With wins over nationally ranked teams in the fall preseason and a sweep of Villa Park in the season openers, the Yucaipa High School baseball team has a reason to be confident on the eve of the 2018 season. First year Yucaipa coach Ralph Grajeda says he likes what he sees of his pitching staff as well. With the emergence of senior right-hander Vincent Alvarez to compliment No. 1 starter Tyson Heaton, and lefty Julian Alvarez set at No. 3, the Thunderbirds can reach seven deep in their rotation.

Grajeda said there were a number of surprises that came about during the fall exhibition game season. Along with the development of Vincent Alvarez, football star Gavin Norris has slugged his way into the heart of the batting order and Trenton Luther has won the third base job. Grajeda says senior Jacob Davila has come into his own at second base and will get plenty of playing time along with Jordan Andrade.

Junior Michael Carpentier, who hit .366 last year is back at catcher and Joseph Lomeli (.318) will start at shortstop for the third season. Heaton will play first base when not pitching. Heaton had a solid sophomore season when he batted .345 and on the mound went 7-3 with a 1.06 ERA. Grajeda says his outfield is currently interchangeable with seven players contesting for playing time. The versatile Julian Alvarez has played center but is expected to see action at first base when not pitching.

Grajeda said his coaching staff has made sure that fierce competition for playing time has helped increase the team's production. He listed wins in the fall over nationally ranked Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran as reasons for optimism. YHS lost 3-2 to the nation's No. 3 ranked team, Basic High School/Nevada in a recent tournament in Las Vegas. It defeated Hemet to win the 20-team Martin Luther King Tournament hosted by Tahquitz High School. YHS went 38-4 in the fall.

In its season opening doubleheader win by scores, 5-1 and 6-1 at Villa Park on Feb. 24, Heaton and Vincent Alvarez were the winning pitchers. Julian Alavarez totaled five RBI. The Thunderbirds will play their home opener, March 1, with La Habra as part of the Newport Elks Tournament. On March 14, a double-header will be played with Rancho Cucamonga at UC Riverside. YHS will then enter the 88-team Anaheim Lions Tournament, beginning March 24. It will start the Citrus Belt League season at Eisenhower on March 29. The annual County Clash game will be held, April 14, at San Manuel Stadium.

Grajeda said he has no references to go by when looking at CBL contenders and stayed away from listing the possible top teams. He defined his team as one that can pitch, play defense, has speed and can hit. “We are excited, prepared, and ready to start the season.”

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