Derek Molina was days away from reporting back to Cal State Northridge for the start of his sophomore season with the Matadors and still unsure what he should do.
The Northridge coaching staff had turned the former Atwater High star into a pitcher only. Yet, a part of Molina’s heart still yearned to hit. Former high school teammate Victor Tiscareno helped Molina make the decision to return to Merced.
“It was a super late decision to join Merced College,” Molina said. “I was ready to go back to Northridge, when the idea of playing at Merced was kind of floated out there. I didn’t think it would work, but Vic told the guys about my situation and asked if they’d be cool with my joining the team. They said yes. I’m super grateful for the opportunity, because I missed fall ball and their conditioning work. The guys could have easily said no. There are plenty of teams that would have.”
It took a little while to rediscover his swing, but surrounded by former teammates and high school foes alike, Molina flourished in his return home. Hitting from the lead-off spot for most of the year, Molina batted .356 with 36 RBI, 11 stolen bases and team-high marks in home runs (five) and runs (40). He did it all while providing solid defense at second and serving as the team’s closer (2-0, four saves, 0.95 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings pitched), earning him the Central Valley Conference MVP.
“I came back to give hitting another chance,” Molina said. “I hadn’t really swung a bat in over a year, so I needed to rediscover my swing. It was probably the Fresno series where it finally felt normal again. I simplified some things in my swing and had good results, so I stuck with it.
“It’s huge to be named MVP. Hopefully it’s something that gets me noticed and helps get me to the next step in my career. It wasn’t just me. Coming back and being around guys and coaches that pushed me to be better everyday was a big part of my success.”
It was a clean sweep for the Blue Devils in the major awards as Nate McGhee was named the Pitcher of the Year, Ryan Frakes the Freshman of the Year and Chris Pedretti the Coach of the Year after MC ran away with the CVC title.
McGhee went 10-3 as Merced’s No. 1 starter, posting a 2.73 ERA and 86 strikeouts to just 27 walks. Frakes was second on the Blue Devils with a .372 average, scored 33 runs and led the team with 39 RBI. The freshman also posted a stellar .986 fielding percentage at first.
“I think that’s what happens when you have the first-place team,” Pedretti said. “It means you have a lot of good players and they tend to be recognized. All three of those guys were unanimous in their selections. If it wasn’t for Molina and McGhee, we could easily have put Frakes up for MVP and he probably wins it. Their seasons were all that good.”
Merced College had 12 different players recognized in all, including seven first teamers. Starting pitcher Nicholas Gonzelas, shortstop Asuka Hashimoto, left fielder Alex Pallios and designated hitter Trevor Chaney all also brought home first-team honors. Catcher Coleton Horner and third baseman Jesus Duran were named to the second team and pitcher Kelby Grissom and outfielders Tiscareno and Lawrence Anderson earned honorable mentions.
Horner and McGhee were also named to the league’s Gold Glove team.