By Erica Winter
With a new coach and two returners, the Dons baseball team has struggled in conference.
The Dons are 14-6 overall, but suffered four losses against Orange Empire Conference opponents.
“It’s tough as a first year coach, and trying to get everyone on the same page,” said Head Coach Tom Nilles. “But the year has been going well, and the guys have been competing hard.”
Nilles was hired in May and has about 12 years of college coaching experience; including the last six seasons for OEC rival Fullerton College.
Last year was the Dons first losing season in four decades.
Outfielder Colin Winn, one of the second year holdovers, hit over .300 in 101 at bats in 2015. This season Winn is hitting .333 over 87 at bats in 21 games. He is tied for the team lead in hits (29).
“This season is going pretty good. Guys have a lot of energy out there, and we’re playing well together,” Winn said.
Fullerton College dismantled the Dons earlier this month, handing it three consecutive losses.
In the opening game of the series, March 12, the visiting Hornets handed the Dons a 14-2 loss. Three days later, the Dons surrendered four runs in the bottom of the ninth at Fullerton, losing 9-8. Then on St. Patrick’s Day, the Hornets stung the Dons for six runs in the bottom of the 12th on Don Sneddon Field. The Dons scored four runs in the ninth to force extra innings.
“We gave away two games. It’s a testament to the conference, and it’s good because the teams battle back,” Nilles said. “Everything’s a teachable moment.”
The late-inning woes begin against Irvine Valley College on March 8, when the Lasers scored two runs in the ninth and the winning run in the 10th. The Dons were held scoreless over the final three innings.
“Once we get a lead, we can’t just be satisfied with that lead,” Winn said.
He added, “There have been teams that have hung in there with us that we could have put away earlier, and we can’t let that happen.”
Even with the struggles, the Dons are 8-5 over the last 13 games, including a six-game-win-streak.
Freshman righty Guillermo Sanchez is the Dons’ top starter.
Sanchez is 2-1 in six starts over 35 and two-thirds innings. His 3.79 ERA leads the staff. Sanchez, averaging about seven strikeouts per game, has battled control issues. Sanchez has a team high 15 walks in his six games.
“This season is going well right now, it could be better,” Sanchez said.
The Dons play Saddleback Tuesday April 5, 2 p.m. on Don Sneddon Field.