Cat grad Molieri to hurl for Stan. St.

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."

I

n 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."

11879009
The Union Democrat
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