The 2017 season will be Rob Willson’s 15th season as head coach at Sierra College and 26th overall as a California Community College head baseball coach. He feels extremely fortunate to have what he considers the best job in the country. He credits the faculty, support staff, administration, location and his assistant coaches for making this such a great job.
The 2016 baseball season was a challenging one for the Wolverines. They posted a 10-5 non-conference record and a 17-19 overall record. Sierra finished ranked #19 in Northern California. The 2016 roster was filled with youthful players as there were 25 freshmen on the roster. Highlights were SS Kasey Wallace who was a unanimous All Big 8 infielder and Pitcher Jeffrey Kersten and infielder Isaiah Garcia both earned 2nd team all Big 8 honors. Sophomore RHP Aaron Herr from Bella Vista High School transferred to national power St. John’s University. LHP Aidan Kearny now plays baseball at D1 Utah Valley University and Austin Blatnick now attends the University of Nevada. A major thrill for Coach Willson and the rest of the Sierra College baseball program was watching Kyle Lewis (Sierra College 2B in 2014 & 15) play for the University of Arizona and win two regionals including the Super Regional at Mississippi State. Arizona advanced to the College World Series and stayed in Omaha for 17 days as they played in the final game for a national Championship where they lost 4-3. Lewis started every game in the 2016 College World Series.
In 2015 Sierra missed the playoffs by one game and finished the season ranked 20th in Northern California. This was the first time in 13 consecutive seasons the Wolverines missed the post season. From the 2015 team there were five players who transferred to D1 schools and 12 others to D2 schools. 2B Kyle Lewis is currently battling for a starting spot at the University of Arizona. Bryce Reichmann is also looking to pitch quality innings at St. Mary’s College In 2016.
The 2014 season was another major success for the Wolverines on and off the field. Once again the Big 8 Conference proved to be the best baseball conference in California. Sierra finished 2 wins from a Big 8 Conference Championship. Sierra was ranked #4 is the north in the post season and hosted Modesto College in the first round of the state playoffs. The Wolverines had swept a 3 game series from the Modesto Pirates during the regular season and beating a team 5 times in one season is not easy. It wasn’t easy as the Wolverines won the best of three series in a two game sweep and both scores were close. The Wolverines trailed in game two by two runs entering the 8th inning but with outstanding relief pitching by Michael Proiette they won the game by the score of 5-4 and earned their state leading 8th trip to a Super Regional in the past 9 seasons. The Wolverines hosted #5 College of Sequoias in the Nor Cal Super Regional. COS won the Central Valley Conference by 3 games over annual power Fresno City College. This series was extremely intense and went to game 3 in the best of 3 series played on Mother’s Day. Sierra came up short in the series as it ended on a line drive to the shortstop who made an amazing backhand play that ended the Sierra College season with a 5-4 loss in the Super Regional final game. The success off the field was equally as impressive as on the field. Sierra transferred all 11 sophomores to 4 year universities. Highlighting this class were Dalton Blaser who was voted Big 8 Conference MVP, JC All American and Dustin Vaught who both signed National Letter of Intents with National Power Cal State Fullerton.
In 2013 the Wolverines had an amazing season by winning the Big 8 Conference Championship. That season was filled with many wins and very few losses (33-9). The Wolverines lost back to back games only once on the year. Sierra had three players voted to the All American team. Pitcher Andrew Cooper, Catcher Blake Grant Parks and 2B Nick Blaser. Cooper was drafted in the 12th round by the Washington Nationals and Parks is now Playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in their minor league system. Blaser accepted a scholarship to play in the Big West Conference at Cal State Northridge. Also transferring to big time D1 programs from the 2013 team were 1B Jimmy Jack to Loyola Marymount and SS Jake Riffice to the University of Iowa.
