The Live Oak High baseball team had a rough going in the Blossom Valley League’s Mount Hamilton Division last season, finishing 2-12 and last place in the division. If the Acorns want to stay in the A division, they’ll most likely have to make a move up the standings in 2019. Senior pitcher Jakob Neumayer feels that’s exactly what will happen.
“I think this season our chemistry is flat-out better,” he said. “All of the players are interacting with each other, and the biggest change has come with the extra energy coming from everyone in the dugout. No matter if they’re playing or not, everyone is into the game and always cheering for each other, and that is the big difference that is going to change our season.”
To Neumayer’s point, the Live Oak High dugout could be described as a chatter box throughout last Saturday’s game, a 5-3 non-league home loss to Gilroy High. Players were up and into the contest, and even though it didn’t result in a win, team morale seemed high. The Acorns blend a nice mix of upperclassmen along with a trio of sophomores who have already made an impact after playing on the junior varsity squad last year.
“The success of this year’s team will depend on the leadership of a talented senior class that is full of strong leaders and the mentality that goes with high GPA student-athletes,” Acorns coach Matt Brotherton said.
The Acorns, who were 1-2 entering Wednesday’s game against Christopher High, seemingly has the pitching to propel them for a decent jump up the Mount Hamilton Division standings. In addition to Neumayer, Live Oak has Connor Hennings, Justin Sakai, Mitch Nagel, Justin Jud and Gabe Milos.
“We’re very deep in the pitching staff,” Brotherton said. “You’ll see a lot of starters, actually, and all of them have good command of their secondary pitches. At the high school level, if you can locate two or three pitches, you’ll have success.”
Nagel shined in the loss to Gilroy High. The 6-foot, 160-pound right-hander came in relief and pitched four shutout innings, allowing three hits while striking out two. Brotherton expressed confidence the team will be a superior hitting squad than it was a year ago, when it had no starters hit .300 or better (Jonathan Singleton was tops at .290). The Acorns didn’t have their best offensive showing against Gilroy, finishing with only three hits, all doubles coming off the bats of Neumayer, sophomore Tyler Madden and senior Owen Ekstrom. However, Brotherton feels the players are already making more contact and the results will come.
“We’re finding a lot more barrel this year than we did last year early on, so it’s a good thing,” Brotherton said. “I think we had seniors really pressing last year trying to have a super senior year, and it just got away from them. They just pressed too much once they got underneath it, and it’s hard to get out of those slumps with such a short season. The difference this year is we have veteran leadership and a young group who are not intimidated by varsity baseball.”
Live Oak made four errors in the contest, leading to two Gilroy runs. Defense is an area of concern for the Acorns, who can ill afford to give away runs playing in the tough Mount Hamilton Division.
“If we have problems this year, it could be defensively,” Brotherton said. “We’re going to hit really well and we’ll pitch, but defense is going to need a little more work to find the right guys for the right spots. It’s a learning process at the beginning of the season. We’ve had some guys sick, so we’ve had to mix and match. Maybe some guys are out of position a little bit, but we’ll figure things out.”
Brotherton has been impressed by the three sophomores—Josh Elam, Patrick Kissee and Hennings—who have made an impact early in the season.
“They’re all really talented players, and we expect good things to come from those guys,” he said.
Neumayer has been impressed with the play of Elam, who hit leadoff against Gilroy and has shown a propensity to get on base and play the game the right way.
“People said he’s too small and is not going to be able to hit varsity pitching, but he’s doing just fine and showing he can start at second base,” Neumayer said.
The 6-2, 190-pound Neumayer utilizes a two-seam fastball, curve and change-up. Neumayer also has a plan to incorporate the knuckleball into his repertoire later in the season, which, if effective, would really throw hitters for a loop since that pitch is rarely seen at any level. Neumayer has a goal to pound the strike zone and be more of a workhorse this season. A year ago, Neumayer pitched 29 1/3 innings, and he would like to up that number significantly this season.
“I worked a lot in the off-season to get my velocity up, and it’s about 5 mph faster than last year,” he said. “I worked on strengthening my arm three days a week for six to seven weeks (leading up to baseball season).”
When Neumayer is not pitching, he plays the outfield and has seemingly improved his offense. He hopes the clutch hit he produced against Gilroy will be a pattern throughout the season. Neumayer has known teammates Gavin Vallez and Singleton from an early age. Vallez plays catcher and is terrific defensively, while Singleton is one of the best athletes Live Oak has had in recent memory.
The left-handed hitting Singleton fouled off a half-dozen pitches in his final at-bat against Gilroy, a testament to his ability to battle and grind. Singleton’s play at shortstop has also been solid, and his overall leadership skills are strong.