A final overall record of 11-25 and seventh-place Central Valley College record of 7-17 doesn't quite reflect an accurate picture of the 2016 Porterville College Baseball season.
"We made big strides in the right direction," said second-year Porterville head coach Ben Walkowiak. "I know we surprised some people, and really could have been a playoff team. We want to build on last year."
According to Walkowiak, the 2016 Pirates relied heavily on sophomores, so for Porterville to be successful in 2017, he'll need solid play from his 13 returners while looking for contributions from 19 freshmen.
Walkowiak can already see the improvements his squad has made from fall ball to opening day of the 2017 spring season. Despite a difficult opening-weekend that saw his Pirates lose three straight, he's excited for what's to come.
"I'm really looking forward to see what this year's squad has in store," Walkowiak said. "We are built around an extremely talented group of young players. We saw some guys make big strides since the fall and we know what we're capable of."
Walkowiak will look to his pitching staff to lead the Pirates in 2017. Sophomores Jordan Grader (Visalia, CA/El Diamante HS) and Matt Weis (Bakersfield, CA/Independence HS) are set to anchor his rotation and provide leadership on the mound.
"I believe our strongest area on our squad is our pitching staff," he said. "We have guys on the mound that we feel comfortable with in any given situation. I know they're out there, they are going to compete and give us a chance to win."
Catcher Jose Prieto (Porterville, CA/Monache HS) will also be looked to lead the Pirates. Prieto was tops on PC last season with a .317 batting average.
Top newcomers to the Pirates include pitcher Jhared Gonzalez (Las Vegas, NV/Sierra Vista HS), outfielder Bobby Garcia (Delano, CA/Delano HS), shortstop Andrew Williamson (Farmersville, CA/Farmersville HS), and third baseman Eric Loredo (Reedley, CA/Reedley HS).
"This year we have a lot of rookies taking over in some key spots," said Walkowiak. "That's the nature of this two-year level. But we were able to bring in exciting additions that we feel can fill those roles. This fall has been a learning process for our group, but they've worked hard and are ready to get this season going. When we get firing on all cylinders, we're an exciting group."
Heading into the season, Walkowiak has one on-field goal. He wants to get Porterville back into the postseason, which would be an impressive accomplishment considering just two years ago PC won just five games.
"Our team goal is to be a playoff team," he said. "I think that's the goal every year. To break it down further, we want to build on last year. We made big strides in the right direction, surprised some people, and really could have been a playoff team. We know what we're capable of. The key is to limit mistakes and pay close attention to detail."
Porterville will open the season with 17 non-conference games, 15 of them being played at home. Following the massive home stand, Porterville opens Central Valley Conference play on March 7 when the Pirates open a three-game series against Merced College. Walkowiak expects another great season from the CVC.
"I really feel this conference is one of the best in the state," he said. "Each team is going to show up, be well coached, and compete on any given day. There is a lot of talent in our area. But it's really hard to determine what teams are going to do from year to year with so much turnover at this level. So we're going into the year with the mindset of one game at a time, one pitch at a time. We're going to play that way as hard and smart as we can, and at the end of the year we're going to look up and hopefully see our name toward the top.
"We feel that we can and will compete with any team that we step on the field with. The Pirates should be fun to watch this year."