From fall sports to spring sports, the high school baseball season is here in Northern Nevada.
The spring season opens Thursday with baseball teams hitting the field for its first games in this six-week condensed schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team to beat remains Reno High.
Reno's head coach, Pete Savage, enters his 27th season with the Huskies this spring. Savage said one of the biggest challenges this season is going to be staying healthy and avoiding distractions as his team navigates through this shortened season, which concludes May 22.
"We've been working really hard on the mental game of baseball," Savage said. "Baseball is a hard game because you can get distracted, whether it's umpires, weather, parents, you know whatever's going on in your life, so you really have to concentrate one pitch at a time. Our kids worked extremely hard on that part of it during these last two or three months. These kids are very, very resilient and committed."
After playing just seven games last season before the spring sports season was canceled due to COVID-19, Reno opens its season against McQueen on Thursday. Last season's team went 7-0 with a group of 13 seniors, eight of which went on to play college baseball. This year's team only has five seniors.
"That 2020 class was an incredible bunch," Savage said. "They lost that championship game in the 2019 state tournament, they wanted redemption, and that's what sports is all about when you get a chance to do that. The lesson to be learned though is that life's not fair, and everybody learns that the older you get. So I've got a lot of respect for those kids. They didn't feel sorry for themselves, they went out and kept accomplishing things and now they're all doing great in college."
In 2019, Reno won the regional title and fell to Desert Oasis in the state title game in Las Vegas. There was no state tournament last season and won't be on this year, but there's still a lot to play for. This year's Huskies bunch includes five seniors, 16 juniors, three sophomores and one freshman. It's one of the youngest teams Savaged has coached in his long tenure.
"We spent a lot of time teaching our players to not think about themselves first," Savage said. "Think about their teammates first. I think it's probably the most important thing we teach in our program is how to be a good teammate, and that's what our mission statement is, to teach life lessons through the game of baseball. And you know we like to win, we're very competitive. At the same time, you got to keep the big picture, and the big picture is the older you get, it's one day at a time."
The Reno players said having last season cut short has added more motivation to this year.
"Being out here every day, you just have to be appreciative of what you have here," Huskies outfielder Grayson Grinsell said. "You never know when it can get shut down like it did last year. You just have to enjoy it while you can."
Added pitcher/first baseman Eric Nachtsheim: "It's really amazing to be back out here, especially with what we went through last year with the shortened season. We're all just looking forward to the opportunity to play."
With this season's state tournament's cancelled, the end goal is a regional title. Savage will be looking for his 13th as Reno's head coach.
"I've got great assistant coaches," he said. "They're outstanding workers. We have a staff here that's 100 percent dedicated to the development of the person first, player second. We're pitching dominant. We've got a lot of good pitchers. We like to throw strikes, play good defense and then just be creative and relentless on offense."
Pitching depth will be crucial during this shortened season as teams will play games on Tuesdays, Thursdays and doubleheaders on Saturdays, cramming four games into five days for six straight weeks.
"Pitching depth is going to be a key to victory for our league," Savage said. "Our league is made up of so many talented teams so many great coaches. All nine teams are going to be competitive. There's no weak teams. I believe this can be a very competitive league, and it's going to come down to the basic fundamentals of baseball, and that's teamwork and playing catch."