Fresno City College has avoided any significant in-season injuries while moving within a series victory of a berth in the JC state baseball final four.
Instead, it was the fall where the hurt was felt the most.
Freshman catcher Cody Murray, the team’s top recruit and penciled in as the starter in 2015, suffered a torn labrum and rotator cuff injury in his right (throwing) arm in mid-October and was declared out for the season.
“We recruited him hard. Big loss,” coach Ron Scott said.
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Enter backup options Tucker Salles and Connor Wendorff, who have more than adequately filled in for a NorCal second-seeded Rams team that is 33-9 heading into this weekend’s best-of-three Sectional against No. 3 Feather River.
Winners of the four sectionals, two each in the North and South, advance to next week’s final four at Fresno City.
First pitch for Friday’s opener is 3 p.m., with Game 2 on Saturday and a third, if needed, Sunday.
The Rams will enter with one of the state’s top pitching staffs, ranked in the top 10 in ERA (2.82) and No. 2 in strikeouts (313). Those numbers, as well as defense behind the plate, might be the best indicators of how well the catching tandem has performed.
Whomever is playing generally bats eighth, but both are among the early arrivals at practice to work on their respective weaknesses — for Tucker his throwing and Wendorff his batting.
“Tucker and Wendorff have been good for each other,” Scott said, “… they’ve pushed each other.”
Salles had to overcome his own injury, tearing the labrum in his non-throwing arm as a Clovis West High junior. He played through it as a senior, had surgery June 26 and was good to go in January.
“I was a little behind at the beginning,” Salles said, “but once I got my feet wet I was ready to go.”
Wendorff prepped at Clovis, went on to Fresno Pacific where he played on the National Christian College World Series championship club last season, and joined the Rams this year.
While the Rams expected Murray to be the total package, Salles and Wendorff are more complementary players.
Salles is batting .301 and Wendorff’s lethal arm helps neutralize opposing running games.
“They both give us good options,” catchers coach Zach Sullivan said. “They’re both really good.”
And getting better.
Wendorff got the first crack at the starting job before Salles’ bat gave him a chance. But it was Wendorff who started two of the three games in last week’s Super Regional series victory over Ohlone and who likely will start Friday.
“Connor sat back and watched Tucker take over as he hit really well,” Scott said. “He was handling the game well. I told Connor, ‘All along you can be our catcher,’ and right now he’s getting time to play.”
The pitchers, judging by the numbers, seem to thrive no matter who is back there.
“Both are received very well,” Scott said. “Our pitchers love throwing to Tucker. He just had a great year offensively for us and had a bunch of key hits. Batted eighth and hit like a No. 3 guy. I’m proud of the year Tucker had.
“Fortunately, Wendorff transferred here from Fresno Pacific and it worked out really well and they made each other better.”
Scott, who had coached the catchers before he underwent back and hip surgery last season, said credit also goes to Sullivan.
“Zack Sullivan has done a great job with them,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have the coaching staff I have. I just can’t get down and teach (the catchers) like I used to. He does a good job in getting them here early all the time and made them into who they are.”
FRESNO CITY VS. FEATHER RIVER
▪ Schedule: 3 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday, noon Sunday (if necessary) at Euless Ballpark
▪ Records: Golden Eagles 32-10; Rams 33-9