The 2012 season was the Wolverines’ third trip to the State Final 4 in the past seven years. Sierra was the #12 seed entering the postseason and had to travel to #5 Laney College. Game 1 of the series was a very intense battle won by Sierra in 10 inning by the score of 3-2. Ace Josh Eagle pitched 10 innings for Sierra. The best of 3 series was won on a towering walk off HR hit by Sierra’s Brad Gerig estimated at close to 495 feet in the bottom of the 12th inning. The Wolverines traveled to Feather River for the Super Regional which included Fresno City College, Merced College and Feather River. Sierra was the lowest seed in California to advance to the super regionals. Sierra beat top seeded Feather River by the score of 5-1 in the opener. In the winners' bracket it was Brad Gerig once again who was the hero. Sierra trailed 4-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning and runners on 1st and 2nd base and 2 outs. Gerig bladed a 3 run HR to left center field to give Sierra a 5-4 lead. They held on and won that game. Sierra beat Fresno the next day in a 12 inning game to earn their 3rd Final Four appearance in the past 7 years. Heading into the final four Orange Coast College was heavily favored to win the state championship and were the #1 ranked team in the nation. They had 10 players already committed to D1 schools. They had their ace 12-0 on the season going against the Wolverines in the state final opener. Sierra ace Josh Eagle stole the spotlight as he pitched a complete game shutout to put the Wolverines in the winners bracket. In the winners bracket game Sierra fell to the eventual state champ by the score of 12-8 and then ended their season to So Cal power Rio Hondo with a 4-1 loss.
The 2011 baseball season at Sierra College was another success story. Sierra Finished 3rd in the Big 8 Conference one game behind eventual State Champion Delta College. The #12 seeded Wolverines traveled to Hayward to take on the #5 seeded Chabot Gladiators in a best of 3 series. Chabot finished their conference schedule with a 22-3 record.
Sierra won the first game by the score of 11-6 behind outstanding pitching from freshman Josh Eagle and very timely hitting. In game 2 of the series another freshman Ryan Millison (signed National Letter of Intent with Long Beach State in fall 2011) dominated the Gladiators and propelled Sierra to a 6-2 victory. Catcher Jon Nutter hit 2 homeruns in the series and did an outstanding job of handling the pitchers. Sierra captured their 6th Regional Championship in the past 8 seasons with the sweep of Chabot. They would take on #6 seeded Merced College with high profile pitcher Jake Sisco who entered the game with an 11-0 record and was later drafted in the 3rd round of the MLB June draft. It was a close, intense game with Sierra coming out on the winning end by the score of 4-1. Once again, Josh Eagle outpitched Sisco and earned the win for Sierra. A bad day followed as Sierra was swept by conference foes Delta in the winner’s bracket and by Cosumnes River in an elimination game to end their season. The high number of transfer’s highlighted a great season as two of their sophomores signed national Letters of Intent. Eric Nedeljkovic signed and it now attending the University of Miami. Jeff Stephens is signed and is now playing at UC Irvine.
2010 was an overachieving season as Sierra advanced to the 16-team State Baseball Playoffs for the 7th straight season. The very young team stayed near the middle of the Big 8 Conference standing all season and qualified for the playoffs in their last game of the season versus Delta College with a dramatic “walk-off” homerun by shortstop Zach Babitt. Sierra would travel to College of San Mateo and play the #1 seeded Bulldogs. Sierra beat CSM Friday 10-6 and lost in a thrilling 14 inning game Saturday by the score of 16-14. Sunday the Bulldogs advanced to the Super Regional by defeating Sierra 13-6. San Mateo went on to play for a state championship and lost in the state finals to Ohlone College. The success on the field was matched by their many transfers to 4-year universities. Catcher Michael Quesada signed a professional baseball contract with the Minnesota Twins. Starting pitcher Michael Garber signed a national Letter of Intent with the University of Washington of the Pac-10 Conference. Outfielder Sam Montgomery will attend Oregon State University, also of the Pac-10 Conference. Pitcher Justin Haley was also drafted by the Cleveland Indians and signed a National Letter of Intent with Fresno State University. Sierra finished the season with a very respectable 21-18 record.
2009 was also successful on and off the field for Sierra College baseball as they were the only team in California to appear in 4 straight Elite 8 games. Sierra topped the 30 win mark for the fourth straight season. The Wolverines lost 27 players from their 2009 roster which will make the 2010 roster extremely inexperienced. Coach Willson is very proud of where all the players transferred including his starting infield. 3B Joe Bonfe signed a letter of intent with Pepperdine University but elected to skip school and sign a professional baseball contract with the New York Mets. SS Keith Jennette is playing at Oregon State. 2B Matt Foat is batting clean up for USC as a sophomore. 1B Chris Cottingham is at the University of Nevada and Pitching ace Jeremy Cole is also at the University of Nevada.
