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On The Rise Bruin Baseball Has A Bright Future
Three hundred and eight days ago Riverbank High's varsity baseball team was on a streak of 32 consecutive games without a victory, floundering to take wins against tough small school programs in the Central Valley and in the prolific Trans-Valley League.

Then someone flipped a switch.

The Bruins closed the season with two wins in their final four TVL games and delivered a fantastic summer of off-season wins.

The sudden rise has translated immediately to the 2011 season, leaving Riverbank with a 2-1 mark to start the preseason. Their only blemish came after a one-run loss to McNair on Friday.

"The kids were working hard in the off-season, and we are starting to see the results of that on the field," Riverbank coach Ismael Mercado said. "As a head coach you just try to get these kids ready for every game, and as long as they can walk off the field saying they played to their full potential, we are going to continue to do well."

The Bruins opened the season with a 3-0 win over Millennium on Feb. 28 after a sterling effort from sophomore Antonio Perez (eight strikeouts) on the mound. Perez also went 2-for-3 from the plate and saw senior Miguel Hernandez get a hit, with a run scored and stolen base.

Two days later the Bruins made it a 2-0 start after a sharp 4-2 victory over McNair that saw five innings of strong pitching from Hernandez (four strikeouts). He also batted 2-for-3 with a double while Perez (1-for-2, two stolen bases) and Tyler Fipps (1-for-2, run) swung the bat well.

McNair got revenge on Friday after breaking apart Riverbank's two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh and final inning. Fipps belted a double with four RBI while Perez scored two runs and Kevin Compton (double) one.

The Bruins have the pitching to stay competitive in games throughout the season. Perez was fed to the wolves in his freshman season at the varsity level, but has grown into a savvy pitcher who leads a deep rotation at RHS.

Seniors Hernandez and Fipps represent the veteran corps of the staff, and have only improved their game each season. Freshman thrower, Noel Sanchez, brings another strong arm to the mound.

"We saw big improvement in pitching over the summer, and I knew we would give ourselves a chance to be competitive in every game this year," Mercado said. "We have already had some hot pitching performances by all of our pitchers, and we know that anytime we pitch well and see strong defense we will have a pretty good chance of winning ball games."

Perez, a speedy runner with a good eye for contact at the plate, is also the team's leadoff hitter. Sanchez has grown into the two spot, while returning all league hitter, Hernandez, has settled into the three-hole. Hard-hitting Fipps is batting cleanup, while sophomore outfielder Armando Manriquez and lanky junior first baseman Richard Perez take the next two spots in the order.

The rest of Riverbank's lineup is likely to see a dash of sophomore third baseman Anthony Gonzales, junior outfielder Bruce Gong, sophomore outfielder Compton and senior second baseman Nick Valadez.

The Bruins will enjoy seeing action from a junior varsity team this year after deep numbers of participation in 2011. The team, made up of all freshmen, represents the first such squad at Riverbank in several years.

"It's definitely a positive for the program, and hopefully something that continues to build up," Mercado said. "This has been a big plus this year thus far."

The Bruins have five more games on their preseason schedule, and open Trans-Valley League action with a home-away series with Modesto Christian starting on March 22. All seven TVL teams have won preseason games this year, including reigning Division V Sac-Joaquin Section champions, Escalon. Hilmar, Ripon and Orestimba should also be tough to beat.

"We will go into each league game expecting to win and leave everything on the field," Mercado said. "Escalon will continue to be the favorite, but if we can play smart and fundamental baseball anything can happen."