Hillmen's run worth the wait

Placer seniors cash in on potential that was evident many years ago on Auburn?s Little League fields
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
-A +A
Talk of championships for the 2012 Placer High baseball team began long before a wild final week of regular season play earlier this month. There was a buzz on Auburn Little League fields some 10 years ago about the group that captured the Pioneer Valley League championship and heads into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs today. ?Most of us started playing together in Little League, right over there,? said Placer senior Kevin Harcus, pointing to the small diamond adjacent to James Field. ?I think at about (age) 12 when we were in all-stars we knew we had a lot of good players.? Placer made good on its potential by capturing the PVL crown, but it was far from routine. The Hillmen lost two straight games to Lincoln before a dramatic 5-4 over the Zebras on May 3 gave them hope. Placer won its final two games over Foothill while Lincoln dropped two to Colfax and Placer had its long-awaited championship. ?Coach Hilton asked me about it at the beginning of the year and I told him I knew we were a championship team,? left fielder Zac Hersh said. ?We had to get together in the middle of the season and when we did that we started playing like a real team.? ?We have a lot of natural talent,? second baseman Kyle Wells said. ?But we need to work together for it to work.? Senior Ryan Mason draws a lot of attention and deservedly so. The 6-5 right-hander is 7-0 with a 1.81 ERA this season. A.J. Sanchez had some epic battles with Mason back in Little League and he?s been nearly as impressive as his Cal-bound teammate this spring. Sanchez is 7-3 with a 2.13 ERA. Placer?s offense is a true team effort. Junior Eddie Vanderdoes is the only slugger on the team, leading the way with a .398 batting average, four home runs and 16 RBIs. Wells is a terrific leadoff hitter, sporting a .476 on-base percentage. ?My job is just to get on base and get the momentum going,? Wells said. Hersch is second on the team with 25 hits and has a team-high three triples. Sanchez and Mason have gotten it done with their bats, combining for 30 RBIs on the year. Kevin Giles and Michael Reale have provided timely hits throughout the season. Sophomore Austin LeBleu sparked Placer?s running game, which has produced 42 steals on the year in 57 attempts. The Hillmen have been streaky on offense, but they?ve often found just enough to get by. Hilton has tinkered with the batting order at times and it?s worked more often than not. ?We always pick each other up,? Hersch said. ?I think wherever coach puts us, we all trust him. He knows best.? Placer is facing a potent River Valley offense today. The Falcons, from Yuba City, feature one of the top hitters in the area in sophomore T.J. Dove. He carries a .507 batting average into the game and has 27 RBIs on the year. Senior Jake Phillips will likely take the mound for the Falcons. Among common opponents, River Valley split a pair of games with PVL squads Lincoln and Colfax. ?I?ve been waiting four years for this, so I just want to win,? said Hersh, who plans to study chemistry at Sonoma State next year. ?This is our last stand so we want to milk it for as many games as possible.?