By Brian Stanley

Contributing Writer

As the Santa Ynez Pirates get ready for the 2019 baseball season, head coach Warren Dickey is warning his squad about the challenges to come as the Pirates debut in the new-look Channel League.

 “There are no off days. Everybody in this league is good,” Dickey said. “Dos Pueblos is Division 1, Santa Barbara is Division 2. So you don’t have that week where you can think, ‘Well, maybe I cannot throw my starter.’ Every day is a test.”

Santa Ynez finished in second place last season in the Los Padres League with a 20-10 overall record and a 16-5 league record.

This year, they will be joined by rivals Lompoc and Cabrillo in the revamped six-team Channel League.

 “I hope we’re all up to the challenge,” Dickey said.

A challenge it will be for the Pirates’ roster, which lacks experience at the varsity level. After losing 11 players to graduation, Dickey returns eight veterans from last season who are multiple-position athletes.

“The thing I like about our team is its versatility. We have a lot of multi-positional kids. More than half the guys pitch and play a position,” Dickey said.

Leading the Pirates onto the field this season are senior third baseman Casey Hickman and senior shortstop Cole Knightley.

“Casey and Cole will be our cornerstones defensively,” Dickey said. “They add stability to our team.”

Knightley will also return to the pitcher’s mound this season as the team’s closer. In 15 appearances on the mound for Santa Ynez last season, Knightley had an earned run average of 1.93 per game.

Adding to the team’s versatility is junior outfielder Tyler Rasmussen, who will also get some work on the mound in the Pirates’ pitching rotation.

“Tyler took a big step forward after his first year on varsity,” Dickey said. “Now he becomes one of our starting pitchers as well as playing the outfield.”

Hickman, Knightley and Rasmussen were vital at the plate last season for the Pirates, all hitting better than .317. Knightly was the Pirates’ top hitter with 38 hits to earn him a .409 batting average, collecting nine doubles, a triple and two home runs while driving in 34 runs.

 “It’s almost like they’re going to hit 3-4-5 for us,” Dickey said about the projected batting order. “So hopefully they will drive in some runs and provide some leadership and drive in some runs in the middle of our order.”

Hickman, who appeared in every game for Santa Ynez last season, added another 28 hits to the team total along with 15 runs batted in. Rasmussen, who saw limited time as a sophomore, tallied 19 hits in 60 at bats.

Projected to be the leadoff hitter on opening day is freshman Victor Heredia. Dickey plans to use Heredia in multiple roles, including on the mound in the starting rotation.

“Victor is a pretty talented kid. He’s one of our quicker guys and a very explosive bat for a young kid,” Dickey said, … “providing a little spark in the lead-off hole with (Justin) Koslosky, who is the master of execution, he’s a really good two hitter. That really gives us a formidable start to our lineup.”

Santa Ynez opens the season against the Pioneer Valley Panthers of Santa Maria in a double header at home on Saturday, Feb. 9. The first game is scheduled at 10 a.m., weather permitting.

Kicking off Channel League play on the road, the Pirates open things up against the Lompoc Braves on Friday, February 22.

“The one positive going forward is that the league will prepare us better for the playoffs,” Dickey said. “If (we) get in, we’re not going to be surprised by seeing velocity and things like that, because we’ll see it in our league.

The Pirates hope to extend their playoff appearance streak to eight consecutive seasons under Dickey’s leadership while making a run at the CIF Southern Section Division 4 Championship. Santa Ynez last claimed a section championship in 2014 while playing in Division 5.