Shallenberger encouraged by Cats

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle Clovis High’s Emery Sierra forces Tascosa’s Cody Cross at second and throws to first to attetmpt to complete a double play.

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

There’s a tried-and-true way of forgetting the problems of the season past. It’s called next season and, even though it won’t officially begin until next February for the Clovis High baseball team, the Wildcats got a start on it on Friday.

At Bell Park, the ‘Cats played a pair of games as part of an eight-team tournament. Although both were losses, Clovis coach Shane Shallenberger was glad to get his troops — which will primarily make up the 2008 squad — back on the field.

“It was nice to start back with the young guys coming up,” Shallenberger said. “Every year’s a different year and a different group of kids, so we were all anxious to get back out here.”

As is the case with most teams, pitching and hitting are two primary points of focus for the Wildcats.

While an 11-4 loss to Tascosa in Clovis’ first game offered little in the way of optimism, save a homer by senior-to-be Jarod Kiser, the ‘Cats did have a better game in their second outing of the day — a 6-2 defeat at the hands of Artesia.

In that game, a two-run first inning by the Bulldogs gave the visitors a quick lead off Clovis pitcher Emery Sierra. But Sierra settled down and allowed only one more run by Artesia in the next three innings — largely the consequence of consecutive Bulldogs’ batters hitting slow rollers toward third base for infield hits in the fourth.

“He struggled the first inning, so his pitch-count was at 81. It’s early in the summer and I decided to pull him,” Shallenberger said. “Summer ball’s not necessarily about wins and losses; it’s obviously about figuring out what we’ve got coming back for next year.”

The Clovis coach got a little more encouragement when reliever Brandon Gilliard, though touched up for three runs in the fifth, worked out of a jam in the sixth as well as pitcher Victor Salazar’s one-two-three inning in the seventh.

“We’re trying to find us some pitching. We’ve got us some younger kids and I think they all threw strikes and got some outs for us,” Shallenberger said. “I thought they played pretty well. I’m pretty encouraged about the pitching — that can’t do nothing but get better.”

Against Artesia, Clovis’ main problem was trying to find a way to get runs off Bulldogs’ hurler Devin Nelson. Nelson allowed four hits while pitching a complete game,

“He’s actually coming off an arm injury. He hurt his arm on varsity as a freshman,” said Artesia coach Clay Foster of sophomore-to-be Nelson. “We thought he was going to have to have Tommy John surgery. That’s the first time he’s thrown since March 19th.”

Clovis’ runs against Nelson came in the fourth inning. After Sierra and Josh Burrell drew walks, Salazar slugged a double to right-centerfield to score both runners.

Other than that, and the sixth inning, when Jake Burrell and Josh Burrell singled, the Wildcats had little success against Artesia.

“We’ve just got to find a way to hit the ball. That’s my main concern. We have four or five kids hitting the ball decently and then it tapers off quite a bit,” Shallenberger said. “We need to figure out how to score more runs.