SRJC’s Nick Rodda, a sophomore shortstop who prepped at Piner, beats the pickoff attempt at first base during Thursday’s game. (Photo by JEFF KAN LEE / The Press Democrat)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Scoring a dozen runs was nearly a week’s worth of offense for Santa Rosa Junior College in a 12-3 win Thursday as the young baseball squad grinds to find a groove.

Santa Rosa completed a doubleheader sweep of American River College at home with a 1-0, 13-inning victory in the finale.

A deep pitching staff and stingy defense are ahead of an offense that gets hits yet can struggle to score. Still, the Bear Cubs are coming together to compete in arguably California’s toughest conference.

“We’ve started out good. We definitely want to make the playoffs and a state championship is always the goal,” said shortstop Nick Rodda, out of Piner.

The lone returning starter from one of Santa Rosa’s best teams ever, Rodda helps lead an improving unit that, despite a lack of experience, is ready for the rigors of Big 8 Conference play, said Coach Damon Neidlinger.

“It’s a very solid group that does a good job in the classroom, works hard on the field, and is enjoyable to coach,” Neidlinger said. “It’s a great league. If you don’t compete at a high level, typically you’re going to be losing.”

One of the newcomers helping lead Santa Rosa returned to Sonoma County following a season at San Diego State. Matt Nadolski, from Casa Grande, is having fun playing baseball again after sitting out his sophomore year to recover from a shoulder injury and concentrate on school.

“At first it was difficult, just mentally,” he said. “But I always take everything to heart and do my best at whatever I do. I thought it would be a good, fresh start.”

Good for both player and team.

Among the league’s leading hitters, Nadolski tops the team in runs batted in and extra base hits. He also is among Santa Rosa’s trio of starting pitchers.

Pitching is a strength for SRJC. The starters are eating up an increasing load of innings. The bullpen keeps the Bear Cubs close and finishes strong.

“That was one thing that hurt us last year, late in games,” Rodda said. “We’re really deep this year.”

Both starting pitchers Thursday went eight innings. The recipe for success is seemingly simple, yet demands a disciplined approach — throw strikes, limit walks, and get outs with few pitches to complete more innings.

“Our pitching has been good our defense pretty good,” Neidlinger said.

In the opener, Bryan Webster won his fourth decision, giving up three runs in eight innings. The Vintage High graduate went deep in the game because he threw strikes and kept pitches low, getting 17 of 24 outs on ground balls.

The few times American River mounted a scoring threat, Neidlinger encouraged Webster, “Be a machine, locate, locate right here.”

That the defense didn’t make an error helped Webster focus on making batters hit the ball rather than going for strikeouts.

Second-game starter Jason Alexander was even tougher on American River batters. The true freshman out of Cardinal Newman yielded only three hits in his eight frames.

Scoreless into the 13th inning, the game was decided when Stephen McElroy singled in the winning run after two Bear Cub batters were hit by pitches. The Petaluma true freshman was batting for the first time on the afternoon.

“We’re young, but we’re scrappy,” said first-year center fielder Siosi Poti.

In a league where close contests are the rule, Santa Rosa must improve at pushing runners across the plate. Batting at nearly a .300 clip, the Bear Cubs were only fourth in the conference in runs scored before Thursday’s games.

In a three-run inning Thursday, what stood out for Neidlinger was an inability to score a runner from third with less than two outs.

“If you want to be good offensively, you need to execute. We’ve left too many people out there in one-run games,” Neidlinger said.

The opener Thursday was not close, with Santa Rosa banging 18 hits, forcing American River to use five pitchers.

Standing out was Poti, who had four hits, including a two triples to spark rallies. You’re having a good game when you can shrug off a grand slam incorrectly called foul, as Poti experienced in Santa Rosa’s final at bat. “That’s my best game yet. Hitting has been the biggest adjustment,” said the Bear Cubs’ leadoff batter.

The speedster out of Rancho Cotate sat out as a red shirt last season because the Bear Cubs had a loaded lineup and he needed to catch up to the college game. Poti added 15 pounds and became a student of the game, particularly hitting. He was just another All-Empire prep player hoping to get playing time.

“Everybody who was everything is here. I had to prepare myself,” Poti said.

Another player who sat out last season to contribute in the current campaign is Brandon Baranzini from Montgomery. The starting second baseman is among Santa Rosa’s leading hitters.

Improving as players and a team, Santa Rosa needs to keep competing at a high level because the conference is so tough. Five or more of the teams are strong enough to reach the state playoffs.

Having played the major college game, Nadolski said he is impressed with the conference’s level of play. Santa Rosa is as good as any league team, he said. “There are no slouches,” Nadolski said. “We’re young, but I think we can be really good if we put everything together.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.

EXCELLING ON AND OFF THE­FIELD

Santa Rosa Junior College baseball
Record: 11-5 overall, 3-2 in the Big 8 Conference
Ranking: 9th in Northern California
Next Home Game: SRJC vs. Sacramento City, Tuesday, 2:30 p.m.
Notable Players: Nick Rodda, Piner; Matt Nadolski, Casa Grande; Brandon Baranzini, Montgomery; Siosi Poti, Tyler Sanders, Rancho Cotate; Dalton Johnson, Petaluma; Jason Alexander, Cardinal Newman; Brian Bynum, Del Oro; Bryan Webster, Vintage.