SPRING CREEK – Of Spring Creek’s 18 baseball players, head coach Scott Gilligan does not have anyone younger than a junior – the Spartans loaded with upper classmen.
However, of the 10 seniors and eight juniors on the roster, many will enter their first season of varsity baseball – the Spartans slated to take their first swings of the season on the road at 2 p.m. Friday, in Dayton.
“It always seems like we have a lot of seniors, which is a good thing,” said Spring Creek coach Scott Gilligan.
Weather has wreaked havoc on the Spartans’ ability to get any outside work during the preseason, but Spring Creek traveled to Pahrump Valley over the weekend for a scrimmage.
“The main thing was getting outside, which was really nice. I was pretty happy with how we played,” Gilligan said. “We looked pretty good defensively and pitched pretty well. Hitting is always behind at this point of the year – not facing live pitching and trying to get timing down – but we put the ball in play.”
In 2018, the Spartans went 12-12 in league play – earning the No. 6 seed of the Division 3A North regional tournament – graduating nine seniors after ending the season with an 0-2 record in the regional tourney, losing 6-3 to No. 3 and eventual state champion Truckee on May 10, 2018, and falling 5-1 versus No. 5 Dayton on May 11, 2018, in Fallon.
Of Spring Creek’s graduations, several were key contributors – including several all-league and all-state performers.
Shortstop Dakota Larson had an abundance of blazing-fast ability and finished his career with 1st-Team All-North and 1st-Team All-State selections.
Larson crossed home 15 more times than anyone else on the roster; finishing fifth in the league with 43 runs scored, adding 17 RBIs.
He led the Spartans with a .474 batting average (fifth-best in the league), his team-best 45 hits finishing eighth in the 3A North.
Larson turned six hits into extra bases, legging out five doubles and a triple.
He stole 12 more bases than anyone else on Spring Creek’s team, his 17 swipes finishing as the fourth-best total in the 3A North.
In his final season, Thomas Ledford saw a colossal increase in playing time, earning his 1st-Team All-League and 2nd-Team All-State honors as a utility player – spending time in the outfield, at shortstop and pitcher.
No bat brought more pop to the Spartans’ roster or the league’s outfield fences than Ledford’s aluminum.
He led the 3A North eight bombs, adding seven doubles and a triple for 16 extra-base hits.
Ledford drove in 38 runs – tying for second in the league – batting .337 for the season.
On April 20, 2018, Ledford began a torrid stretch.
He blasted two home runs in an 8-7 victory on the road at Truckee, starting a seven-game span in which he thumped six of his eight home runs on the year.
On April 24, 2018, at home against Elko, Ledford pounded a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning that turned a 4-3 deficit into an 8-4 advantage, flipping the momentum into a 13-9 win for the Spartans.
He capped the hot streak with a 2-for-3 performance on May 5, 2018, in the regular-season finale at Sparks – both hits flying over the outfield fence for the final two homers of his season.
One of Spring Creek’s undoubted leaders entering the upcoming season is senior Max Shanks, who earned a 2nd-Team All-North honor during his junior year.
Despite cooling toward the middle and end of the season, he finished with a .418 batting average, the second-best clip on the Spartans’ roster.
Shanks led the Spartans with eight doubles.
He finished the season with 41 hits and 31 RBIs, ranking second on the team in each category.
Shanks was a vacuum at first base for Spring Creek, committing just two errors on the season, closing the year with the second-best fielding percentage in the 3A North at .988.
He drilled eight doubles and smoked his lone home run of the season on March 31, 2018, against Dayton, in Spring Creek’s 17-16 victory over the Dust Devils.
On March 19, 2018, Shanks drove in four runs against South Tahoe – going 2-for-3 with a double.
He will also factor largely into Spring Creek’s pitching rotation, going 3-3 with a 3.82 earned-run average last season.
Shanks struck out 21 batters and allowed 12 free passes.
Other than Shanks, Spring Creek’s cupboard of pitchers was emptied – graduating Larson (3-2, 4.35 ERA), Ledford (3-3, 6.00 ERA) and Levi Yaunick (3-4, 4.46 ERA).
Yaunick led the Spartans in innings pitched (53-1/3) and strikeouts with 34 against 12 walks.
The Spartans will return senior Brock Gilligan at third base and shortstop, depending on pitching alignments, also expected to step on the bump for Spring Creek in the upcoming season.
Last year, he batted .341 and drove in 25 runs – hitting four doubles and parking a home run – crossing home 17 times.
Behind the plate, senior Hunter Buzzetti will catch for the second season – taking over the battery early in the season a year ago.
He fielded the ball at a .945 clip and committed five errors in 91 total chances, recording 72 putouts and 14 assists.
With his bat, he hit .320 with 12 RBIs and tied for second on the roster with six doubles – adding a yard job on May 5, 2018, in Sparks.
An exciting addition for the Spartans is senior shortstop and pitcher Jay King, a transfer from Fernley.
After coming off a broken wrist, King hit .304 and drove in 13 runs for the Vaqueros – legging out seven doubles and smashing a home run – competing in just 16 games.
Another transfer, senior John Shiflet, moved to Spring Creek from Tonopah – which won the Division 1A Central regional title in 2017.
“He was hurt last year, so he couldn’t play but he can pitch and play outfield,” Gilligan said.
Outfield is an area where the Spartans should be deep, possessing many capable bodies – most of which are young.
Senior Clay Campbell will lead the new-look bunch, playing ample ballgames in left field for the Spartans last season.
He hit .317 as a junior and drove in 17 runs, scoring 19 of his own.
Campbell thumped two doubles and legged out a triple.
To take over for graduated center fielder Chris Brunson, Gilligan will look to newcomers to fill the deep grass – expecting juniors Kyle Owsley, Ryan Thurston and Adam Davis and senior James Testerman to all see action at the position and in left field.
To aid the pitching rotation of Shanks, King and Brock Gilligan – coach Gilligan also plans to throw Owsley, Thurston, Davis and Testerman.
Last season, Brunson took control in center field midway through the year – fielding the ball at a perfect percentage in 32 chances – tallying 31 putouts and an assist.
He batted .342 with 13 RBIs and ripped six doubles and a homer, finishing second on the roster with 28 runs scored.
Depending on when Brock Gilligan and King are on the mound, coach Gilligan expects solid play from now-senior Brendyn Taylor at second base.
As a junior, Taylor played admirably in limited action behind graduated Caden Jangard.
Jangard fielded the ball at a .927 clip with eight errors in 109 chances with 47 putouts and 54 assists – turning four double plays.
Taylor was perfect in his 16 chances in the field, notching 10 putouts and six assists.
Jangard went .263 at the plate with 12 RBIs and four doubles – scoring 21 runs – Taylor batting .455 in only 11 at-bats, sending a pair of runs across the plate.
“Terren Mitton, a senior, did some good things in our scrimmage,” said coach Gilligan. “We also have about three guys who may float back and forth between the JV and the varsity, depending on where we need them.”
“I think our defense will be a strong point, and it needs to be. Our league is so good right now. Elko, Fallon and Truckee bring a lot back,” he said. “It’s hard not having a preseason tournament this year. Offensively, we’re going to have to be aggressive to move runs. I’m excited for the season.”
The Spartans will take first hacks of the 2019 season against the Dust Devils at 2 p.m. Friday, in Dayton, Spring Creek wrapping up the three-game road trip with a doubleheader at 10 a.m. and noon Saturday.