With the bitter taste of a 2-1 loss in the opening round of the 2012 Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Baseball Championships to El Dorado still resonating, Manteca is prepared to get right back after it with the bulk of the Buffaloes returning.
Manteca will only be missing the services of three graduated starters, opening up areas of competition for playing time in the outfield and at first and third base. The Buffaloes will be returning standout hurler Jake Corn, who landed an All-Valley Oak League first-team spot with his 1.57 earned run average last season as a sophomore.
Beyond Corn, Manteca will have to find a viable No. 2 starter in a conference that has five clubs bringing back its ace.
“I view our league as one of the more competitive leagues from top to bottom,” Manteca head coach Gene Ballardo said. “Every team has improved, obviously Oakdale is the team to beat from what history shows, and you’ve got the intra-city rivals where you can throw the records out the window when those games come.”
In a baseball rarity, Manteca will have an abundance of left handed pitchers at its disposal, as Dominic Pisano and Jeremy Vaughn give the Buffaloes three quality, returning Southpaws. Junior transfers Joe Menzel (East Union and Lucas Vaughn (Hilmar) could likely provide innings for Manteca from the right side.
Yet, the reality is Ballardo will lean heavily on the left arm of junior Corn. He was 5-1 in league play a year ago with a perfect-game against the Weston Ranch Cougars, and will have to be as good if not better for the Buffaloes to get over the hurdle.
Manteca has been to the postseason in four of Ballardo’s five seasons at the helm and have no intention of going in the other direction. They open the season with a pair of scrimmages against Hilmar and Gregori, before beginning the preseason against Chavez. Corn will be the guy for Manteca on the mound, but he will be expected to lead Manteca in more ways than one over the next two seasons.
“I definitely monitor how many pitches he throws and how many bullpen sessions, especially early in the year,” Ballardo said of his dealings with Corn. “Me and Jake have a special coach-player relationship where we can communicate one on one and be truthful with one another. We’re not going to put him in a stressful situation early in the year, those wins aren’t that important to me.
“He has a future and God willing he stays healthy. He has a big, bright upside ahead of him.”