Sierra to host Sequoias in baseball playoffs

Published: Friday, May. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2C
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 5, 2013 - 2:42 pm

After Sierra College baseball coach Ryan Evangelho grabbed the first seat to get his head shaved last Friday, all 30 of his players followed.

It was a show of support for the St. Baldrick's Foundation that raises funds for childhood cancer research, and an example of the baseball program contributing to the community.

"I thought it'd be great for that foundation, the right thing to do, and it would be a nice bonding moment for us, too," Evangelho said. "I told the team, 'Unless you're in a wedding this weekend or getting married, you're getting buzzed because we're all on board.' "

Unity has been the theme for the Wolverines (29-7), who are ranked 10th nationally, fourth in the state and second in Northern California. Sierra hosts College of the Sequoias (20-17) today at 2:30 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. in a Northern California Regional best-of-three series.

The optimism starts with Evangelho, a Sierra assistant for 11 seasons who took over on an interim basis after Rob Willson took a year off to recharge.

The Wolverines replaced seven departed starting position players and six pitchers from last season's group that reached the state final four.

"We're rolling," sophomore infielder Nick Blaser said. "We didn't know what we had early, and it took a little time to figure things out. We have great chemistry now. When coach got his head shaved, we all did it. There was no doubt we'd do it as a team."

After littering the ground ankle-deep with locks, the Wolverines beat rival Sacramento City College 5-4 Friday to sweep the Panthers and clinch the Big 8 Conference championship. Though it's their first league title since 1979, the Wolverines are in the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season. They seek their eighth Regional title and fourth Super Regional title in that span. Sierra won the state championship in 2008.

"We know once you get into the playoffs, everyone's got a chance," Evangelho said. "We found that out in 2008. We feel good about our chances, and we're battle tested."

Ace Andrew Cooper (12-1) has a fastball in the low 90s with a lot of movement. He's a Canadian whose uncle, Joel Quenneville, coaches the Chicago Blackhawks.

And, yes, Cooper has held the Stanley Cup that Chicago won in 2010.

Blaser is batting .397, catcher Blake Grant-Parks .331, outfielder Jared Snow .329, third baseman Dustin Vaught .313 and shortstop Jake Riffice .305.

The rotation after Cooper includes Matt Fielding (5-3, 2.25 ERA), Ryan Gearing (7-4, 2.52) and Devon Golden (5-0, 2.52), with Kea Vierra (2-0, 13 saves, 1.61) heading up the bullpen.

And there's a new theme to go with the growing-back hair.

"We can either grow playoff beards in unity or stay clean shaven," Evangelho said. "Nothing in between. Have to be a team."

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