Dons Miss Playoffs After Valiant Season Effort

The Santa Ana College Dons Baseball team had four players honored by the Orange Empire Conference as three athletes were named to the all-conference first team and the other was named on the all-second team.
Santa Ana, Calif – February 22:  Trevor Worden #31 of the Santa Ana College Dons pitches in a game against the College of the Desert Roadrunners. / Jordy Espinoza/ el Don

The Santa Ana College Dons Baseball team had four players honored by the Orange Empire Conference as three athletes were named to the all-conference first team and the other was named on the all-second team.

Santa Ana ended its season placing fifth in the OEC with an overall record of 22-18 and a conference record of 10-11. However, the Dons missed out on the playoffs this season despite a late season surge.

Sophomores Andrew Martinez, Bryan Leef and Nathan Flores were placed on the OEC All-Conference First team and shortstop Juan Gonzalez was recognized on the second team.

Martinez was one of two catchers to make the conferences first team after having a team high batting average of .347 while scoring 30 runs and smacking two home runs. “It was an honor to make the first team because the OEC is filled with some of the most talented players in Southern California,” Martinez said. “This award is something I’m going to remember for a long time,” he added.

Considering that Martinez had the highest batting average on the team, it took quite an effort to get there. A few games into the season he batted .077 which was lowest on the team. He didn’t quit and continued to show progress on and off the field every day. “Our lineup was really good throughout the year, I felt that I fed off the energy of my teammates and that really helped me get my confidence.” said the right-handed catcher.

Left fielder Bryan Leef made the first team for the second straight time in his Santa Ana career. He led the conference in home runs with seven and was third in RBI’s at 37. He had a respectable slash line of .329/.406/.555. “Making first team one year is an honor, but making it two years, now that shows consistency,” the six-foot-two outfielder said.

Left fielder Bryan Leef homers on a fly ball to left-center field. / Jordy Espinoza/ el Don

Leef thanks his coaches and teammates for helping him through his two years at Santa Ana and is extremely proud that he showed he could play the game at a high level. “Enjoy every minute of it because you will miss it when it’s all over,” Leef said about any future Don baseball player.

Fellow outfielder, Nathan Flores ran away with the first team selection for the utility spot. Flores held a batting average of .278 with 35 RBI’s driven in. He blasted four home runs while adding two wins and 35 strikeouts as a pitcher. To hit and to pitch in the same season can be grueling, but Flores made it work. “It wasn’t easy, I struggled as a pitcher earlier in the fall so during the winter I worked to better myself on the mound and it helped me throughout the season,” Flores said. “I didn’t even make the second team last season and to make it this season as a first team it was really cool,” he added.

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Flores always knew he could perform on the mound and at the plate in the same season. “I knew I could hit well so it was about not giving up at-bats and always doing my job to help the team win on the mound and with my bat,” Flores said.

Third baseman Juan Gonzalez finished the season within an impressive .342 batting average while driving in 28 RBI’s and a homer to receive a spot on the OEC’s second team.

“Being named to the OEC’s second team caught me by surprise, I was just trying to play the game right the entire year and with my season turning out the way it did, I was happy to be named on second team out of so many other ball players,” said the sophomore shortstop.

Dons’ right-handed pitcher Jacob Ayala finished the season with an era of 3.04./ Jordy Espinoza/ el Don

Offense was key for Santa Ana this season. The Dons tallied 430 hits this season placing second in the conference only behind Cypress’ 441 hits. Santa Ana had a team batting average of .300 good enough for second best in the conference. The Dons were one of the best teams in the OEC in successfully stealing a base. Santa Ana converted on 76 percent of their attempts (46) Santa Ana was caught stealing 11 times and was successful 35 times.

Pitching and defense may have cost the Dons any shot at a playoff berth. Santa Ana’s pitching blew some costly games this season in the late innings. It’s defense also made critical errors which led to the opposition having huge innings. The Dons’ pitching staff allowed the most homeruns in the conference (24) and had a team ERA of 4.10 which was fourth worst.

Most of the Dons’ sophomores will be on their way out heading to universities to continue their education and play baseball as they end their careers at Santa Ana college. For the incoming freshman and soon to be sophomores it’s their turn to carry the next wave of stardom and bring Santa Ana back to the playoffs. Only time will tell what team head coach Tom Nilles will have to work with.

Jordy Espinoza

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