Sports

Win would help ease Merced baseball's nerves

Relax, execute and have fun.

It sounds simple enough, but try telling that to Todd Buchner.

Merced's first-year baseball coach has gone blue in the face in the last month trying to keep his club on an even keel emotionally.

"That's been the biggest thing for us -- finding the line between being intense and ready go and just having that quiet confidence," Buchner said. "For the last few weeks that's all we've been preaching to them: Relax and have some fun.

"We tend to force things that are not exactly there. You see guys trying to hit six-run homers, instead of just trusting the next guy."

It's proved costly, too.

Merced has plummeted to the bottom of the Central California Conference standings after losing its first three games, including a 2-1 nail-biter at Pitman on Tuesday.

The two will complete their season series today at Merced. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

In other CCC games, Golden Valley travels to Los Banos and Atwater plays at Turlock. Front-running Buhach Colony has a bye.

Pitman (3-2 CCC, 14-5) will start Nathan Gonzalez. The heralded senior pitched a scoreless seventh on Tuesday to earn the save and is 4-1 with a .854 ERA.

Merced (0-3, 6-12) hasn't decided who will toe the rubber. Buchner is still weighing his options: right-hander Alex Alvira (1-2, 3.36 ERA) or lefty Cyle Bettis (1-2, 29 strikeouts in 24 innings).

Both have split time in the rotation behind resident ace Nick Bernardi.

Bernardi went the distance in Tuesday's loss, giving up two runs on eight hits. Outside of a rocky first inning against Buhach Colony on April 1, Bernardi has been as dominating as any pitcher in the CCC.

Still, it hasn't culminated in a win. Merced has dropped five of its last seven games and hasn't won since March 27.

"It's frustrating to see how hard the kids work and not be able to get it done on game day," Buchner said. "The kids are feeling it, too. They're frustrated, starting to press.

"But Tuesday's game was encouraging. That was one of the better games we've played in awhile defensively."

Scoring runs has been the tricky part.

On Tuesday, they managed just three hits and twice stranded runners at third base.

Tyler Coonce went 2 for 3 and drove in Merced's only run with a triple. Phil Robinson also tripled.

But that was it.

"We need to get them to relax," Buchner started, "and not put so much weight on their shoulders."

James Burns is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2417 or via e-mail at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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