Clutch moves from overseas

The road to baseball glory is paved with clutch hits.

Laney’s Masayuki Eguchi, batting first in the bottom of the sixth inning against Los Medanos College on April 17, ripped a ground single into right field to start the rally that would beat the Mustangs 4–1 and knock LMC out of first place in the Bay Valley Conference.

It also brought an end to Mustang pitcher Dominic Arias’ perfect game.

After allowing the single, Arias walked Laney catcher Jesus Manzo.

LMC put in left-hander Scott Meylan to face left-fielder Kameron Proctor with nobody out and runners on first and second.

Proctor’s successful sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third.

Then, lead-off hitter Kevin Whitaker crushed a three-run homer over the left-field fence.

More stellar batting and base-running followed, with the Eagles scoring again that inning.

It all started with Eguchi’s clutch single to right.

Eguchi, 19, came 4,892 miles from snowy Aomori at the northern end of Japan to play baseball for Laney.

Yuki Kano flew even further — 5,142 miles from Tokyo, Japan.

He is a middle-inning relief pitcher for the Eagles.

“He has talent,” head coach Francisco Zapata said, “and a pretty good split-finger fastball in the low 80’s.”

Kano, 25, has appeared in 7–1/3 innings in nine games.

Hitters have a .200 batting average against him.

“It’s been up and down for him, but it’s been better as of late,” Zapata said.

Kano has also given up five walks and hit seven batters.

The American baseball emphasis on statistics was noted by Kano.

“Here, everything is data,” he said. “How many pitches, inside or outside, everything is put in the computer. We don’t do that in Japan.”

Focus on the field is different in other ways too, Eguchi said.

“In defense, Japanese coaches want certainty [that the play will be made]. Here, speed is praised,” he said.

Eguchi shows off his ability to do both at second base.

He has played 16 games with a fielding percentage of .935 while racking up 17 put outs and 26 assists.

These Japanese students aren’t the first from another country to contribute to the baseball team.

Laney baseball players have come from Columbia and The Netherlands as well, Zapata said.

There are over 500 students from other countries attending school in the Peralta district, Athletics Director John Beam said, although most of them are not athletes as well.

“I had to try out to play baseball,” Kano said, “so I went to Seattle and Oregon, and then I decided to come here. The school is a good location, close to San Francisco, and they have good coaches. I like it here.”

Both students are enrolled in ESL classes.

“They do their best and have a great attitude,” Zapata said.

The language barrier is the biggest challenge these players face, he said.

Eguchi and Kano are finishing up their freshman year, so they will be back to play for Laney in the 2019 season.

During the summer, they both plan to visit their homes in Japan.

Eva Hannan is a Tower staff writer

Eagles have high hopes for a title

The Laney College baseball team has high hopes for the 2018 season. Coaches and players are training their eyes on the state championship tournament.

The team’s first step is to have the best or second-best record in the Bay Valley Conference. Otherwise, nabbing a spot can be tricky.

“Whoever wins conference goes to the playoffs but then you have wildcards, and those go with best record overall. Also the toughness of your schedule goes into it,” starting pitcher Sonny Brandwood said.

The 2018 season started Jan. 26, and the first 20 games are against teams from other conferences. On Feb. 8, Laney beat the Santa Rosa Junior College Bearcubs, 7–6. They were ranked second in the state last year and are ranked first in Northern California this year.

Laney got an early lead in the top of the first inning. By the seventh, the game was tied, 5–5, when third baseman Armando Tungui scored from third on a wild pitch. “It felt good,” Brandwood said. “It was a tough game but we got it. Just a grind the whole time.”

Starting center fielder Kevin Whitaker got two RBI, one on a sacrifice bunt and another on a single to right field in the eighth inning that tied the game at 6–6. “We don’t need to hit the ball out of the park all the time,” head coach Francisco Zapata said.

“If we can play baseball correctly, use our strengths, we can win the games.”
After nine games this season the Eagles’ record is 5–4. They have a three-game winning streak.

Liam Knowles, who plays first and third base for Laney, is batting .423, second-best in the BVC. Relief pitcher Galen Manhard is tied for first in the state for most saves, with three. Starting March 13, the Eagles will play within the BVC exclusively, which is comprised of 10 teams.

A strength for the team this season “is the discipline,” said Eagles fan Orlando Gaitan, who is also the father of Laney outfielder Jerry Gaitan. “They need to work a little more to get the rhythm, but they’re on it.”

Zapata, known to players as “Coach Z,” said the team can find that rhythm. “We’re pretty balanced,” he said. “I think pitching is a strength, and we can do some things offensively.”

