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Home arrow News arrow Sports arrow Local Sports arrow Cat grad Molieri to hurl for Stan. St.

Cat grad Molieri to hurl for Stan. St.

Surrounded by family on July 12, Dan Molieri, pen in hand, signs with Stanislaus State. Behind him (from left) Karson Clifton, 11, Kirk Clifton, mother Dee Clifton, and Kade Clifton, 8. MAGGIE BECK/UNION DEMOCRAT
Top of the third inning. Host Skyline College is trailing Ohlone 3-1. March 29, 2012. Ohlone, the No. 2 ranked team in California, has a runner on second base with nobody out.

Ohlone owns a Pacific Coast Conference-leading record of 10-1. Skyline’s top starter, Forrest Armanino, is on the hill.

Skyline’s top reliever, Dan Molieri, hasn’t tossed a warmup pitch. Armanino’s pregame instruction from Skyline 15-year coach John Quintell was “pitch five good innings and then turn this game over to Danny.”

But Quintell calls an audible. He wants Molieri. Now. Immediately.

“This was a must-win game for us,” recalled Quintell. “We hadn’t gotten off to a good start in our conference play. But here we were — still in this game with Ohlone and I felt I had no choice but to go with our top gun. I said to Dan Molieri, ‘Listen, keep us in this. You were gonna go four innings anyway. I’m just asking you now to throw a different four innings than we’d planned.’ ”

Molieri didn’t allow any Ohlone runs in the third inning. Or the fourth. Or fifth.

“Danny doesn’t back down from challenges,” said Quintell. “We’re playing one of the top junior college teams in the state and Danny just keeps pounding that strike zone. He’s throwing fastball after fastball. He’s getting everybody out. And we weren’t hiding our hand. We basically told Ohlone, ‘Here’s Dan Molieri and he’ll be throwing fastballs for awhile at you. Good luck.’ And Ohlone isn’t touching him.”

In the bottom of the fifth, Skyline scores twice, and this contest is tied 3-3. Then, inside Skyline’s dugout, team captain Molieri addresses his teammates.

“I sure didn’t mean to sound cocky,” recalled Molieri. “I knew how good Ohlone was (State Champions in 2010, State Champions Runner-up in 2011). But I felt I was in a good rhythm. So I yelled, ‘Guys, get me one more run and we’ll win this game!’ ”

Molieri then tossed a perfect sixth inning.

“So Danny had already blanked these guys for four straight innings,” said Quintell. “But I couldn’t take him out. This game meant too much to our guys. So before the seventh, I told Danny, ‘You’ve been attacking them with fastballs and now it’s their second go-around at you. Let’s go with breaking balls, changeups and hit the outside corners.’ ”

And that’s what the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Sonoran did. Breaking balls, changeups. Painting the outside corners. Molieri hung another zero on Ohlone in the seventh.

“It was wonderful to watch,” said Quintell, who spent most of his own professional career in the New York Yankees organization. “Danny threw some beautiful snappers at Ohlone.”

Skyline scored twice in the seventh and led 5-3. Quintell gave no thought to lifting Molieri in the top of the eighth.

“This was one of those rare games you see where one player makes the game his own,” said Quintell. “By that eighth inning Ohlone’s hitters were so far off-balance I knew that anything Dan threw would work. He was throwing three pitches for strikes: fastball, changeup and slider.”

Ohlone didn’t score in the eighth. With two outs in the ninth, Ohlone, still trailing 5-3, got a runner on first via infield error. Then Molieri induced a game-ending groundout.

“Our whole team went berserk and, of course, so did Danny,” said Quintell. “Danny wears his emotion on his sleeve. He competes. He’s a winner. It was absolutely remarkable to watch what he’d done on that day.”

“It was the most important game of the season to me,” said Molieri, who graduated from Sonora in 2010. “We had won — and that’s what was most important. But, secondly, I had proved to myself that I could pitch against anyone.”

After Molieri’s seven-inning, no-run performance vs. Ohlone, Quintell approached his ace reliever.

