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Crockett, Rams on the mend

Things were just starting to go right for the Rancho baseball team before it learned it might lose standout player James Crockett for the season.

Crockett, a left-handed pitcher and first baseman, started feeling abdominal pain at a tournament over spring break. At first, he thought nothing of it.

But on April 6, after going 6-for-10 with six RBIs in two games, Crockett couldn’t ignore the pain any longer.

“(At first) it was a sharp pain that would come and go, and I would really only feel it if I moved a certain way,” Crockett said. “By Friday afternoon (April 6), it was just constant pain.”

A trip to the doctor led to an appendectomy, and Crockett’s season appeared to be over. He was told to do nothing for six weeks as he recovered.

“He kind of carried the team on his shoulders this year,” Rancho coach Tom Pletsch said. “We were off to a great start, everything was going well, and we were 1-0 in conference, and his appendix was about ready to burst after the Easter tournament. When they told me they were taking it out, I kind of felt like the whole season was over.”

But Pletsch’s concerns proved to be premature. Crockett began light workouts two days after surgery and was throwing after eight days. He returned to the lineup against Clark two weeks after the surgery.

“Exactly two weeks from his surgery he batted against Clark, and in his second at-bat, he hit one 380 (feet) over the center-field fence, so I knew he was back,” Pletsch said.

So is Rancho. The Rams have struggled to field a competitive program in recent years. Pletsch became the school’s fifth coach in four seasons last year, and the Rams went 6-19.

But the team is 20-10 this season and has clinched second place in the Northeast Division.

“It feels a lot better being on the winning side of things,” said Crockett, hitting .536 with three home runs and 32 RBIs. “My sophomore and junior years weren’t the greatest years. And this year has been a real turnaround. It feels good to actually be winning some games.”

Crockett is 4-3 with a 1.74 ERA and has signed with Western Nevada Community College as a pitcher. He said things still aren’t quite back to normal on the field.

“It’s been a work in progress,” Crockett said. “It feels a lot different pitching. You can still feel it tugging inside. But it’s just something I’m going to have to get used to.”

Especially with the team’s other top pitcher, sophomore Justin Neubauer, out for the season.

Neubauer pulled a muscle in his right hip in the team’s first game without Crockett. Neubauer was limited to one inning per week for two weeks, then re-injured the hip in the first inning against Canyon Springs on Tuesday.

Pletsch said he was pleasantly surprised with how his team responded without Neubauer and Crockett, who both had ERAs under 2.00 and batting averages over .500.

“When Crockett and Neubauer went down, I didn’t even have words,” Pletsch said. “I didn’t know how we were going to get through it.”

The Rams had only 11 players on the roster before the injuries, so they had to call up two junior varsity players to field a team. But they remained near the top of the league.

“We were just trying to tread water to get them back,” Pletsch said. “We were hoping to play .500 ball while they were out, and instead of playing .500 ball, we were 5-1 without them. Now we’ve got Crockett back.”

Even if Rancho doesn’t meet its goal of winning a playoff game or two, the Rams have come light years in two seasons. Pletsch said fielding an American Legion team last summer for the first time in years was a key.

“Most of the good programs around town play 50 games in the summer and 30 games in the high school season, so they’re playing 80 games a year,” Pletsch said. “Rancho had played 22 games and then packed it up for the rest of the year.

“By the time my senior class that I played with last year came in, they had only 60 games their entire high school career. This year’s senior class played roughly 60 games in a one-year period, so we’re much better for that.”

Crockett said he thinks it’s just the beginning for Rancho. Pletsch’s two sons, Blake and Brandon, will join the program next season, and Pletsch said he is committed to staying until Brandon, who will be a freshman, graduates.

“If Coach Pletsch stays here and the coaching staff and everything, it’s definitely going to start picking up,” Crockett said. “People will actually be afraid of Rancho now. It’s definitely not the old Rancho anymore. It’s something new.”

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