Spanish Springs’ new coach brings both adjustments, familiarity
Matt Ortiz is entering his first season running the Spanish Springs baseball program.
That doesn’t mean he’s unaware of the Cougars’ spot in the 4A North pecking order.
Ortiz was an assistant under former head coach Ben Hofmann since 2013 and also spent a stint with Spanish Springs from 2008-10.
He’s been around. Now, he’s ready to see the Cougars become contenders.
“We’re right on that edge. We just haven’t gotten over the peak of Galena and Reno,” Ortiz said. “Manogue is also a great program, but we’ve been able to compete with them … Galena and Reno, that’s the obstacle. We’re just going to continue building that confidence that we can be successful against those guys.”
Last season, the Cougs finished 21-14, rattling off three-straight elimination-game victories in the regional tournament (one against Bishop Manogue) before falling in the consolation semifinals to Galena. The Grizzlies lost to Reno in the regional title game one day later.
Ortiz already has an advantage that many first-year coaches don’t. Familiarity.
“I’ve been hard on them this winter because we haven’t gotten over that obstacle,” he said. “We (need some) changes, not major culture shifts, but changes in the way we do things. If some other coach came in did that, it may not go as well because I already built relationships with them. I have rapport with everybody out there. I can come in and be demanding and they know I have their best interest (in mind).”
- 2016 Record: 21-14, 13-9 4A North
- Playoffs: 3-2, L to Galena in consolation semifinals
- Key Losses: Ryan Anderson, Carson McCusker, Joey Arterburn, Alan Lummel, Daulton O’Connell
- Key Returners: Josh Prizina, Casey Miller, Connor Culp, Marlin Brucato, Colton Forman
One of the better indicators of team’s overall potential is its presence up the middle – an area of strength for the Cougs in 2017.
Senior Josh Prizina, a Nevada commit, returns behind the dish. Fellow senior Casey Miller, who just committed to UNLV, figures to anchor the starting rotation. He will be asked to help fill the void left by Ryan Anderson, who’s now pitching for Nevada. Sophomore shortstop Connor Culp returns after starting as a freshman. Senior Marlin Brucato will be back at second base.
Junior Colton Forman made the move to centerfield over the summer and will remain there this spring.
“Up the middle, we’re solid on defense,” Ortiz said.
The corner positions are largely up for grabs following the notable departures of Carson McCusker, Joey Arterburn and Daulton O’Connell.
There are plenty of players who will be able to cover ground in the outfield – and on the base paths.
“We have more speed than we’ve had in a long time,” Ortiz said.
Behind Miller on the bump, sophomore Trevor French is penciled in as the No. 2 starter. French “absolutely dominated” this summer against college-aged teams. Junior Tanner Smith, Culp, Brucato and junior Tristian Dahir are all also expected to make an impact.
“We’re really excited about our pitching staff,” Ortiz said. “There are some guys who aren’t starting, that could start on some other teams. This year is a good year for us on the mound, just like last year.”
Spanish Springs starts its season on Thursday in the annual Mike Bearman Memorial Tournament. The Cougs open the four-game tourney with San Ramon Valley (Danville, Calif.) at Reno High. First pitch is at 5 p.m.
The regional opener will wait until next Saturday at Carson – last year’s regular-season runner up.
“The bottom line is, you can be really good on paper, but at the end of the day, you have to play well,” Ortiz said. “That’s the thing. How do we get these guys to play well consistently? That’s what we’re working on here every day.”