Still swinging for the fences

Hillmen JVs bounce back from pair of PVL losses, hope to close out the season strong
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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Alton Caesar makes sure his players maintain a level of respect before, during and after games. Referring to an elder by a nickname following Monday’s 13-0 rout of Center cost the Placer junior varsity baseball team extra sprints in left field at the Auburn Gold Country Fairgrounds. “My expectation for them is to see them grow on and off the field,” Caesar said of the Hillmen. “Baseball is a tool to teach life lessons, and I have definitely seen them mature.” Placer used that maturity to rebound from a letdown earlier this month. The Hillmen, undefeated in the Pioneer Valley League last season, lost consecutive league games two weeks ago. “We were stunned,” sophomore catcher Michael Gray said. “For some of us from last year’s team, we couldn’t really believe we lost.” Placer is 17-4 overall and 8-3 in the PVL, and trails first place El Dorado heading into this afternoon’s league finale at Lincoln. “We’re in a position now where we don’t really control our own destiny,” said Caesar, who starred on the diamond at Placer in the 1970s before setting the career record for stolen bases at UC Berkeley. Caesar’s coaching approach is simple, but it’s earned results for the Hillmen. “We strive to play fundamental baseball,” he said. “That’s the key. The fewer mistakes you make, mentally and physically, especially at this level, you’re going to be in every ballgame, and you’re going to win a lot of them.” Sophomores Anthony Amara, Ryan and Gray highlight another stellar Placer offense this season. Chris Holbrook, Travis Tidd, Cameron Southward and freshmen Steven Cox and Evan Staton have also made significant contributions. “I feel I’ve improved a lot from last year,” said Amara, who, along with Staton, has batted at close to a .500 clip throughout the league season. “We just practice hard every day. Our goal was to go undefeated in league, but we lost a few big games.” “Last year’s team was a lot different,” Gray said. “Nobody really screwed around or got too cocky. We have new players. We screw around more. We got a little lazy and we got cocky.” El Dorado’s only loss came at the hands of the Hillmen. Placer has lost to El Dorado, Whitney and Bear River. “We just kind of lost focus,” Ryan said. “We’re getting it back. Instead of looking ahead we just needed to focus on one game at a time like our coach said.” Placer wraps up the PVL schedule at 4 p.m. at Lincoln before closing out the season with a nonleague game at River City next Monday.