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Woodcreek ace Nogosek is leading with his arm and his actions, too

Coming off a section title, much younger Timberwolves start season behind their top gun and emerging team leader
By: Bill Poindexter, Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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WEST SACRAMENTO — Play time is over at Raley Field, and Eric Valencia reminds his Woodcreek High School baseball players they need to clean their room, so to speak, before the lights go out.

Stephen Nogosek is setting an example as the last of the Timberwolves to dump empty water and Gatorade jugs into the trash before exiting the third-base dugout, which in another month will belong to the River Cats.

While the media that covers high school baseball in greater Sacramento predictably shows its love first to the Elk Grove area at the start of each season — notably to traditional stalwart Elk Grove, even though its success has been matched in recent years by emerging powers Pleasant Grove and Franklin — Sierra Foothill League schools have won five of the last six Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championships, most recently Woodcreek last spring.

The SFL will join the Delta River League and Delta Valley Conference in the Division I playoff field this season, and the Timberwolves hope to earn a berth to that party. They’ll ride the shotgun, bull’s-eye arm — and leadership — of Nogosek.

“He’s taking more of a leadership role,” Valencia said following an 11-5 victory over Fairfield-Rodriguez in which his ace was peppered for nine hits in four-plus innings by a team that won the Division III title last spring. “He’s trying to be more vocal.”

George Corp returns as Nogosek’s battery mate after hitting .258 as a junior. Senior center fielder Austin Blatnick hit .388 last season, second on the team to the .466 average put up by now-Nevada Reno freshman Shaun Mize, and senior first baseman Alex Montes hit .317. Nogosek, by the by, hit .374 last season and will play second base when he isn’t on the mound.

Woodcreek’s 20-man roster is 70 percent juniors who are up from a team that lost one JV game last season, including shortstop Hank Pankratz, Brennan and Dylan Spezia, Dylan Bell, Cy Hynes and pitcher Josh Cooper, who relieved Nogosek on Tuesday night.

Nogosek has signed with the University of Oregon and is coming off a junior season in which he went 8-0 with a 1.02 ERA. He allowed 41 hits in 75 2/3 innings and struck out 100.

He literally pitched Woodcreek to the Division II section banner in Valencia’s first season at the helm. Nogosek dominated Bella Vista on a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in the Timberwolves’ opener. Trailing Rocklin 1-0 in their best-of-three semifinal series, he tossed a two-hit goose egg, then came back a couple of hours later to strike out the final Rocklin hitter in a 4-3 deciding victory. Nogosek fired a two-hit coup de grace in a 9-2 thrashing of Granite Bay in the title game.

“Luckily, I get to have him next year, too,” Valencia said after that gem at Sacramento City College.

Nogosek spent last summer playing for Pro Player Baseball, which gave him opportunities to pitch against teams like Redding’s Colt 45s, made up of players from schools as notable as Florida State and Texas Tech on down to Simpson University of Redding and Fort Scott Community College of Kansas.

Bottom line, every player was a college player. “Nogo,” as he’s known, took his lumps, but he landed some punches of his own with six strikeouts. Most of all, he learned … every time an opposing hitter tattooed a mistake.

“I learned location is king. I worked a lot on that, trying to make everything better and get located,” Nogosek said. “When you do miss, they will hit it.”

Nogosek’s fastball was clocked at 94 mph last summer. He also has worked to improve his changeup and slider. While college players slobber over a 94-mph fastball, that heat will overpower most high school hitters, which bodes well for Woodcreek’s upcoming run through another tough ride in the SFL and, the Timberwolves hope, the section playoffs.

Next year is now here, and Nogosek, for the moment, is on a pitch count of 80 as he finds his groove.

“For league, we’ll let him rub it up a little bit,” Valencia said.

Count on it.

Contact Bill Poindexter at billp@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at BillP_RsvPT.