Short-handed CSN baseball long on optimism

If the College of Southern Nevada baseball team was a bit of a dysfunctional family last year, this season’s squad is shaping up to be a close-knit clan.

“We’re like a family this year. We actually have fun together and hang out all the time,” said sophomore center fielder Quinnton Mack, one of only two returnees for the Coyotes, along with right-handed pitcher Ryan Baker.

“It was still fun last year, but we weren’t as close,” Mack added. “They were all ‘I’ guys last year, mostly. We’ve got some teammates this year.”

CSN, which won the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in 2003 and produced the country’s top amateur player in Bryce Harper in 2010, suffered a sudden fall from grace before last season.

Longtime Coyotes coach Tim Chambers left to take over UNLV’s program and was replaced by former Bishop Gorman coach Chris Sheff. But an NJCAA investigation uncovered three rules violations and Sheff was fired in November 2010 before coaching a game with CSN.

Former Green Valley coach Nick Garritano accepted the unenviable task of picking up the pieces of the fractured program and guided the Coyotes to a 32-27 record, 20-20 in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.

CSN remains eligible for the postseason and was not placed on probation by the NJCAA, but the ruling will cost the Coyotes 20 scholarships over the next two seasons.

Despite fielding 14 scholarship players this year, instead of the 24 allotted the league’s other schools, Garritano has high hopes as CSN opens its season at 10 a.m. today against Cochise College (Ariz.) in the sixth annual Coyote Border Battle at Henderson’s Morse Stadium. CSN also will play Yavapai College (Ariz.) at 6 p.m.

“We’re staying optimistic out here. We’re not going to use (the penalties) as an excuse by any means,” Garritano said. “We don’t even talk about the scholarship situation.

“It’s nice starting the year with your own kids from day one. The difference is night and day.”

The Coyotes feature 17 players from Southern Nevada and another, Baker, who hails from Reno (Bishop Manogue).

“We have a lot of walk-ons this year that are really good,” Mack said. “We can beat anybody. We don’t have (as many) scholarships, but we have a lot of players who deserve scholarships.”

Hitting is expected to be the strength of the squad with Mack, a Las Vegas High product, Jordan Van Hoosier and Cory Welch leading the way.

Van Hoosier, a former Green Valley standout who will bat leadoff and start at second base, is a UNLV signee who played for San Diego State as a freshman in 2010. He sat out last season.

“I don’t think the amount of scholarships has really made that big a difference in kids deciding to come here, because CSN’s been a really great program over the years and people want to come here anyway,” Van Hoosier said.

Welch, a freshman from Gorman who was at UNLV last season but didn’t play, is slated to bat third for the Coyotes and will see action at several positions, including shortstop, outfield and closer.

Baker is nursing a sore arm but is eventually expected to be in a starting rotation that also will feature local products Joey Lauria (Legacy), Jake DiDonato (Green Valley) and John Conquy (Durango).

Despite the limited number of scholarships, Garritano said the team’s goal remains to advance to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.

“Is it realistic? I’m not sure,” he said. “In sports, anything can happen. If we get hot at the right time of the year, all of a sudden we’re in Grand Junction.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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