John Hilton doesn’t plan on reinventing the wheel as he takes over the Placer High baseball program this spring. You will, however, find the Hillmen in a different dugout this season. Whether he’s coaching football, basketball or baseball, Hilton strives to develop a close connection with his players. He will be coaching first base and in order to have better access to his team, he said Placer will take the first-base side dugout for its games at James Field. “I like to be in the dugout, talking to the kids, so this makes it easy to step out and coach first base,” Hilton said. The Hillmen have a nice core of players back from last season’s squad, which finished 13-8-1 overall and fourth in the Pioneer Valley League at 6-6-1. Seniors Caleb Mitchell, Evan Staton and Paul Bandanza were regulars for Placer last year while junior Ryan Mason and sophomore Eddie Vanderdoes return to anchor the pitching staff. Mitchell’s an outstanding third baseman and will be relied upon for his offense this spring. Staton is one of the team’s top hitters and Bandanza is a versatile infielder with a solid bat. Hilton said Vanderdoes has emerged as a leader alongside the seniors despite his youth. “With Eddie it’s not only his physical presence, but he plays extremely hard and the other guys see that,” Hilton said of the 6-4, 250-pound left hander. “We’re very excited that he’s only a sophomore.” Along with Mason, a hard-throwing 6-5 right hander, and Vanderdoes, junior A.J. Sanchez is penciled in as a starter. In the bullpen, junior lefty Zach Hersch will have a major role, along with Kevin Harcus and D.J. Rodriguez. Mitchell will be used to close out games. Placer is deep at catcher. Returning starter Michael Reale has battled through Crone’s Disease and is ready to return to the field. Rodriguez is another junior with a strong arm and excellent skills. Sophomore Isaiah Pineiro is also in the mix at catcher. Vanderdoes and Mason will platoon at first base. Bandanza, Harcus and Brandon Robison will play at second and sophomore Tyler Lipsmeyer has emerged as the starter at shortstop. Newcomer Brady Ranck will see time at third base along with Mitchell. In the outfield, senior Nick Mitchell will patrol center. Staton has a strong arm in right. Sanchez, Hersch and Ryan Ballardo are all solid options in left field. Hilton said his Hillmen have improved rapidly since practices began last month. He’s hoping Placer can return to the top of the PVL, but no one is sure what to expect from the new-look league. “No one really knows, but I think the first couple of weeks will let us know who is at the upper end of the league,” Hilton said. “It will be interesting.” Colfax The Falcons suffered through a miserable 2010 season that included a winless Pioneer Valley League campaign. Coach Mike McCabe is confident Colfax will be better as the bulk of the young team is back. “Last year we had a pretty young crew,” the veteran coach said. “Most of them are back with a year of experience and I think the leadership is better this year.” Senior shortstop Scott Wright was the lone Falcon to earn all-PVL honors last season and he leads Colfax again this season. He will also pitch this season. Junior Austin Young will anchor the pitching staff after a breakthrough season on the football field last fall. Senior Jake Karbowski brings speed and athleticism to center field and is a sparkplug at the plate. Catcher Michael Moore is a standout junior. Sam Guzman is solid at third base and Gary Root is improved at second base. “They were all sophomores last year and they’re all coming back, looking stronger and doing better,” McCabe said. The coach is excited about sophomores Devon Loomis and Ryan Glazner. Loomis is a standout at the plate and on the mound. Glazner will also see time as a pitcher. Senior Tommy Johnson and junior Roger Lily will be assets in the outfield and at the plate. McCabe welcomed back coach Tim Day to the Colfax dugout. After stints at Bear River and Placer, Day returned to the school he and McCabe guided to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game in 1999. Bear River The Bruins have some major holes to fill, but a solid returning core after a second place finish in the PVL last season. Bear River was 16-13 overall last season, losing to Rio Linda in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Bruins welcome back senior shortstop Zach Welz to anchor the infield. Sean Smith, Coleman Huntley, Michael Lucas and David Beghetti also bring experience to the lineup. Junior Josh Toft leads the returning outfielders along with Jeremy Pitts. On the mound, Huntley will be relied upon for big innings. Lucas will also help make up for the loss of graduated ace Ryan Sawyer.