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Carson High baseball team opens season Thursday

Carter Eckl
ceckl@nevadaappeal.com

A young and relatively inexperienced Carson High baseball team from last season has put in a year of offseason work leading up to the start of the 2020 campaign.

Head coach Bryan Manoukian, who has been at the helm of the Senators since 2013, said the growth his team has made in a lot of areas has shown on the field.

Specifically, Manoukian was referencing defense on routine plays and pitchers’ consistency commanding the zone by throwing strikes.

“Those areas on defense and pitching are huge,” Manoukian said. “Our pitchers have done a really good job of throwing strikes and not walking as many guys.”

With the regular season set to get started Thursday, the Senators are anxious to build on a 9-19 mark from a season ago.

Pitching staff experience

From 2018 to 2019, the Carson High pitching staff dropped its season walk total from 143 walks in 34 games to 88 free bases in 28 games last season.

A large chunk of that improvement came from a pitching core that will be senior heavy this year with a majority of innings expected to be eaten up by Justin Stevens, Max Fontaine, Garrit Benavidez and Damien Branco.

With the dramatic dip in walks, Carson also saw its strikeout totals jump from 181 to 186 despite playing six fewer games.

Fontaine was second on the team in punchouts last season with 31, behind 2019 senior Vernon Painter. Stevens and now junior Justin Nussbaumer were the next two strikeout leaders for the Senators.

Through the first scrimmage last weekend against Fernley, Manoukian said that Carson was striking out three batters for every walk allowed, which is a ratio the longtime head coach will happily take throughout the season.

The Senators return about 70 percent of their innings thrown from last season and part of the Senators’ ability to not allow free bases has come from the man behind the plate.

Bryce Baker is expected to be the main backstop this season and Manoukian complimented the strides the junior catcher has made.

“(He) has gotten a lot better and receiving and blocking and commanding the game,” said Manoukian.

Everyday lineup

With three injuries since tryouts just about two weeks ago, Manoukian readily admits the Senators won’t be fully healthy until after spring break.

The 18-game gauntlet of Northern Region play is right around when the manager thinks Carson should be nearing full strength, noting that injured players may not quite be ready for the first few region games.

With the early season injuries, Manoukian says the everyday lineup is going to change day-to-day and single position players from last season may be asked to become utility-type athletes.

Back on the roster this season is Nussbaumer, Casey Martensen, Kobe Morgan as well as several pitchers who all had solid seasons in 2019.

Martensen was second in the Northern Region in batting average last year, hitting a balmy .430 clip at the plate along with nine doubles and 25 RBIs.

The two biggest bats Carson will need to replace in production are those of Kahle Good (.292 batting average, 17 RBIs) and Delsin Roberts (.303 average, 15 RBIs).

Even so, Manoukian knows anyone returning with experience has to keep putting in work not only in the batter’s box, but also in the field as well.

After 75 errors as a team last year, turning routine plays into outs is a must if the Senator defense is going to be able to consistently back up its pitching staff.

“We need to make the routine play consistently and get our pitchers out of innings,” said Manoukian. “We’ve got a large sample set of guys that don’t necessarily have varsity experience, but they’ve got quite a bit of experience since the last season ended.”

Manoukian said that experience came in the form of 40-ish games over summer, 15 more in the fall and approximately 15 scrimmages varying from intrasquad to facing another Northern Nevada squad.

When it comes to a winning formula, Manoukian has made the team’s goal self-explanatory.

“If you throw 64 percent strikes, you play defense and have a fielding percentage of 93 percent or better and you hit .270, that’s generally the magic numbers for wins,” Manoukian said. “Unless you’re playing an upper-quality team. Those are the numbers that we focus on.”

It won’t be long before the Senators can play in true competition with the regular season starting Thursday with West Valley (Cottonwood, Calif.) coming to town. Douglas and Fallon come to town the next day for a doubleheader, starting at 3 p.m.

Opening day varsity roster (according to MaxPreps)

Seniors – Max Fontaine, Kenny Aydelott, Damian Branco, Garrit Benavidez and Justin Stevens.

Juniors – Justin Nussbaumer, Brian Guthrie, Mike Roman, Jade Stotts, Casey Martensen, Bryce Baker, Jose Fausto and Kobe Morgan.

Sophomores –Tanner Hunt, Trey Thomas, Dillon Damico.