Baseball preview: Vikings hope to overcome injuries, setbacks this season

Edward Mei, Author

Starting pitcher Chris Smith throws a fastball in the first inning of Paly's 9-3 season opener loss to St. Ignatius last year.  Photo by Matt Ersted.
Starting pitcher Chris Smith throws a fastball in the first inning of Paly’s 9-3 season opener loss to St. Ignatius last year. Photo by Matt Ersted.

Every year, the goal of the Palo Alto High School baseball team (0-0) remains the same: to win a league title and then let the Central Coast Section playoffs play out itself like every wildly unpredictable tournament does.

“As a team, our goal is the same as it is every year: win a league title,” junior pitcher Isaac Kasevich said. “Like Coach [Erick] Raich says, CCS can be a crapshoot, a little like March Madness. We want to be on top of the De Anza league when the season ends.”

After finishing with an 18-16 overall record last season and losing to Homestead High School in the SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs, the Vikings, a fifth seed, made a surprising run through the CCS Division 1 Playoffs, where they ultimately lost to the eventual champions of St. Francis High School.

In order to replicate last year’s success, however, junior pitcher Ellis O’Brien says that this team’s young and upcoming talent will have to step up and replace the production of last year’s senior class, which included key players such as Austin Poore, Michael Strong, Isaac Feldstein and Rohit Ramkumar.

“I think the team lost a lot of offensive fire-power from last year but overall we are more experienced and have more discipline and motivation,” O’Brien said. “I think last year’s team overachieved and I think this year there are higher expectations.”

One of the younger players who will have to make an impact is sophomore pitcher Riley Schoeben, who says he is both ready and prepared for the challenge.

“Last year, being a freshman pitcher only on varsity I didn’t get much time as a position player,” Schoeben said. “So I am excited to get back into it this year.”

Schoeben also expressed his enthusiasm for his fellow underclassmen who will have to make their own contributions.

“We are going to have a lot of contribution from younger guys, mainly players like [sophomores] Justin Hull and Owen Plambeck,” Schoeben said. “Justin will help in the outfield and Owen will provide another really good bat in our lineup. [Sophomore] Laurence Han will help to give [senior] Austin Kron a rest at catcher every few games. Coach Raich prepares us well, so being inexperienced shouldn’t affect the way we play too much.”

Along with the other upperclassmen, senior shortstop Bowen Gerould recognizes his role as a leader for the younger players.

“I want to try to set a good example for the younger players and want to continue the tradition of having strong leadership,” Gerould said.

In addition to the loss of last year’s senior class, a recent back injury to senior lefty pitcher Danny Erlich has put him out indefinitely, a major loss to the pitching staff, according to Kasevich.

“It’s a huge loss to our pitching staff and hopefully he can come back and be as dominant as he was last year,” Kasevich said.

Erlich’s absence will force the rest of the Vikings’ pitching staff to step up to the mound. Gerould specifically acknowledged this necessity for the team to succeed.

“Our entire pitching staff is going to have to be strong this year because we don’t have as solid of a starting rotation as we have had in prior years,” Gerould said.

According to Kasevich, other pitchers besides himself and O’Brien, including seniors Chris Smith and Brian Kanappan and juniors Phil Lewis, Walker Ritchie and Michael Pappas will all have to carry their weight in the Erlich’s absence.

However, Schoeben notes that despite all of the setbacks, this year’s squad has come together more focused and determined than ever.

“Our team chemistry is awesome this year,” Schoeben said. “Everyone knows their role and what needs to get done so our practices have been more efficient than they normally are at this time of year.”

The Vikings travel to San Francisco at 3:30 p.m. next Tuesday to take on the St. Ignatius Wildcats (0-0).