Virgin Valley’s baseball program has a new head coach this season and must replace last year’s Class 3A State Most Valuable Player.
But expectations remain the same in Mesquite, and the Bulldogs have their sights set on a fourth consecutive 3A state championship.
“I don’t think it’s a burden. It’s an expectation almost,” first-year Virgin Valley coach Brian Fanning said. “Our kids have approached it with the right mindset, that (a state title) is something they want and it drives them every day. They don’t want to be the team that lets the streak end.”
Fanning, an assistant at Virgin Valley the past two years, has taken over for Boyd Wittwer, who resigned over the summer after guiding the Bulldogs to the past three state crowns.
Fanning said Wittwer has remained involved with the junior varsity program, but wanted more spare time on weekends to watch his son, Jason, play at Western Nevada College.
Jason Wittwer was named State MVP last year after he went 6-0 with a 2.24 ERA and batted .398.
But with six starters back from a team that went 25-8, there is plenty of talent left for the Bulldogs to compete.
“We definitely still have talent left in the cupboard. I’m optimistic,” Fanning said.
Senior right-hander Tanner Tichenor could be poised to replace Jason Wittwer as the team’s ace after an impressive postseason.
Tichenor threw a four-hitter in an 8-1 win over Truckee in last year’s 3A state title game. That came on the heels of a shutout of Boulder City in the league final.
“He’s not going to be as much of a power pitcher as Jason,” Fanning said of Tichenor, who had a 1.25 ERA last season. “Jason was a guy who could come in and strike out the side. Tanner is a really smart pitcher. He’s never going to overpower you, but he’s going to hit his spots, and you have to adjust to it.”
Tichenor also hit .423 and drove in 44 runs, and figures to be a key component in a dangerous lineup.
Fanning is impressed in the early going with senior shortstop Brandt Eaton, who hit .388 with 26 RBIs last year, and senior center fielder Daniel Gleave (.324).
The Bulldogs have eight letterwinners back overall. Fanning said leadership of veteran players has been the biggest common denominator in the past three state championship teams.
“We have competitive kids who care,” he said. “They aren’t afraid to chew each other out a bit. If you’re not getting it done, it’s not the coaches who will let you know about it; it’s the teammates.”
Virgin Valley opens the season Thursday hosting the Desert Winds Baseball Classic, which runs through Saturday. Fanning said the tournament is loaded with quality teams from Nevada and Utah.
“I just want to see hustle and for us not to get frustrated when things don’t go our way,” he said. “We’re going to get in situations when teams have more people than us. I want to see them fight through that and compete.”
Fanning said his past two years as an assistant has made for an easy transition to head coach.
“It’s a good situation,” he said. “I have a great relationship with the kids. I would do anything for those kids, and they would say the same thing.”