By STEVEN FOWLER
Pima Community College’s baseball team aims to rebound from a dismal 2015 season after finishing with a 24-27 overall record and 17-23 in conference play.
After dropping the first two games last season to South Mountain Community College, the Aztecs were hit-and-miss throughout the season and missed the playoffs.
However, the 2016 season could lead to a different direction.
Despite several key losses from players during the offseason, returning players will have a tremendous impact.
“I feel our intensity is high and as a team, we have high expectations for success this season,” sophomore right-handed pitcher Daniel Tolano said.
Tolano hopes to capitalize on an electric first season. With 40.2 innings pitched in 19 games under his belt, Tolano finished with a 3-3 record with one save and a 2.66 earned run average.
Fellow sophomore and left-handed pitcher Justin Hammergren helped anchor the rotation, where he started 10 games while pitching across 60 innings. Hammergren finished his first season with a 4.79 ERA and a team-leading 58 strikeouts.
Sophomore left-hand pitcher Vinnie Tarantola, who split time playing at first base, pitched in 16 games and compiled a 4-5 record in 57 innings pitched to go along with a 6.63 ERA.
Across the field, sophomore infielder Ivan Estrella returns to the lineup. Last season, Estrella finished in the top three in nearly every offensive category including games (51), at-bats (162), runs (39), hits (57) and batting average (.352).
Returning catcher Jacob Northrup is primed to become Pima’s next starting catcher after splitting time with sophomore Ruben Bracamontes last season.
Al Cruz, the first baseman and designated hitter, is another impact player.
In 39 games last season, Cruz, a .266 hitter, collected 29 hits while crushing two home runs and driving in 19 runs.
In the outfield, sophomores David Oropeza, Zach Gadway, Ryan Neter, Shane Bradford and others will play to earn their way into starting positions.
Incoming freshmen will have the opportunity to start over their elder-statesmen if they play well enough.
Going into the 2016 season, head coach Jason Hisey and his assistants have a better idea of who deserves the opportunity to start.
“We have a full ball program where we play 20 games, so we find out a little bit about them there,” Hisey said. “Then we come out of the winter to see who’s eligible to play and we have these three weeks, so it’s ongoing.”
With the season opener looming, Hisey is hopeful for what the season will bring.
“We’re just trying to get better every day and stay healthy,” he said. “We’ll see what happens at the end.”
The Aztecs open the season with a nine-game home stand, starting with a four-game series against Utah State University Eastern at the West Campus.