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SWC baseball report: Jags win conference opener Mary York | Thu, Feb 28 2013 06:18 PM

A freshman-dominated team usually means a rebuilding year for most ball clubs, but the Southwestern College Jaguars insist that they have never been hotter.

Leaving preseason behind with a 7-4 record, the Jaguars won their first Pacific Coast Conference game against Palomar College on Tuesday in a nail-biter that had fans sitting on the edge of the bleachers up until the last inning. SWC recorded the 9-8 win despite an unusually messy performance by its defense. The struggling infield had an uncharacteristically sloppy game, missing catches and chasing balls through the dirt. Even seasoned pitcher Kiki Medina was dishing less than he normally serves.

But the awkward miscues on the field are natural this early in the season, according to freshman Miguel Solano, and are nothing to worry about when compared to the solid hitting the team has displayed all preseason.

"We’ve got to work a little more on the routine plays and we'll be okay,” the second baseman said. "This game was a great way to start our league. We swung the bat, we battled and we came up with the win."

Head coach Jerry Bartow agreed that this game was not a bad way to begin conference play.
"If we're going to win it, we might as well do it now,” said Bartow, who could be heard from the dugout throughout the game whistling and shouting encouragement to his team.

The Jaguars’ winning ways may have to do with the off-field bonding the team has been doing this season. Sophomore Cody Sos said the players have been hanging out after practices which is doing a lot to help them gel as teammates.
“It’s extremely important because when you like each other you believe in each other,” he said. “When someone is pulling for you, you play better as a team.”

Sos, one of the club’s two catchers this season, has been helping to bring along some of the less experienced players. And he is not the only one. Many of the returning sophomores are taking the new talent under wing.

“I call Kiki my mentor because he pitches, plays outfield and hits, just like I do,” said freshman pitcher Juwun McCray. “We got Sos and everybody. They are our leaders.”

Strength of the club, McCray believes, is the team’s compatibility.

Medina agreed the ball club is emanating great spirit, adding emphatically that he has enjoyed working with McCray and the other pitchers.

"This team has the best chemistry of any team I've ever been with,” he said.

Returning for his second year with the Jags, Medina is arguably the club’s strongest arm and is well-respected by his teammates.

But most of the seats in the dugout this year are filled with fresh faces, a unique advantage in the eyes of some of the players.

“I like how the freshmen are taking over,” said shortstop Sheldon Gabriels. “I like having a younger team that can play on through the years. We’re always getting better. We can’t ever peak.”

In tough games like the season opener against Palomar, it may just be that attitude that makes the difference between a win and a loss. Outfielder Chris Allen strongly believes in the power of positivity. Next to the coach, he’s the loudest voice in the dugout shouting support for the team.

“The chemistry on our team is insanely good,” he said. “All of us just love each other, all of us just want us to get better and see how far we can go. It’s going be a team to see.”

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