2015-08-06 / Sports

Conejo Oaks savor baseball revival

High-powered offense propels college wood-bat team this summer
By Jonathan Andrade

GRAND SLAM LINEUP—Conejo Oaks baseball player Chad Spanberger is congratulated by teammates after hitting a grand slam in the Oaks’ last home game on Aug. 1, a 16-7 win against the SoCal Halos. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers GRAND SLAM LINEUP—Conejo Oaks baseball player Chad Spanberger is congratulated by teammates after hitting a grand slam in the Oaks’ last home game on Aug. 1, a 16-7 win against the SoCal Halos. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers The Conejo Oaks’ batting lineup supplied offensive fireworks this summer.

“We had a great team this season compared to last year,” said Jack Kruger, the former Oaks Christian High catcher. “This year we could really swing it. We had a lot of guys who could really hit. That carried us.”

The offense powered the college wood-bat baseball team to its best record in several years. The Oaks snared third place in the California Collegiate League with a 35-16 overall record. Last year’s team took seventh among 10 squads; the Oaks mustered a pedestrian fourth-place finish in 2013 when the league had eight squads.

This season, the offense scored a league-high 341 runs, giving the pitching staff plenty of healthy leads.

Jackson Simonsgaard, a former Thousand Oaks ace and current Oxnard College product, notched a 2.17 earned-run average in 37 1/3 innings pitched. He tied for a team-high five wins while striking out a team-best 44 batters.

Dylan Francis, another former Lancer, made his return to the bump this summer from an injury.

“This was my first real season back in a while,” Francis said. “Just getting back on the mound, getting my confidence back and playing every day was a good experience. I’ll take it with me to my school year.”

He’ll pitch at Western Nevada College in the spring.

Justin Caña, who used to run down fly balls for the Agoura Chargers, said the pitching staff was clutch down the line for the Oaks.

“Our pitchers kept us close so we could win those tight ballgames,” Caña said. “Overall, we were a well-rounded team with offense and pitching.”

Caña will roam the outfield as a senior at Cal Lutheran University in the spring. He led the Oaks with a .418 batting average. He also knocked in 21 runs on the season.

Manager David Soliz, who just wrapped up his fifth season leading the Oaks, said this year’s squad had a different demeanor than teams in recent history. The players on the roster kept a healthy hunger despite facing heat from the dog days of summer.

“What made a difference this year was having a group of guys that really enjoy playing and genuinely enjoy trying to win,” the Rio Mesa skipper said. “ Sometimes there’s a summer mentality of baseball. Every day, this group committed themselves to showing up early, putting the work in and wanting to win.”

Soliz said he was impressed by his team’s ability to adapt to a packed summer league schedule.

“When you play 45 games in a two-month period, you’re going to have your successes and your failures,” he said. “What I was really pleased with was how some of the guys handled some of the struggles, whether it be on the mound or at the plate. It was all about how they responded the next day and the next day.”

Tyson Quolas, a former Oaks Christian outfielder, said the tight-knit group enjoyed playing together. It showed on the diamond.

“We all got along with each other so I think our team chemistry was on point,” he said. “That’s really what drove us to win a lot.”

Players from Acorn country showed off their skills this season.

Quolas, who will play at Oxnard College in the spring, hit .306 in 41 plate appearances.

Former Simi Valley standout Cody Ramer ranked third on the team with 10 doubles. He hit .299 this summer. Ramer will return to the University of Arizona, where he plays second base, third base and the outfield.

Joe Christian, a former Newbury Park star, knocked in 10 runs in 31 plate appearances this season.

Christian, who will return for his senior season at Loyola Marymount, said he learned a lot with the Oaks.

“I learned a lot about myself,” Christian said. “I got the development

I wanted over the summer. I also made a lot of friends from other schools in the area. That was a bonus.”

Christian and his teammates also got the chance to meet athletes throughout the U.S. The team had 11 players staying with host families.

“As a coach and as an organization, we’re very appreciative of our host families for opening their homes to our 11 kids,” Soliz said.

Local families hosted the following players: Dante Bosnic (Tampa, Fla.), Marco Burgarello (Phoenix, Ariz.), Kevin Farley (San Ramon, Calif.), Zach Gibbons (Scottsdale, Ariz.), Garrett Harris (Navasota, Texas), Corey Pool (Beaverton, Ore.), Anthony Rosati (Copiague, N.Y.), Chris Sauls (Modesto, Calif.), Chad Spanberger (Granite City, Ill.) and Kevin Torres (New York, N.Y.).

With the season wrapped up, the student-athletes eagerly wait to get back into the classroom and onto the diamond.

Ramer said he’ll always remember the fun he had playing for the Oaks the past three summers.

“It was the best three summers of my life,” Ramer said. “I got to play with a bunch of local guys under coach Soliz. It was really fun. Maybe one day I’ll be coaching the Oaks.”

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