Season Preview: Valley Christian Warriors

Blaine Clemmens
Northern California Director of Scouting

With the 2019 high school baseball season just around the corner in California we've begun rolling out team previews from around the state.

In this edition we will take a closer look at the Valley Christian Warriors, the defending Central Coast Section Open Division champs. The 2019 crew has a very legitimate shot to defend that title, but will first have to navigate the challenging WCAL regular season.

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Team: Valley Christian 

Nickname: Warriors

Section: CIF-Central Coast Section, Division 1

League: West Coast Athletic League

Head Coach/Years at school: Jon Diatte (30th year)

Team Twitter Handle@vc_baseball

2018 Overall Record: 29-3-1

2018 Postseason Finish: CCS Open Division Champions

Number of Returning Starters: 8

Number of Returning Pitchers: 5

Top Returning Players:

'19 OF Coleman Brigman; '19 INF Nick Marinconz; '19 OF/RHP Steven Zobac; '19 RHP William Kempner; '20 LHP/OF Eddie Park; '21 RHP/INF Jonathan Cymrot

College Commits:

'19 OF Coleman Brigman - Santa Clara; '19 INF Nick Marinconz - Cal Poly; '19 OF/RHP Steven Zobac - Cal; '19 RHP William Kempner - Gonzaga; '20 LHP/OF Eddie Park - Stanford; '20 INF/P Nick Thomson - Northwest Nazarene; '21 RHP/INF Jonathan Cymrot - Arizona; '21 INF Trevor Haskins - Stanford

Other Players To Watch:

'19 RHP/OF Mark Fairweather; '20 P/INF Jack McGrew; '20 INF Stephen Hom; '21 INF/RHP Griffen Allen

2019 Outlook:

Playing in one of California's toughest conference, the Valley Christian Warriors are always among the most battle tested teams by the end of the season. They are challenged with strong non-conference schedules year in and year out and then head into conference play in the annually loaded WCAL. The 2018 Warriors chose to play in the CCS Open Division playoffs and rolled to the title with wins of 8-0, 8-0, and 4-3. Their overall record of 29-3-1 was among the best in the state. Two losses to Serra (one 3-2), a one-run loss to St. Francis and a 0-0 tie vs Elk Grove was all that separated them from a perfect season.

Three senior offensive contributors are leaving and one was their starting catcher, while the other was their athletic second baseman. They are losing half of their home runs from 2018, but with only 10 for the season they didn't depend on the long ball to win games. The 2019 Warriors do return 55 of their 62 stolen bases from last year. The biggest challenge might be replacing two senior pitchers who went a combined 16-3 and ate up 131 innings while making 23 of the teams 31 starts. Conversely, there is reason for optimism on the mound as they do bring back 94.1 IP from four pitchers who were major contributors in 2018.

From year to year Valley Christian is among the most talented teams in Northern California. However, talent only goes so far, especially since they play in a conference with other very talented teams. The strength of the best Warrior teams has traditionally been pitching (1.09 team ERA in 2018... yes, you read that correctly) and defense (.968 fielding% in 2018) and those will once again be points of emphasis for VCHS. Another thing the 2018 team did well was get on base and many of their main contributors walk more than they strikeout. Most of those players return.  

Coach Diatte, no stranger to having talented teams and high expectations for those teams, has every reason to be optimistic about 2019. As good at the 2018 team was, they very well could be better on offense this season as they return their first five hitters. Those wins on the mound will have to be replaced but the experience gained by young pitchers last season will be valuable. Replacing their senior catcher will not be easy.

Their schedule is always one of the toughest in California. In 2019 they have notable non-conference games vs. De La Salle, South Lake Carroll (TX), Orange Lutheran, Elk Grove, and Jesuit. Wow. That is all before entering WCAL play against the likes of Serra, Bellarmine, St. Francis, and Sacred Heart Cathedral. There is an interesting late season non-conference game vs Los Gatos, in a rematch of the 2018 CCS Open Division championship game, won by VCHS 4-3.

The outfield will be one of the best in the state. Senior Coleman Brigman returns and likely will lock down centerfield as he did a year ago. Brigman his .376 with 12 extra base hits and 15 SB a year ago. He is a 4-year varsity player. Junior Eddie Park returns as well, for his third varsity season. Park hit .376 a year ago, with some extra base pop and 11 SB. He was also a major contributor on the mound... more on that later. Also returning is powerful senior Steven Zobac. The power numbers weren't there in 2018 but he is a good bet to break out in 2019. He posted 10 extra base hits last season and drove in 19 runs. Zobac and Park are both left-handed hitters. 

Manning the all important shortstop position will once again likely be Nick Marinconz. He's a smooth fielder with high baseball IQ and not only makes the routine plays but can go beyond that on occasion. Marinconz also contributes with the bat, posting a .318 average in 2018 with seven doubles and 17 RBI. That was a bit down from his spectacular 2017 season when he hit .414. Look for him to bounce back closer to that level in 2019. Marinconz is could be joined in the infield by sophomore Trevor Haskins, a talented defender with deft defensive tools, including a strong arm, good glove, and athleticism. Junior Jack McGrew will also compete for time in the infield as he has above average defensive tools.

Other than the power potential of Brigman and Zobac, sophomore corner infielder Jonathan Cymrot will be a source of pop as well. As a freshman he hit .350 with 10 doubles and a homer, to go with 21 RBI. Look for some of those doubles to go over the fence in 2019. Cymrot was acknowledged by one outlet as the California Freshman Player of the Year. The Warriors could get some juice from powerful freshman right-handed hitter Griffen Allen who will compete for a varsity spot.

On the mound it will be Park, senior RHP Will Kempner, and Cymrot leading the way. Park posted a 1.20 ERA and 3-0 record as a sophomore and can carve up opponents with his touch and feel, particularly his fastball command and good curveball. Cymrot went 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA and has power stuff. Kempner was 3-0 with a 2.07 ERA in 2018. He has the best pure stuff of the group, with a fastball that will be around 90 mph and heavy sink. Coach Diatte is expecting to get mound contributions from senior RHP Mark Fairweather (also an athletic outfielder) and RHP Nick Thomson, who is also an infielder.

Valley Christian doesn't sneak up on anyone, they are traditionally too strong to do that. Instead, they are used to entering a season with a target on their back and they have tested players returning to defend a title.