One thing about Alex Gutierrez — he believes that “playing up” is the best way to prepare his Firebaugh High baseball squad for league play and the postseason.

Gutierrez is an FHS graduate who went on to play at West Hills College and UC Santa Barbara. He has coached baseball at his alma mater since 2013 and saw his team finish last year with an overall record of 16-16. But the Eagles scored a perfect 10-0 in the West Sierra League and recorded one victory in the Central Section playoffs. He does his best to schedule bigger schools with established baseball programs; sometimes, they take their lumps.

He won’t use the Covid shutdown as a crutch.

“We never had a setback in regard to Covid,” Gutierrez said. “Covid was another form of adversity.  I gave the kids plenty of examples of how athletes overcome adversity in their lives. Some battle injuries, and others battle tragedies in their home lives. We continued to work hard on and off the field throughout Covid, just like all the good programs did.”

Gutierrez said that the Eagles should be a force at the plate this season. We have worked very hard in the weight room and should be able to hit for power,” he explained.

Firebaugh will be hard-pressed to replace pitcher/catcher Chisum Demmers and two other pitchers.

The Eagles will rely on senior right-handers Isaiah Leyva and Manuel Bautista to keep the other teams in check.

“Isaiah is a fierce competitor who can throw two pitches for strikes,” Gutierrez explained. “Manuel is great on and off the field. He had an excellent offseason and is physically capable of being a great pitcher. This young man has a great arm and loves to compete.”

Bautista and Leyva, along with Ines Felix, will be counted on at the plate. Other top returners include Norby Mendoza, Charlie Guzman, Sebastian Perez, Jimmy Flores, and Payton Garcia.

The defense will be a question mark for this year’s squad.

“We currently have a puzzle on our hands,” said Gutierrez. “We have 11 or 12 kids who all feel they should be on the field. Nobody is spectacular, but they all play hard and practice hard.  We have a lot of natural athletes, but they do not have a ton of baseball experience. Our defense will be vital for us to be in games all year round.”

Firebaugh has won nine WSL titles since 2012 and will be hard-pressed to make it No. 10.

“We are looking forward to another tough year with a tough schedule’” the coach said. “Our kids will continue to play the game right and learn to be productive young citizens.”

David Borboa