Philip George / Roundup
“I feel our team was really, really good on paper,” said freshman shortstop David Whetstone.
Unfortunately for the Brahmas, the game is not played on paper.
Pierce College was returning a sophomore core of starting pitcher J.R. Bromberg, designated hitter Will Myrick and reliever J.P. O’Leary. It recruited a trinity of freshmen – James Wharton, Nick Rodarte and Carlos Gonzalez – each of them players of the year in their respective conferences. A third place finish was not in the script.
“I was pretty disappointed,” said head coach Joe Arnold. “I’m a pretty competitive guy. I like to win things. So to be sitting here with playoffs starting this weekend and us not being in them, I’m extremely disappointed.”
The season began on a cloudy note as heavy rain throughout the season’s first month forced the Brahmas on a de-facto nine-game road trip in which they went 3-6. After finally opening up the home season Feb. 21 with a 5-4 victory against Glendale Community College, they hoped change was on the horizon.
The team struggled to keep its head above water, flirting with .500-ball until finally going over that mark for the first time March 14. But March proved to be a disastrous month for Arnold’s club.
Sophomore first baseman Josh Reece was removed from the team for academic ineligibility and Whetstone was involved in an alleged physical altercation in a Glendale College parking lot.
Bromberg and fellow sophomore starter Mike LaRosa were suspended after being caught skipping a portion of a team practice and sophomore right fielder J.C. Barker was removed after a March 31 altercation with Arnold.
“That’s something I don’t like to do,” Arnold said. “I didn’t feel good about it, but if it was strictly from a personal standpoint, I wouldn’t have done it. I have to make decisions based on what’s best for the team.”
Following Barker’s removal, Pierce won its next six games and 10 of its last 15 down the stretch, but it was not enough to propel the Brahmas into the postseason. The team finished with a record of 22-20, good for third place in the Western State Conference South division.
“If I made an error, it was not addressing those [distractions] earlier in the season,” Arnold said.
Possibly the Brahmas’ biggest loss was suffered at the end of winter-ball as sophomore center fielder Nick Devian was lost for the season to injury.
Devian hit .374 with two home runs and 33 RBIs in his freshman campaign, but aside from losing his sheer offensive prowess, losing his intangibles set the team back as well.
“I’d say the biggest impact of losing Devian was from his leadership standpoint,” Arnold said. “He was kind of the glue. He kept these guys going about things the right way.
Tremendous leadership, personality – if he saw things going the wrong way, he had that ability to buy in and go the other way. Guys just responded to Nick, and when he left, there was a huge leadership vacuum.
“I think if there’s one thing that hurt us the most, it was sophomore leadership,” he continued.
One of those sophomores who failed to live up to expectations was Bromberg. The two-time Major League draftee and recipient of a scholarship to Fresno State University suffered a nightmarish season, compiling a record of 2-2 and an ERA of 12.00 while allowing opposing batters to hit .315 against him.
“[Bromberg] was disappointing,” Arnold said. “I think he’ll tell you the same thing. He was supposed to be our guy, our number one, the guy we were going to build our pitching staff around, but it just didn’t work out. He just didn’t pitch well all year.
“I wish I had a magic pill or some magic answer and we could have fixed it a long time ago, but these are things he’s going to have to reflect on over the summer – do some soul-searching,” he said. “Hopefully he can learn from this experience and do what we thought he was capable of.”
Bromberg also allowed four runs in the eighth inning of the Brahmas’ 10-4 home loss to Ventura, in which they were eliminated from playoff contention.
But even in a season of turmoil and disappointment, the trio of Wharton, Rodarte and Gonzalez shone through as one of few bright spots.
Wharton posted a season for the ages, blasting a team-high 16 home runs and 50 RBIs all while maintaining a .361 average.
“[Wharton] was phenomenal,” Arnold said. “The 20 years I’ve been here as a player and a coach, he’s put himself in the top three in terms of an offensive season.”
Rodarte and Gonzalez emerged as two of the conference’s top pitching phenoms, combining for 12 of the team’s 22 wins and a joint ERA of 3.76.
Each three will be returning for next year’s campaign and feel this season, although an unsuccessful one, will serve them well.
“You learn from this,” Gonzalez said. “You take what you learn and you use it. We know what we can’t do and we know what we can do. We know what we’re capable of so now we just have to perform.”