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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Kevin LabotkaCalifornia baseball players practice base running drills on March 4.

After finishing second in Districts back-to-back years, the California Pintos baseball team is looking to take things even further this season, head coach Steven Stock said.

"We would like to get one more step," Stock said.

The Pintos ended last season with a record of 14-9 after a 12-1 loss to the Blair Oaks Falcons in the Class 3 District 14 championship game.

Stock said the basics will be a key to helping the team reach that goal, as well as developing a hunger to get past districts.

"If we can get them to get that desire, then that will lead to work ethic and all that stuff that will help," Stock said.

To help boost desire, the little things will be something the team focuses on.

"Understanding how important it is for situational baseball. Putting the ball in play to get a run in," Stock said. "Scoring one run because you put a ball in play helps two or three times a game. Taking care of the little details, which when you play teams equally matched with you or maybe they are a step better than you, if you can do those little details, that allows you to get wins in those games."

When it comes to defense, Stock said the team has to earn outs when the other team presents them with the opportunity to do so and play good defense.

"Generally speaking, that will eliminate you from giving up big innings," Stock said. "Most teams, when you don't give up big innings you are going to stay in the game."

The Pintos' first game is at 5 p.m. March 20 at home against St. Elizabeth.

With the season fast approaching, Stock said the team looks pretty solid. The team returns some effective pieces, despite some of last year's standout performers having graduated, and the weather more recently has been cooperating to help the team get off to a strong start with practice.

"We don't really have an ace, but we have a lot of guys who can throw very effectively," Stock said. "Same with the plate, we should be pretty solid through the line up one-through-nine, where we will likely have kids that can put the ball in play. Same way defensively — we are still kind of trying to figure out who is going to be where and we are replacing some kids from last year that did a great job for us. So right now we are a step ahead of the game (for) a lot of reasons because we have been outside every day, which hasn't happened in a few years. The weather has allowed us to get on the field and get a better start."

Seniors Braeden Birdsong and Carson Ash will throw a lot of innings on the mound for the Pintos, Stock said. Along with Birdsong and Ash, the team has a lot of players with experience coming back this season — senior Clayton Winkler, who Stock said did a nice job at the leadoff spot for California last year, juniors Dawson Gump, Lucas Ash, and Tagen Higgins, and sophomores Calen Kruger and Trevor Myers.

"We (have) a lot of kids coming back that got some time last year. So we are looking for those kids to get just a little better," Stock said. "Hopefully, a few of the young kids will maybe step in and contribute."

That experience will be big for the team this year.

"We've got certain guys who have voiced that getting second in Districts, they are kind of tired of it and they would like to take that next step," Stock said. "That usually comes from people that have been there. So with that experience, the kids can come to practice with expectations and pass that down so that when we come to practice, we work hard. Because, you know, in order to take that next step, you have to get better."

California Pintos baseball schedule

Tuesday

Jamboree at California, 4:30 p.m.

March 20

vs. St. Elizabeth, 5 p.m.

March 23

vs. Eugene, 5 p.m.

March 24

at Cole Camp, 5 p.m.

March 28

vs. Mexico and Eldon at California, 10 a.m.

March 30

vs. Russellville, 5 p.m.

April 2

vs. South Callaway, 5 p.m.

April 7

at Hallsville, 5 p.m.

April 9

at Crocker, 5 p.m.

April 13

vs. Versailles, 5 p.m.

April 14

at Jamestown, 5 p.m.

April 16

vs. Osage, 4:30 p.m.

April 17-18

at Calvary Lutheran Tournament at Calvary Lutheran and New Bloomfield, TBA

April 20

vs. Eldon, 5 p.m.

April 24-25

at California/Versailles tournament at California and Versailles, TBA

April 28

at Southern Boone, 5 p.m.

April 30

at Harrisburg, 5 p.m.

May 2

Bonus game — California, Centralia, Tolton at California, 10 a.m.

May 5

at Boonville, 5 p.m.

May 7

at Knob Noster, 4:30 p.m.

May 11

at Blair Oaks, 5 p.m.

May 15-23

Class 3 District 8 tournament at California, TBA

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