By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Only nine games into the 2020 schedule the Palisades High baseball team saw its season come to an abrupt end due to the coronavirus outbreak.
After months of uncertainty and pessimism as to whether they would get to play this spring the Dolphins will finally be back in action next week—and no one is happier for the players than head coach Mike Voelkel.
“It’s pretty crazy how everything changed in a matter of three or four weeks,” Voelkel said. “At one point it was almost a foregone conclusion that we wouldn’t have a season, then it turned around. As things kept changing we learned that we could have our 12 league games plus 10 nonleague games and coaches started calling.”
In a matter of weeks Voelkel was able to schedule 22 games, all against City Section opponents. The Dolphins open the season next Wednesday, April 7, at 3 p.m. versus Narbonne at George Robert Field. Three days later they host Chatsworth at 3 p.m. Western League play opens April 12 and 13 with a pair of home games with LACES. Palisades has road games at Chatsworth on April 17, Granada Hills on April 19 and Narbonne on April 22. Other nonleague opponents are El Camino Real, Sylmar, Cleveland, Roosevelt and San Pedro. The late start means the Dolphins will only field a varsity team so Voelkel expanded the roster from 20 to 24 players. Assisting him will be Adam Licea.
“The two major concerns are following COVID protocols—we need to stay cognizant of that and not fall back into the norm—and the second is we’re not in shape so our priority will be to keep injuries at a minimum. Every school and every sport is going through the same thing, but there are definitely challenges. There’ll be opportunities for all of the kids to play and we’ll be as fair as we can to everybody, but it’s not easy to make up for those 12 months they were off.”
Voelkel praised Pali High Athletic Director John Achen for organizing the athletics calendar in a short period. School remains in session online and for the last two months practice was held primarily over Zoom.
“Our schedule is pretty tough,” Voelkel said. “We were told they still have the City championships scheduled so I believe they’re still going to try to do that. So it’s nice to have all of our games scheduled but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll all be played. Everything’s subject to change.”
The last time the Dolphins were able to play their full schedule in 2019 they advanced all the way to the Open Division final. Whether they will have a chance to return to the brink remains to be seen.
“I try to remind the kids we’re only nine games removed from Dodger Stadium,” Voelkel said. “It’ been so long, there’s been so many ups and downs. The biggest thing is that the seniors who also had their junior year cut off will get a season. I’m elated they’ll be able to play their senior year.”
Typically, Palisades will get through a season with seven pitchers but due to the lack of practice time, Voelkel projects this year the Dolphins will need 12.
Palisades’ roster consists of eight seniors, nine juniors, six sophomores and one freshman. The seniors are Nathan Akiba (outfield/pitcher), Kyle Grassl (infield/pitcher), Ryan Johnson (outfield/pitcher), Jake Moore (infield/pitcher), Charlie Nance (infield/pitcher), Zach Ritts (infield/pitcher), Wyatt Standish (infield/pitcher) and catcher Jabe Payne.
Juniors are Emmanuel Borror (infield/pitcher), Alex Denham (catcher), Tate Foxson (infield), Matt Gottesman (outfield/pitcher), Brandon Heiman (infield), Jacob Herrera (outfield), Aidan Jbara (infield/pitcher), Vincent Langdon (infield), Troy Winkenhower (infield).
Sophomores are Sean Nguyen (outfield/pitcher), Wesley Wells infield/pitcher), Nate Sterling (catcher), Jack Woods (infield), Amare Yolas (outfield/pitcher) and Zach Gresham (outfield).
Rounding out the squad is ninth-grader John Iacono, who will pitch and play the outfield. Palisades went 26-7 overall and 12-0 in league on its way to its first Open Division championship game in 2019 and was 3-6 last spring (all tournament games) before the season was cancelled.
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