Pirates hoping to bounce back

For only the second time in the last six seasons, Orange Coast College failed to win at least 30 baseball games in 2013. So, in an effort to bounce back, veteran coach John Altobelli is returning to the formula that produced 36 victories and a trip to the four-team state championship tournament in 2012.

Like the 2012 team that claimed the Pirates' first outright Orange Empire Conference title since 1987, this year's squad will feature several players whose first stop out of high school was a four-year college program.

The talented, but well-traveled cast, known as bounce-backs, fill out nine roster spots for the Pirates, who will deploy most in crucial roles.

Cody Nulph, a sophomore who came from Pepperdine and has already committed to play next season at Auburn, will likely start at shortstop and hit third when the Pirates, coming off a 23-16 campaign in which they lost seven of their last nine and 14 of their last 25 after opening 12-2, open their season at home against nonconference visitor Palomar on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

Andrew Alvarez, another former Pepperdine recruit, is also expected to pitch and play first base in his sophomore season for the Pirates, before continuing his collegiate career at Houston Baptist.

Altobelli, in his 22nd year at the helm after recording his 500th career win last season, said David Hill, a sophomore right-handed bounce-back from Long Beach State, will open the season as the team's No. 1 starting pitcher, while sophomore Tommy Bell, relocated from the University of the Pacific, is expected to start in right field.

Behind the plate, a pair of bounce-backs — Collin Yelich from UNLV and committed to Sam Houston State, as well as Daniel Delaney from Fresno State and committed to Valparaiso — offer a potentially productive platoon at a position that has not been among the Pirates' leading producers in recent years.

"I think this team looks good and has a chance to go a long way, especially with our pitching," said Altobelli, who guided the 2009 squad to the school's first state crown since 1980.

In addition to Hill, whom Altobelli considers the team's leading professional prospect with a fastball in the low 90-mph range and a quality breaking ball, the mound corps will be led by sophomore David Wilson, a first-team All-Orange Empire Conference selection last season who worked primarily out of the bullpen.

Altobelli said Wilson, who was 4-2 with a team-best four saves and a 2.51 earned-run average last season, might continue in the starter-reliever role this spring.

Alvarez, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, is expected to take his turn in a starting rotation that also figures to include sophomore left-hander Jacob Hill, David Hill's twin brother who has already committed to the University of San Diego.

Jacob Hill, UC Santa Barbara bounce-back Art Vidro, Jason Broussard and Tanner Murphey are all left-handers that figure to give new pitching coaches Ron LaRuffa and Tim Matz, plenty of flexibility out of the bullpen.

LaRuffa, somewhat of a legendary figure in Orange County diamond circles after coaching at Fountain Valley and Edison high schools for 28 seasons (including winning seven Sunset League and two CIF Southern Section titles at Fountain Valley), also spent several seasons tutoring pitchers at Cypres College between prep stints. He is entering his 44th season of coaching.

Matz was formerly the pitching coach at Santa Ana College, which was dealt a blow when longtime head man Don Sneddon surprisingly stepped down in early January.

LaRuffa and Matz step in for Dave Bowman, another former Santa Ana and Cypress pitching coach who had been with the Pirates the last two campaigns.

Potential closer Chris Iriart (who also plays first and is a designated hitter), Spencer Moran, a bounce-back from Vanguard University, returner Joe Rita, side-arming Brian Bass, Parker Monahan and Cody Maples are also expected to contribute on the mound, Altobelli said.

Sophomore Cody Bruner, who hit a team-best .336 batting average last season with 28 runs batted in, 20 runs, 49 hits and four stolen bases, returns in center field to add to the experience factor.

Freshman Robert Longtree is expected to play left field and lead off, while sophomore Ryan Perez and freshman Grant Davis, a bounce-back from Arizona State, are the front-runners at third base and second base, respectively.

Jake Thumm (third base and shortstop), Maples (third), returner Greg Espinosa (second and shortstop who hit .318 with 13 RBIs in 110 at-bats in 2013), and potential designated hitters Cole Rutherford and Nick Kinsman (first base) are expected to provide depth in the infield.

Altobelli said Chris Blasing, a freshman out of Mater Dei High, is expected to be a late-innings defensive replacement in the outfield, where Perez and Taylor Hallock may also make an impact.

Alec Friedman, a freshman from Arizona, adds depth behind the plate.

OCC opens conference play on Feb. 27 at home against defending state champion Cypress.

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