Freshman pitchers starting off strong

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Freshman Nick Frank of Delta pitches a fastball to a Modesto Junior College opponent at Nick Cecchetti Field on March 9.

The Delta College baseball program opened Big 8 conference play on the shoulders of three undefeated freshmen starting pitchers.

Redshirt freshmen Alex Dentoni and Lucas Vaughn, along with freshman Nick Frank have helped the Mustangs (16-1, 2-0 Big 8) obtain a No. 6 nationwide ranking from Perfect Game USA as of March 15.

“We’re all getting our first chops on the field this year so we really don’t have too much pressure,” Dentoni said. “We’re just going out there and having fun and playing like a team and I think that’s what it’s all about.”

Dentoni, a local product from Tokay high school, is the major workhorse of the trio as he leads the team with a 4-0 record and a total of 40.1 innings pitched to go along with his 2.68 earned run average.

“Alex Dentoni redshirted for us last year and his work ethic has been outstanding. He came in here throwing 83 mph and it’s up to 91 this year so that just shows the work he put in this year to develop,” Delta pitching coach Mat Keplinger said. “His fastball command is outstanding … his secondary stuff is really developing which is what has gotten him into the starting rotation and has developed him into what will be our No. 1 once we really get going into conference play.”

Freshman Nick Frank of Delta pitches a fastball to a Modesto Junior College opponent at Nick Cecchetti Field on March 9.
Freshman Nick Frank of Delta pitches a fastball to a Modesto Junior College opponent at Nick Cecchetti Field on March 9.

Big 8 competition began on March 9 as the Mustangs defeated Modesto Junior College (6-11, 0-2) 4-3 and although Frank gave up three earned runs in his conference debut, he remains a perfect 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 26.1 innings of work.

“[Frank] came in here and I was expecting him to lock down one of those starting roles after seeing him throw a lot in high school. He came in here pretty much a fastball, curveball guy,” Keplinger said. “What’s been so huge in his development is the change up and slider. In fact we probably use his curveball the least of all of his pitches. His changeup is just outstanding, it plays well against anybody.”

The righty rotation is capped off by Vaughn who has also maintained a 2-0 record with a 1.71 ERA in his 21 innings pitched this season thanks in large part to a defense that he and Keplinger believe is excelling in all facets of the game.

“We’ve had three guys behind the plate all contributing in different roles and any guy back their gives these guys the confidence to throw any pitch they want … [Bryce] Graddy has made that transition from second base to shortstop and he plays extremely clean defense. We have two big targets at first base that pick the ball well and our outfield play has been solid,” Keplinger said. “The thing our pitching staff has done so well is they haven’t really beat themselves in terms of walking guys. The defense gives them the confidence to go in there and attack and pound the strike zone knowing that the guys back there are going to make every play so it just lets them relax and focus on throwing strikes.”

Dentoni, Frank and Vaughn also attribute the rotations early season success to the Delta coaching staff, especially head coach Reed Peters and assistant coach Keplinger, for developing their game to another level.

“They’ve added a tremendous amount of passion into our game,” Vaughn said. “They’ve just made us want it more you might say … we all want the same goals that we all strive for so they push us exactly how we need to be to get to our goals. We’re on the right track right now.”

The freshmen trio will look to stay undefeated in the Big 8 as the Mustangs travel to play Modesto Junior College on March 17.