“I told him, ‘You did great, Danny. Better than great. Now, the game of baseball will ask you to do it tomorrow, too. I’ll try and get you some days off here and there. But you’ve been our guy and you will remain our guy. Keep this thing going.’ And, of course, he did. Danny had an incredible season.”

Molieri set a new Skyline all-time record with 26 appearances. More than that, those 26 appearances led the state. Of Skyline’s 10 season wins, Molieri, in relief, had five of them. He was named First-Team All-Conference, earned Skyline’s Most Valuable Player Award and was honored with the school’s Carl Vallero Memorial Award.

The Vallero Award is given out to the Skyline player who best exemplifies the competitive spirit and high-quality character of Vallero, who played in the Cleveland Indians organization and later coached at Skyline.

“What’s most important to know is we don’t give out an MVP award every year, unless it’s earned,” explained Quintell. “Also, we don’t necessarily name a captain every year — that must be earned. We’d like one. But if no one is qualified, we don’t name one. Third, we’ve only given out the Vallero Award 13 or 14 times in the history of our program. In one season, Dan Molieri was our team captain, team MVP and Vallero winner. Of all the players that we’ve given out the Vallero Award to, no one was more deserving than Dan.”

In late-spring, Molieri was offered a 90 percent ride to hurl for Division II Upper Iowa. Oklahoma Baptist, Missouri Western and San Francisco State also offered partial scholarships.

“But my family is so important to me that I wanted to see if I could make this all happen closer to home,” said Molieri.

So he e-mailed Division II Stanislaus State head coach Kenny Leonesio on June 20. Twenty minutes later came Leonesio’s reply: “Will you do a workout for us?”

The next day, Molieri was in Turlock for a one-day tryout.

“Sure it’s tough to impress a coach with a one-day tryout,” said Leonesio. “But I figure if you can’t get it done in front of one coach, you won’t be successful in a big ballgame in front of many. Dan did great and he didn’t appear nervous. We want a pitcher who can compete and he impressed me immediately by throwing three pitches for strikes: fastball, changeup and curveball.”

“I actually did feel relaxed at the tryout,” said Molieri. “Coach Leonesio is a big fan of the changeup and afterwards we talked.”

Leonesio wanted Molieri — he just didn’t have any scholarship money available. Molieri wanted Stanislaus — but there were other schools offering money.

On July 11, the problem was solved. An earlier-signee of Leonesio’s backed out and scholarship money was available. On July 12, Molieri put pen to paper and became a Warrior on a partial athletic scholarship.

“Dan has that strong type of personality that you look for when you coach,” said Leonesio. “He is a high-character guy. He’s a competitor who has already proven he can go every day. His changeup is his best pitch but he locates his fastball real well, too. My confidence level in him is high. We wouldn’t have given him a scholarship if we didn’t fully believe in him.

“He’s been a bullpen guy and he’s comfortable there. But I’m not pinning him into any type of role yet or closing any doors on what he can do for us. If he can continue to throw three pitches for strikes and do so for multiple innings then more possibilities open up. Starter? Reliever? Closer? We’ll see. We do have roles that need to be filled and I have confidence that Danny will fill one of those needs.”

“Danny is a baseball junkie,” said Sonora six-year head baseball coach Scott Johnson. “Nobody is more deserving of this than him because he put the work in to make this all happen. Stanislaus is getting a bulldog who will, literally, take the ball every day if you give it to him.”

“I am really excited for Danny because he’s worked so hard to put himself into this position,” said Sonora’s four-year head football coach and eight-year defensive coordinator Bryan Craig.

Molieri had 13 career interceptions while playing for Craig which ranks him amongst Sonora’s all-time leaders.

“I know how hard Danny prepared for his games at Skyline,” said Craig. “And now that he’s jumping up to Stanislaus I have no doubt at all that he will be very successful.”

“Danny will have to learn how to get better players out with his stuff,” said Quintell. “But he’s got the stuff. He’ll just need to keep that same mindset he had when he was pitching here — and I believe he will.

“Danny left a great legacy here. He is what I always want Skyline to be about. Now, we’re searching for the next Danny Molieri. I’m always searching for Danny Molieri type of players. But here’s the problem: They are awfully hard to find.”

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