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Changes abound for Cougars baseball
by Dan Eckles
Mar 08, 2011 | 809 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - SSHS senior Malcolm Anderson watches a base hit fall to the outfield grass during a scrimmage Tuesday.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - SSHS senior Malcolm Anderson watches a base hit fall to the outfield grass during a scrimmage Tuesday.
There's a change at the top of the decision-making chain in the Spanish Springs baseball program. That's because head coach Mike Bosco, the only baseball coach the 10th-year school has known, was given permission late last fall to take a year off for personal reasons.

That's left his veteran assistant, Ben Hofmann, to take the reins of the program for the foreseeable future. It's a new challenge Hofmann feels good about.

“The baseball part of it is not a big adjustment, but doing a lot of behind the scenes stuff is a little bit different,” he said. “It's something I'm not used to ... I've had to be the head coach before when Mike's taken a weekend off or something. Now I'm doing the whole thing. It's a little bit of a challenge, but fun at the same time.”

The biggest part of that challenge starts this week when Hofmann leads his Spanish Springs squad into the new spring season. The Cougars open their campaign Thursday at 6 p.m. against Elko in the Mike Bearman Memorial Tournament. The game will be played at Reed.

So what should Cougar fans expect of their club this spring?

“It's really hard to tell because we've got so many unproven seniors. I like our pitching and the middle of our defense is good," Hofmann said. "I do think if our seniors lead us like they're capable, we can be very competitive. Every year our goal is to make the postseason. And if we can host a playoff game like last year, that's great."

Two Spanish Springs seniors who are not unproven are shortstop Jake Bray and second baseman Tanner Oates. The infielders have been all-league selections after both their sophomore and junior seasons. Bray hit .475 a year ago in High Desert League play while Oates ripped the ball at a .392 clip in those same contests.

Bray was also one of the top pitchers in the HDL last season. He headlines a Cougars pitching staff that Hofmann hopes will be a team strength. Seniors Malcolm Anderson, Dallas Mellum, a left-hander, and junior Chase

Kittilsen are expected to be innings eaters for Spanish Springs. Oates and senior Tim Epker should see time on the mound as well.

Epker will be a starting outfielder as the season kicks off and could hit in the leadoff slot, followed by Oates and Bray.

"I'd like to try and get a lineup that I'm comfortable with,"Hofmann said of his main focus for the season-opening tournament. "I'll try a few things and see what I like, see where it comes out. We'll have a lineup with a lot of new parts. Everyone knows about Jake and Tanner. We'll need other guys to get on base for them to drive in runs."

Hofmann cited Epker along with catcher Kyle Clark and Kittilsen as players who need to contribute at the plate to take some slack off of Bray and Oates.

Oates and Bray are the only full-time starters returning for Spanish Springs. The team's inexperience is Hofmann's biggest concern heading into a new campaign.

"We've just got a lot of unproven kids. We've really only got a couple kids that come back who played a lot," Hofmann said. "We don't have a ton of guys that played a lot of innings last year. You've got a good idea about who can perform, but at the end of the day, you really don't know until you see them do it. Hopefully, this weekend will give us a good idea and it won't take five or six more games down the road."

League play for Northern 4A teams will look much different this season. In recent years, the Northern 4A has been comprised of two seven-team leagues. Schools played each league foe three times. That won't be the case this time around.

State realignment shrunk the Northern 4A by two members this school year. That left regional athletic directors to implement a baseball schedule that calls for a 22-game league schedule where member schools play each other twice, in home-and-home series. There will be no league doubleheaders.

"That's the scary part. After the tournament this weekend, league starts," Hofmann said. "It just seems really quick ... Initially, I wasn't wild about it. My personal feeling is you could see some (playoff) tie-break issues. At the same time, I like not having to play two games on Saturdays. That was a long day."

After Thursday's debut, Spanish Springs will play two games Friday and two games Saturday, before opening Northern 4A league play Tuesday at Damonte Ranch.
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