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Stacked schedule: Merced College will have plenty of game experience come league, playoff time

While the shock of a first-round playoff loss to Feather River still lingered, Merced College baseball coach Chris Pedretti headed into the offseason lost in contemplation.

Could his team have been better prepared?

"We felt like at the end of last year that we had to play better teams in the preseason," Pedretti said. "We wanted to get our guys ready to go, not just for conference, but the playoffs as well.

"I decided we needed to expose more guys to high-stress situations early in the season.

"Our hope is that it will leave us better prepared for a hostile environment in the playoffs."

Pedretti loaded up the front half of the Blue Devils' season and the scheduling gods threw in a bonus.

Circumstances dictated that MC play the same number of games as last year, but in one less week's time.

As a result, the Blue Devils will have four games a week for the first month of the season. That should give Pedretti's 29-man roster an abundance of game experience.

Still, the schedule promises to be grueling mentally and physically.

"We like it," starting pitcher Cameron Martin said. "We have the depth everywhere to be successful at it and we'll learn quickly if there are any problems we need to work on."

MC answered the challenge just fine in the first week of the season, going 3-1.

The Blue Devils have added another win this week and will be in action today when they host Marin at 1 p.m.

Pedretti said the team's pitching depth -- particularly its starters -- is more than capable of shouldering the heavy load.

Sophomore Bradin Hagens has the most fanfare after getting drafted in the 37th round by the Kansas City Royals, but the development of fellow sophomores Logan Todd and Cameron Martin is what has the Blue Devils thinking Central Valley Conference title.

"I always knew I wanted to come back," Hagens said. "I talked it over with the coaches and really felt I needed more time to develop.

"We have three guys who have the potential to be as good or better than our three starters last year."

Pedretti said the Blue Devils' bullpen should be equally sharp.

Freshmen Nick Bernardi, Brian Carbaugh and Shawn Stuart are all expected to make major contributions.

A change in the CVC scheduling should allow MC to showcase its stable of arms. Teams will play each other in three-game series over the course of a week for the first six weeks of conference play.

"People used to save their best pitchers for us," Pedretti said. "Now they'll have to throw everyone they have.

"The CVC is going to be won by the best team this year, not the team with the best pitcher."

The Blue Devils no longer have sluggers like Bryan Abrey and Wes Borba, but Pedretti said

1 through 9, it's a better lineup than the team that won 33 games a year ago.

Sophomores Jason Hague and John Canepa have already displayed an ability to set the table and Kory Vitato looks to have a big year driving them in.

"There's no doubt we're a deeper team at every position than we were last year," said Todd. "You can't simulate playing three games in three days, so the schedule is going to have us very prepared for the playoffs.

"It means everyone is going to get a lot of chances to play and it's going to make us that much more dangerous."

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