athletic League’s Valley Conference, with some considerably potent new opponents.
That includes Campolindo-Moraga, winner of four straight NCS Division II titles from 2010-13. There’s defending Division III section-champion Acalanes-Lafayette, who visit the Ugly Eagles in the April 18 league opener. And Alhambra-Martinez can typically be counted on to be a tough opponent.
Moving with the Ugly Eagles from the old Diablo Valley Athletic League are Northgate-Walnut Creek, which reached the NCS Div. II title game last year, and College Park-Pleasant Hill, winners of section championships two of the past three years. The Falcons are also Clayton Valley’s chief rival in the DVAL.
“It will be our toughest challenge yet,” Biles said of the potent Valley Conference. “But I think with our defense and the amount of work we put in, we should come out strong.”
Added Coakley: “It’s going to be a great league. We just have a heavyweight league and we’re excited to compete in it. “