Some league observers might tab the North baseball group as down for 2011, but do not tell that to the Cougars. They are working hard, having fun, and planning on serving some crow before the season is done to all the naysayers.

New coach Damian Gonzalez, long-time assistant to former leader Nick Cantu, admitted that the loss of five starters who transferred out gave him some work to do with the lineup coming into the season. But he also notes that the open slots have given a new group of leaders the chance to step into the limelight.

“Those guys have recognized the opportunity and stepped up to become leaders,” said Gonzalez, whose team has hit well and played solid defense so far, with pitching still a team weakness. “All the guys are working hard, we tell them no to worry about what people are saying, just get disciplined, do your jobs, and we’ll take it from there.”

Gonzalez is pleased with a number of kids who have experience from last year, including veteran outfielders Keith Silva and Joel de los Santos, along with infielder John “Jag” Gonzaba. Those kids are leading the way for the Coogs so far as they get used to a new coach. The Coogs have moved Mike Salinas up as varsity assistant with Chase Deaton at JV mentor and Eddie Hinojosa handling the freshmen.

Gonzalez says that the transition to new leadership at the top is personified by one word: discipline. Also the school’s offensive line coach in football, the high-spirited skipper wants everyone to buy into the hard-work ethic, and says that so far, the team gets a great grade.

“They are out there every day doing it, and it’s good to see,” he said, after the Coogs went 1-4 in a recent tourney but showed signs of improvement. “They are having a great time together and that’s really important. Once we get our pitching solidified, I think we can make some noise in the race.

Right now, burly Matt Morin is at first base with sophomore Danny Sanchez at third and a very promising newcomer, freshman Alex Chavez, at short to team with the dependable Gonzaga. With Silva and de los Santos in the outfield, the team’s outer garden defense should be among the league’s best; both are returning starters who can run. Add in lefty Hidalgo transfer Jose Lopez, a junior, and the North OF is sound.

Junior Rob Garces and sophomore Fernie Contreras have done the lion’s share of the mound work in 2011, and when one’s not pitching, he’s catching.

Gonzalez said that four-year program regular de los Santos, a little guy with a lot of heart, personifies the team spirit and work ethic.

“He’s been a good leader for us so far, as expected,” the skipper reported. “I don’t even have to say anything to him, he’s out there correcting what goes wrong, and in the good way, very positive, that’s what we need this year.”

The Coogs played at the La Joya Tournament over the weekend, and will head into the 31-5A opener Tuesday at P-SJ-A brimming with excitement with what they feel is an opportunity to get into the swing early.

“This district is always good, but this year there has been a lot of turnover,” Gonzalez opined. “Right now, you have to put EHS first, but after that, who knows? We are going to do our best to become a factor in the race.”