Season Preview: Justin-Siena Braves

Blaine Clemmens
Northern California Director of Scouting

With the 2019 high school baseball season just around the corner in California, we've been rolling out team previews from around the state.

In this edition we take a look at the Justin-Siena Braves out of Napa. Justin-Siena has a rich history in the North Bay, in particular as a powerhouse in NCS-D4. They recently moved up to D3 via competitive equity rules, after winning three D4 titles from 2014-2016. In 2019 they bring back an awful lot of talent and look poised to contend in the Vine Valley Athletic League and their section.

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Team: Justin-Siena 

Nickname: Braves

Section: CIF-North Coast Section, Division 3

League: Vine Valley Athletic League

Head Coach/Years at school: Jeremy Tayson (3rd/6)

Team Twitter Handle@AllHeart_JS

2018 Overall Record: 9-15-1

2018 Postseason Finish: NCS-D3 Quarterfinals

Number of Returning Starters: 8

Number of Returning Pitchers: 5

Top Returning Players:

'19 INF/P Alex Kirley; '19 LHP/1B Luigi Albano-Dito; '20 RHP/3B Nolan Dunkle'20 OF/C Sebastian Bon Borquez; '21 OF/2B/P Noah Young

College Commits:

None at this time

Other Players To Watch:

'19 OF Thomas Lopez; '19 OF Dominic Moore; '20 CIF Marcus Nunes; '21 INF/P Keith Binz

2019 Outlook:

It's not often that a season preview about a team that went 9-17-1 the year is something to get excited about, but in the case of the Justin-Siena Braves, there is a lot of optimism for 2019. Inside that overall record, they were a very respectable 9-7-1 vs teams D3 competition, the division they compete in for playoffs. The team returns a lot of experience and talent from last year and wins over Drake HS and Cardinal Newman in 2019 showed that the Braves could hang with anyone in their division.

The goals for this season are not simply to once again get in the NCS playoffs, but to earn a home game and take at least one step further in the bracket. The strengths of the team are expected to be defense, athleticism combined with physical strength, and experience gained from 2018. Developing pitching depth behind their top guy will be a challenge, as will finding consistency on the offensive side.

The overall top returning player is junior RHP/3B Nolan Dunkle. He had an outstanding sophomore season at the varsity level, both on the mound and at the plate. Dunkle is a high energy player we've seen play. He's got visible enthusiasm for the game, along with the talent. Dunkle went 4-4 on the mound last year, but with a solid 2.49 ERA in 16 games started, with 58 K in 59 IP and only 43 hits allowed. He gets into the mid-80s and has a big curveball. At the plate he hit .342 with a handful of extra base hits, including a homer. A very nice sophomore year indeed. 

Senior infielder Alex Kirley is a candidate to lock down the shortstop position and plays a hard-nosed style of ball. To just call him scrappy would be a disservice to his tools, because with a strong arm, good glove skills and a quick bat, he's got tools. He's put on some size/strength since last season and is one of the better uncommitted seniors in the North Bay. As a junior he hit .299, with four doubles and only seven strikeouts in 74 plate appearances. His average in league play rose to .340. Kirley also contributed on the mound in 2018 and will again fill a role as a pitcher.

Another player who enjoyed a strong underclass campaign in 2018 was sophomore OF/2B Noah Young. Young, a left-handed hitter, hit an impressive .304 as a freshman at the varsity level, in 61 plate appearances over 24 games. He's a good runner and has flashed some projectable power potential. He stroked three doubles last season. Though the numbers weren't as strong as he would have liked, junior OF/C Sebastian Bon Borquez got a lot of experience as a sophomore in 2018, playing in 19 games and recording three doubles in 47 plate appearances. The tools are there for him to have a breakout junior year, with good wheels, a strong arm, bat speed and strength. He also shows favorably behind the plate.

Senior LHP/1B Luigi Albano-Dito is a player that coach Tayson feels is in line for a big season, as he is coming off a strong summer. Albano-Dito is an athletic kid and earned 1st team all-conference in football as a wide receiver. All the tools are there for him to be an impact player for the Braves this spring, with breakout potential. Albano-Dito hit .273 in 2018, with two doubles and two triples in 67 plate appearances while contributing 28.2 innings in 13 mound outings.

Two other returners that will be expected to be among the main contributors are senior outfielders Thomas Lopez (.278, 23 G, 65 PA) and Dominic Moore (.323, 17 G, 34 PA). Both Lopez and Moore area multi-sport athletes; Lopez earned all-league as a wrestler and Moore is a basketball player. Lopez can be utilized up and down the line-up due to his ability to incorporate multiple offensive strategies, while Moore has bat talent that can make an impact in any given game.

Among players who could make their way into the line-up and could be considered wild cards, junior corner infielder Marcus Nunes is a name to know and another multi-sport athlete. He is a left-handed hitter and as a linebacker on the football team, he is not hard to miss on the field (6-foot-3 210-lbs). He's got that big body type but some innate middle infielder type skills often seen more frequently in smaller players, like his older brother who was a shortstop on a section title winning team at Justin-Siena.

The schedule is always a big part of any team's season and what's interesting about the Vine Valley Athletic League is that some teams are D1 and others are D2 and D3, qualifications based on school population. There are some non-conference games in the early season which should be good tests, such as those against Armijo, Moreau Catholic, and Las Lomas and then in the conference schedule there are Petaluma and Vintage to deal with, along with other conference foes in Casa Grande, Napa, American Canyon, and Sonoma.

Things appear to be on the upswing at Justin-Siena, with a strong returning core, both in terms of talent and enthusiasm for the game. That same type of enthusiasm resonates from Coach Tayson when communicating about his players and team. Time will tell if talent, experience, and enthusiasm turns into wins, but it's a good place to start.


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