Broncs baseball looks to make a run at the HDL title

By Mike Blake

Baseball season starts in a week – JV baseball starts February 20 at McFarland and Varsity begins the 2024 campaign February 22 at Mojave – and Broncs baseball coach Mike Genthner, who is in his 37th season as a baseball head coach is optimistic about the season ahead. 

The team’s full roster has not been selected, as winter sports have just concluded their seasons and try outs will be conducted through February 14. Coach Genthner, has been head coach at Kern Valley High School since 1992, after a four-year stint at Bloomington High School. He has coached 541 wins during his career and he feels that the Broncs can compete for a High Desert League title.

“We’ve advanced to the playoff semi-finals in two of the last three years,” Coach Genthner said. “That’s something we’re proud of and want to continue. But, we haven’t won our league title since 2014. Rosamond and/or  Bishop have won it every year since). We feel like we can challenge them this year.”

The 2023 Broncsfinished with an 18-8 record and went 10-4 in High Desert League play, good for third place, in the tough HDL. The Broncs advanced to the CIF Division VI semifinals for the second time in three years.

Kern Valley won seven straight games before losing their final regular season game, then went to the CIF Division VI playoffs, where they defeated Laton 12-1 and Cal City 15-3, to advance to the regional semifinals. The No.2-seeded Broncs faced the No. 6-seeded Woodlake Tigers (18-8, 6-2 East Sequoia League), who were riding a three-game win streak. The semifinal match came down to the final inning, and the Tigers prevailed, ending the Broncs’ season.

Coach Genthner said the season highlights included a big win and a string of wins. “We beat champion Rosamond (for their only league loss), and we won seven straight and nine of 10 before the semifinal loss.”

Genthner said his goal for this year is the same as always “Our goal is always the same: improve every day, win the HDL championship and go as far as possible in the playoffs.” Genthner said.

Genthner said his coaching philosophy isn’t a philosophy per se. “I wouldn’t say I have a ‘philosophy.’ We just try to get the most out of our players and put them in positions / situations where they can be successful.” He said. He also brings the program’s history into play as a motivating tool. “We’ll occasionally bring up past players or teams. We try to focus more on now and the players currently on the team. Most players aren’t interested in the past.”

Though the team lost five players from last year’s squad to graduation, they return seven starters from the 2023 Broncs. KV’s top pitcher, Zack Wargo, returns. Wargo was 10-2 with a 1.33 ERA, 116 strikeouts in 63 IP on the mound, he also hit .314 with 24 stolen bases, and was named, all-league First team. Ethan Stockwell returns after hitting .360, with 28 RBIs, 31 stolen bases and was an all-league First team selection. Carson Strange hit .360 with13 RBIs; Seth Stockwell hit .333, with three homeruns and 22 RBIs and Jordan Mead also returns after a season of.321 and 29 RBIs.

The Broncs also lost some top players. “We lost three starters, including TJ Sanders, who was twice all-league First team, and last year hit .414 with 29 RBI’s and 28 SBs. Sanders also set school single-season records in runs scored (47, a record that lasted 25 years) and walks (30, a mark that has stood for 10 years). But I believe our strengths are our seven returning starters and nine lettermen,” Genthner said. 

Sanders has gone on to play at Viterbo University in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, but others will step in and step up. Genthner said last year’s team kept improving and he expects this year will be the same.  “Players step up,” Genthner said. “Wargo was solid last year and catcher Jordan Mead was solid for us. We had a big hole at catcher and he moved here from Texas and anchored down the position. Also, the promotion of freshman second baseman, Aiden Madden improved us. We were really struggling at that position. Once we brought him up, our defense improved greatly. All three are back this year.”

Genthner said he always tries to keep things the same from year to year and this year’s returning experienced players will be key. “I look to our experienced players to lead and teach the others.”

The season starts next week with the first games of February looking like this:

Tuesday, Feb. 20

JV Baseball at McFarland

Wednesday. Feb. 21

JV Baseball Tournament at Shafter

Thursday, Feb. 22

JV Baseball Tournament at Shafter

Varsity Baseball at Mojave, 3:15 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 23

JV Baseball Tournament at Shafter

Varsity Baseball vs. Laton, 3:15 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 24

JV Baseball Tournament at Shafter

Wednesday, Feb. 28

Varsity Baseball vs. Trona, 3:15 p.m.