Ryan Gibson, Ricardo Hernandez, Robert Busch, and Brandwood are the Eagles starting pitchers — so far. Gibson has a fastball that’s been clocked at 91 mph. Hernandez and Brandwood throw fastballs that reach 88 mph, but simple speed isn’t everything. “My change-up probably is my best pitch,” Brandwood said. “It keeps them off balance. It’s about a 10 mph difference from my fastball.”

Zapata said he sees signs that the team is “starting to jell.” The game at home against the Modesto Junior College Pirates on Feb. 10 is an example.

The fourth inning involved a contentious call at home that left the Eagles without a run they deserved. Shortstop Ryan Jenkins hit a single and wound up at third base. He broke for home when Modesto’s catcher dropped the ball, but he was called out at the plate for the final out. “We got it on film, and he was safe,” Zapata said.

“That’s a run you can use to win. Psychologically, it can mess up the flow when it’s a close game. They know that it’s unfair, but they didn’t get down and they pulled it out.” The Eagles won the game 4–2.

In the 2016 season, Laney had the best record in the BVC, winning 20 games and losing only four. Last year they didn’t make it to the playoffs, but they came close to clinching one of the top spots in the conference.

“It was between us and Los Medanos College [for second place]. We beat them two games out of three that last series, but they had a better Rating Percentage Index (RPI) so they went to the playoffs in front of us,” Zapata said.

RPI is a team’s win-loss record, with additional factors that consider the difficulty of the teams’ schedules. It is used for ranking in college sports where each team has opponents that may not be ranked equally.

The Eagles hope their RPI won’t have much of an impact this season. “First things first,” Zapata said. “You want to win the league and that automatically qualifies you for state playoffs. And when you hit the playoffs, of course you want to win state as well.”

The Eagles play their next home game against Feather River College on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m.

by Eva Hannan is a Tower staff writer.

End of an era

Greg Smith, the respected athletic trainer for the Laney Eagles’ athletic teams for over 37 years, will be retiring on July 31. He will be missed by students and faculty alike.

At the 2017 Spring Sports Awards Banquet Athletic Director John Beam called Smith up to be recognized for his work over the years and presented him with an Eagles letterman jacket.

Smith was a baseball player at Pinole Valley high school before going on to play ball for Contra Costa College and later went to Cal, where he majored in chemistry.

As an athlete Smith had been around athletic trainers and had received treatment for an ankle injury. Smith was struggling with his major, so he decided to weigh his options, and he switched his major from chemistry to physical education.

“I knew what I wanted to do. These trainers didn’t have any grease under their nails and they were wearing the latest athletic gear,” he said.

He started his career with Peralta in 1980 at the College of Alameda, but would also cover games at both Merritt and Laney. As funding for sports programs at COA became shakier, he began to work full-time at Laney in 1986.

“Working with young people, you feel like you’re about their age”

Greg Smith, Laney Eagles’ athletic trainer

His job title was athletic trainer and equipment manager. At that time there was no certification required to be an athletic trainer. Smith could see the future was going to be about rehabbing injured athletes. He got certified as an athletic trainer.

Over the years he has helped countless athletes. He works with all of the sports at Laney. When asked what sport he liked to work with the best, he replied, “That’s too tough a question. I like being a ‘team’ player for each sport as it’s in season.”
Laney Head Baseball Coach Francisco Zapata remembered being worked on by Smith when he played baseball here in the mid-80s and broke his arm.

Smith says that he always enjoyed working at Laney because the students kept him feeling young.

“Working with young people, you feel like you’re about their age,” he said.

Smith is retiring as the Athletic Trainer/Equipment Manager, but he will still be around campus teaching Health Ed, First Aid and CPR.

Laney College Baseball

A 22-win season

The Laney College Baseball team finished their 2016-17 season with a 22-18 record overall, good for a second-place tie in the Bay Valley Conference with a 13-8 mark along with Los Medanos College and Napa Valley College.
At left, Laney College center fielder Mark Johnson waits for his turn at bat during the Eagles’ 13-4 victory over Solano College on April 27.

Bases covered

Laney athletes score high on the field and in class

In community college sports, it’s not always about the Ws and the Ls.
It’s also about the GPAs.
This year, the Laney College baseball team has seven players who made the All-State Academic Team.
The team recognizes student-athletes who demonstrated academic excellence.
The Eagles have five pitchers named to the All-Academic team, whose GPAs are listed below in parentheses:

Ben Clegg (3.59)
John Punla (3.50)
Rory D’Alleva-Keane (3.55)
Peter Fosbery (3.80)
Christian Marquez (3.52)

Other players honored are:

Ryan Myers (3.74)
Brennan Machine (3.58)

Myers is a first baseman, and Machine is a utility player.
“It’s all about commitment,” head coach Francisco Zapata said. “Work on the field, work in the classroom.”
It’s what we are about here at Laney. These guys put in the work.”