A season of great expectations for ACHS baseball team

Camarillo’s pitching rotation looks nasty

ARMS RACE—Camarillo High flamethrowers Taylor Hansen, left, and Hunter Virant help form one of the best starting pitching staffs in Ventura County. Hansen, a senior, has signed with San Diego State.

ARMS RACE—Camarillo High flamethrowers Taylor Hansen, left, and Hunter Virant help form one of the best starting pitching staffs in Ventura County. Hansen, a senior, has signed with San Diego State.

The Scorpions are stacked.

Now they must prove that all the hype is justified.

The Camarillo High varsity baseball roster features three pitchers who are expected to play for Division I college programs and several solid bats scattered throughout its improved lineup.

The Scorpions are early-season favorites to win a Pacific View League title and are in the conversation to make a run through the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.

“We haven’t won any games yet,” Camarillo skipper Richard Jaquez said during a Monday afternoon practice.

The Scorpions, ranked sixth in the Division 1 preseason poll, will discover how the puzzle pieces fit during today’s 3 p.m. regular-season opener at Ventura.

On Saturday, Camarillo plays host to Harvard- Westlake at 11 a.m. Both games are part of the Easton Tournament, which features some of the best baseball talent in Southern California.

Senior Taylor Hansen and juniors Justin Chamberlain and Hunter Virant anchor arguably the most dominating starting pitching staff in the county.

Hansen has signed a scholarship to play at San Diego State. Chamberlain and Virant have verbally committed to Arizona and UCLA, respectively.

How can the Scorpions not be excited?

“That gets me pumped for this season,” Chamberlain said. “I grew up with the two other guys who committed. It’s crazy that we’re all at the same level. It doesn’t change anything with the team. We just compete and try to win, just like any other team.”

When he’s not throwing heat from the mound, Hansen patrols shortstop.

The right-hander has added a splitter to his repertoire, but a filthy two-seam fastball remains his bread-and-butter pitch.

At the plate, the senior bashed seven home runs last year, and he’s gunning for more in 2011.

Hansen said the Scorpions are ready to roll.

“Our team’s all about pitching and defense,” he said, “and our hitting’s getting there.

“If we’re going to be successful, we need to hit the ball. Our pitching’s good enough to hold opponents to one or two runs a game. We have to come up in big spots and score runs, plain and simple. If we can do that, we’ll be pretty hard to beat.”

Chamberlain is the workhorse in the rotation.

Another right-handed arm, Chamberlain was the only one of the big three to pitch regularly in 2010. Chamberlain, who also plays shortstop and second base, will be counted on early and often.

“ Justin adds athleticism,” Hansen said. “He has a lively arm, and he hits the ball really well.”

Chamberlain’s hard slider falls off the table. His changeup is also devastating. He also mixes in an occasional curveball.

The junior said the ACHS defense is rounding into shape.

Since there are several youngsters on the ballclub, the Scorpions need the newcomers to get accustomed to the speed and intensity of varsity baseball.

“I’m looking for our younger guys to step up,” Chamberlain said. “This group is fun and really competitive. At practice, we’re always competing with each other.

“ If we can hit and play defense, we could definitely win a Division 1 championship.”

Virant is a talented southpaw. Although he threw only one inning of varsity baseball last year, UCLA saw enough in the Scorpion to offer him a scholarship.

The junior is also a defensive maestro in center field.

“You don’t see lefties throw as hard as he does,” Hansen said of Virant. “ On defense, he’s a vacuum. He catches everything.”

Senior catcher Parker Hindle has the honor of receiving Hansen, Chamberlain and Virant.

“They’re three amazing pitchers,” Hindle said. “They’re getting me ready for the next level. My three best friends are throwing to me. I’m excited to see how they do this year.”

Each pitcher has a respective strength, Hindle said.

Hansen has great control on four effective pitches. Chamberlain possesses a lot of movement on his overpowering throws. Virant keeps improving every time he takes the mound.

Hindle, an honors student with a 3.5 grade-point average, said he’s worked on his defense at the dish and arm speed trying to gun down runners at second base.

The coach said Hindle has always had a strong arm, but he’s improved his technique.

Hansen and Hindle will likely bat in the heart of the lineup.

“Last year we were underdogs,” Hindle said. “This year we have a feeling everyone’s going for us and wants to beat us.

“Being the best, you have to play the best.”

Aaron Martinez, a senior third baseman, led Ventura County with 36 RBI last season.

A humble and soft-spoken star, Martinez didn’t sit on his laurels during the offseason.

“I changed my whole swing and approach,” Martinez said. “I shortened my stance and moved my hands back.”

Martinez credited assistant coach Jerry Willard for helping him tinker his swing.

Jaquez said there will be pressure on Martinez to continue his excellence at the plate.

The third baseman hopes Camarillo can make a deep postseason run for a chance to play at Dodger Stadium in the section finals. He also hopes a strong season will earn him a college scholarship.

Martinez doesn’t expect anything to be handed to him.

“Baseball takes a lot of hard work,” he said. “It keeps me humble. You have good days when you think you know everything. The next day, you play horrible. It’s very humbling.”

Other Scorpions expect to make their marks on the diamond.

Kenny Overly, an outfielder, adds depth to the pitching corps. Mike Volaski, a sophomore, is learning the nuances of playing second base.

Camarillo will turn to whoever has the hot hand at first base. Kyle Villa, Connor Clark and Tyler Sutherland are in the mix to operate at first base and get at-bats at designated hitter.

Michael Martinez and Brent Stevens hope to contribute in the outfield. Michael Martinez also adds depth to the infield.

“This team has a lot of talent and a lot of potential,” said Jaquez, now in his eighth season as head coach and 16th overall at Camarillo.

“This could be a good season. That’s what we’re shooting for.”