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Cougars optimistic about new spring season
by Dan Eckles
Mar 06, 2013 | 3306 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Senior Matt Mannens gets down a bunt during batting practice Tuesday. The SSHS baseball team is preparing for the 12th season in school history.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Senior Matt Mannens gets down a bunt during batting practice Tuesday. The SSHS baseball team is preparing for the 12th season in school history.
Spanish Springs High School has had some great baseball teams since it opened its doors in the fall of 2001. The Cougars won regional titles in 2005 and 2011, but SSHS has yet to put itself among northern Nevada's consistent elite.

There's a reason for that. After winning the North crown in 2005, the Cougars missed the postseason in 2006 and 2007. After winning the regional banner in 2011, Spanish Springs failed to qualify for the postseason in 2012. In fact, the '05 and '11 teams are the only two teams to even win first-round regional playoff games and make deep postseason runs.

Ben Hofmann has been on the Cougars' coaching staff since its inception. This spring, he's entering his third year at the helm of the program and he's says it's time for Spanish Springs to become more consistent.

"We have not really talked about goals with the kids yet," Hofmann said. "We've mentioned things we'd like to accomplish, like getting back to the playoffs. We missed that by a game last year. We really need to make that a priority. We should be there every year. With the kids we have here, every year we should be in the postseason. The main goal right now has got to be to get better every day, get hot when playoffs get here and hopefully make something happen."

The start of a new season breeds optimism, so Hofmann, like most prep coaches around the state, is understandably excited about a new year and new challenges. Even less than 10 days into a new campaign, he believes there are reasons to be optimistic.

"So far I like our team," he said Tuesday morning in a phone interview. "I like our guys a lot. They're working hard and starting to get better. They understand the importance of doing things the right way. There's a lot to like about our group right now."

The Cougars' coach said there's certainly a lot to like about his club's pitching staff. The team's 2012 ace, senior right-hander Nikk Audenried, returns to anchor the staff. Left-hander Gehrig Parks and right-hander Garrett Covington look to be the SSHS gang's No. 2 an No. 3 starters.

Right-handers Lucas Jones and Matt Mannens are expecting to handle short relief roles, while southpaw Anthony Tiscareno will have a bullpen job as well.

"Pitching for sure should be a strength," Hofmann said. "I think we can be strong on the mound. We threw well last weekend in our scrimmages. We played pretty strong defense overall. Those are the No. 1 and No. 2 things in baseball. If you can pitch and defend, you should give yourself a chance every time out."

While that may be true, you must score to win and Hofmann admits his team's offense needs to improve.

"We've got work offensively quite a bit," Hofmann said. "We didn't swing it very well last weekend. We're trying some different things in practice to improve on that. I think we'll come around. I'm expecting good things from this group. I think we can get it figured out."

Hofmann said he expects Mannens, who will start at shortstop, Jones, who will start in left field and catcher Kenny Semenko to be team leaders at the plate.

The Spanish Springs coaching staff is evaluating player competitions in the outfield as well as at first base and hopes some newcomers can grow to provide some offensive punch as well.

Hofmann took over for long-time Cougars baseball coach Mike Bosco in 2011 after Bosco asked for a year off. A year later, Hofmann's interim tag was lifted and he was given the full-time job. Now starting his third year at the helm, Hofmann said he's a better coach and more comfortable than ever before.

"I do feel more comfortable, but it really helps to have great assistant coaches," he said. "Our assistants are outstanding. They help put together practice plans. They bring a lot of years of experience and that makes a huge difference. Being a relatively new coach, having good assistants is very important to me."

The Cougars' season begins with Reno High's annual season-opening Mike Bearman Memorial Tournament. Spanish Springs will play Truckee at home Thursday (4 p.m.) before hosting Douglas (1:30 p.m) and Elko (4 p.m.) Friday. Then on Saturday, Spanish Springs hosts Fallon (10:30 a.m.) before heading across town to play at Reed (2:30 p.m.)

The five-game stretch in three days should give Hofmann and his staff plenty to evaluate, but the Cougars won't return after the weekend for much practice time before opening league play. Spanish Springs gets Galena at home in a conference clash Tuesday.

"I think we're ready to get going," Hofmann said. "We usually start around this time. There's only so many intra-squad scrimmages you can have. We need to see a live opponent, but the league schedule does come up quick. Only a week ago we were making cuts, and now, in less than a week, we'll play a league game. Plus the front end of our league schedule is very tough, but I guess it's a short turnaround for everyone else, too."

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