FORESTVILLE – Jack Adkins wound and delivered, his pitch popping as it struck the back of Caleb Jeske’s mitt behind home plate.
“First pitch of the season,” a spectator gleefully said in the stands.
With that toss, the St. Helena baseball team’s season officially began, bringing with it the start of spring sports at St. Helena High.
But with it being the first game of the year, the Saints showed they still have some rust to shake off.
St. Helena committed nine errors in its 7-3 loss at El Molino High School on Tuesday, which head coach Darrell Quirici considered unacceptable regardless of the time of season.
“Nine errors is too many,” said a frustrated Quirici after a lengthy postgame discussion with his players. “Offensively we are not going to overcome nine errors. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Quirici said he actually believes that defense will be one of the Saints’ strengths this season and Tuesday’s performance was partly to blame on a roster still being put together.
“Where we are with this small squad we just don’t have the pieces right now,” he said. “We have a guy ineligible right now that will hopefully be back, which’ll help us, but right now we’re just in flux. We’re shorthanded, especially today. We were missing our centerfielder and that threw our whole defensive thing into a spiral. We had just too many guys out of position today.”
The roster should be stabilized soon, Quirici hopes in time for the Saints’ upcoming five-game homestand, which opens on Saturday at 2 p.m. with a bout against Piedmont. The Saints will then host Justin-Siena (Feb. 26), John Swett (March 1), Lick-Wilmerding (March 2), and Healdsburg (March 5) before hitting the road for their remaining two non-league road games against St. Vincent (March 8) and Winters (March 12).
They’ll wrap up their non-league schedule with home games against Napa (March 13) and Berean Christian (March 16) before North Central League I play begins.
“That’s very important because that’s our turf, that’s our field. We’ve got to make the best of it, and those aren’t easy games,” Quirici said about the five-game homestand. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s a tough preseason schedule and there are no patsies in that schedule. It’s tough but you schedule it like that because you want your kids to see good competition in preseason because if they see good baseball in the preseason, then you’re ready in league, and ultimately that’s our goal, to win league.”
That’d be quite the accomplishment considering how the Saints ended last season. At 6-17, St. Helena endured its worst season, record-wise, since 2010.
Quirici doesn’t foresee a repeat of that kind of season this year.
“(Our issues were) Defensive breakdowns every game and a lot of holes in the lineup that we’re not going to have this year,” he said. “We had a lot of holes throughout the lineup but this year we’ll be much better offensively, too, but we’re never going to be good enough on that end to overcome nine errors.”
Six players graduated from that team but six also returned, including Adkins and Jeske, who both carried the Saints on Tuesday.
On the mound, Adkins went four innings and allowed six hits and four runs, three of them earned but did his best to help himself out at the plate. He drove in all three of the Saints’ runs in a 2-for-3 effort with two doubles and a walk but still took the loss on the mound.
Jeske also proved to be a tough out, going 3-for-4 with three singles and a run scored. But other than those two, the Saints couldn’t get much going against the Lions.
El Molino jumped on Adkins and the Saints early, bringing three runs across in the first inning. They added another in the second before St. Helena answered with two of its own in the bottom of the third. The Lions and Saints then exchanged runs in the fourth and fifth inning to bring the score to 5-3 heading into the sixth inning, after which El Molino plated two more to coast to a season-opening victory.
“This is tough, this is the kind of team we need to compete with,” Quirici said. “7-3 doesn’t look bad on paper but it probably wasn’t that close. … We dug a ditch and we weren’t going to get out of it, even though we made a bit of a run to cut it to 5-3, but again, too many pop ups, too many fly balls.”
The early going may be tough for the Saints as they try to pull a complete roster together. But Quirici is confident that the waters will smooth eventually.
“We’ve just got to find our identity and get it figured out,” he said. “Right now, it’s just piecemeal but we’re going to put it together and they’ll come together and figure it out.
“I do believe that defensively we’ll be an outstanding team,” he continued. “Once we get everybody settled in to their positions, and I really think that we’ll be vastly improved from last year.”