John deVisser doesn’t use youth as an excuse.
Representing the smallest school in the Southern Athletic League, the Ripon Christian coach has no choice but to deploy younger athletes for a baseball program that doesn’t have the numbers to field a lower-level team.
“We have to use young guys all the time,” the ninth-year head coach said. “So, every Friday is get-ready-for-next-year day. Anybody who didn’t get an at-bat or work on the mound in games throughout the week gets it on Friday. We’ve done this the last six years.
“It’s not really about the program, it’s the kids. If the kids don’t buy into it we don’t have the success we did this year. They really busted their butt last year and got us to where we are now.”
They’re sitting on the throne as the Southern Athletic League’s reigning champions for the second time in three years and ended their banner 2018 season with the school’s first Sac-Joaquin Section baseball title in hand.
DeVisser guided the Knights to a 19-7-1 record (12-2 in league) and earned his third SAL Coach of the Year honor and fourth overall. He earned the same distinction in 2010 while RC competed in the Trans-Valley League.
The SJS Division VI champions nearly swept the league’s major awards. Fourth-year player Willem Hoekstra was voted Most Valuable Pitcher, while sophomore shortstop Nolan Lingley is Offensive MVP. Jadon Vander Molen made all-league and was in contention for the overall MVP award, which went to Mariposa’s Joey Freitas.
Hoektra wrapped up his senior campaign with a sterling 10-0 record to go with a 1.26 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings, doing so with a sore shoulder for most of the year. He did not give up an earned run in his final 23 innings of the regular season on the mound.
“He had to push through a lot of games without his best stuff,” deVisser said of Hoekstra, who received his first pitching lesson from the RC coach when he was 12. “That was the scary part, we were working around the shoulder problem all year and it wasn’t until the playoffs that we started seeing his best stuff.
“There were games he couldn’t command the fastball so we were going with the changeup and breaking ball, and in other games he couldn’t throw anything but the fastball. For him to put up the numbers he did without his best stuff was a lot of fun.”
Lingley enjoyed a breakout season in which he led the Knights in batting average (.476), hits (40), runs (37), doubles (10), homers (two), walks (19), on-base/slugging percentage (1.297) and steals (26). DeVisser also lauded the sophomore’s improvement on defense, but there’s no denying the impact he had batting from the top of the order.
“With Jadon hitting behind him, he was a nightmare at the top of the lineup,” deVisser said. “When you have a guy with a 1.2 OPS and steals 28 bags at the top of the lineup it’s easy to score runs.”
Vander Molen played third base and pitched for the Knights. He paced the Knights with 28 RBIs and batted .400 while compiling a 7-3 record with a 2.96 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 54.1 innings. His biggest moment came in the SJS Division VI final against Bradshaw Christian on Memorial Day. Vander Molen slugged a bases-clearing triple and then plated the go-ahead run on the misplayed relay in the sixth inning in the historic 8-7 victory.
“The guy showed up the first day after basketball and never stopped working,” deVisser said. “I don’t think he took a bad (batting practice) session in three months, he was that locked in. It takes a lot of discipline to do that. He got hot and stayed hot and carried us al the way until the end.”
Senior outfielder Donald Cooksey earned a spot on the All-TVL team for a second straight year after leading Ripon (5-7, 15-10 overall) with 12 doubles, two triples, five homers, 28 RBIs and a 1.357 on-base/slugging percentage to go with a .423 batting average.
Fellow Indians joining him on the all-league list are senior infielder/pitcher Eric Jaquez and sophomore catcher Brandon Rainer. Jaquez batted a club-high .476 and knocked in 35 RBIs and sported a 1.89 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. Rainer contributed a .447 batting average, two home runs and 33 RBIs. Senior outfielders Jacob Gahm and Jake Komatsu earned honorable mention.
Julian Sainz of co-champion Mountain House (10-2, 18-9-1) was named Most Outstanding Player. Hilmar’s Trevon Crowley is Most Outstanding Offensive Player, Riverbank’s Carlos Villapudua is Most Outstanding Defensive Player, Modesto Christian’s Javon Watkins is Most Outstanding Pitcher and Modesto Christian’s Mark Butler is Coach of the Year.