The 2008 season was a magical season for Willson and his Wolverines. Sierra College captured its first ever State Championship in baseball and set a school record with 39 wins. Many consider California Community College baseball to be the most competitive and difficult sport in which to capture a state title. Strong pitching, outstanding defense and timely hitting propelled the Wolverines to this championship. They defeated 4-time state champion Riverside Community College and Southwestern College of Chula Vista twice - including the winner take all state final game by the score of 6-2. Even more gratifying for Coach Willson is that the 2008 team continued the 5-year streak of graduating 100% of their sophomores to 4-year universities.
In 2007, Sierra reached the Elite 8 in California despite being a very young and inexperienced squad. The Wolverines finished 2nd in the highly competitive Big 7 Conference. Of the seven teams in the conference, five made the state playoffs and all five advanced to the Nor-Cal Super Regional. The ’07 Wolverines tied a school record for wins in a season with 35, which was set by the 2006 team. Highlights from ’07 include three players signing National Letters of Intent with College World Series teams. Also, for the fourth straight season, ALL sophomores on the 2007 roster transferred to 4-year universities, with many of them receiving scholarships.
In 2006, the Wolverine baseball team reached new heights with wins and earned a trip to the state Final Four. The previous school record of 27 wins was shattered as this group totaled 35 victories and advanced farther than any previous Sierra College team by reaching California’s State Championships. Graduating from this team was sophomore centerfielder Chris Hopkins who went on to Oregon State in 2007. OSU captured the College World Series Title with Chris as their starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter.
Coach Willson came to Sierra College from Diablo Valley College, where he served as the Associate Head Coach for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Prior to arriving at DVC, Coach Willson led his alma mater, Laney College of Oakland, to a Bay Valley Conference Championship in 1997, his first season at Laney, after they finished in last place the previous year. He also guided the Eagles to back-to-back 31 win seasons in 1999 and 2000. Laney made the 16 team state playoff field in three of the four years he was there.
The five years prior to coaching at Laney College, he was the head coach at City College of San Francisco. After 29 straight seasons with a winning percentage well under .500, the CCSF program enjoyed a championship season in 1995. The 1995 team was a very special team in winning 35 games, losing 9, and finishing 6th in the state of California. This accomplishment was even more impressive considering that CCSF does not have its own field. They play at Balboa Park in San Francisco, which does not have dugouts, bullpens, batting cages, outfield fences or a scoreboard. Even more impressive was the fact that all the sophomores transferred to a four-year university and five players from that ’95 team were selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Coach Willson continues to commend the players who attended CCSF in spite of the bleak facilities and horrible baseball weather. He would also like to recognize his first assistant coach at CCSF, Steve Wood. Steve and Rob met in 1991 and became very close and remain great friends today. Coach Wood and Coach Willson made a promise to the CCSF administration that they would put a winning team on the field and they did with Woods’ pitching expertise.
Coach Willson was voted the 1995 California Community College Coach of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports Magazine. The 1996 season at CCSF was also a winning season. The Rams finished second in the tough Coast Conference and were a feisty opponent for the #1 seed College of the Sequoias in the state playoffs. In 1996, the California Coaches Association again honored Coach Willson as the California Community College State Coach of the Year.
The 1996 team also produced a Major League pitcher in Doug Davis. Davis was drafted in the 10th round out of CCSF and signed a contract with the Texas Rangers. Davis made his major league debut in 1998. In 2004, ’05, ’06 and ‘07 Doug Davis won 12 games or more for the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks and was ranked in the top 15 in the major leagues in ERA and strikeouts. In December 2006, he signed a three-year $22 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Coach Willson credits his one year he spent at Loyola Marymount University as an assistant coach in 1991 as his most valuable learning year in baseball. The Lions were ranked as high as #10 in the country at the Division I level and possessed 6 players who would eventually make a major league roster. Chris Smith was the 31 year-old head coach at Loyola and Coach Willson says he was one of the best coaches in Division I baseball, and a major influence in his coaching career. Smith is now a professional baseball scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As a player, Coach Willson played firstbase, outfield and pitched at Albany High School and firstbase at Laney College in Oakland. He feels his experience at Laney College and his Head Coach Tom Pearse changed his baseball career. He still stays in touch with many of his teammates and Coach Pearse. That was a very close team with people from all different backgrounds and they came together like a solid family. In both years Rob played at Laney, they were fortunate enough to win the Golden Gate Conference Championship and participate in the state Final Four, finishing third in California both years.
After Laney, Rob transferred to Sonoma State University. Rob cherished both years there and helped turn a program around that had a 7-42 record the year before his arrival into a 30 game winner in his second year. He loved playing for head coach John Goelz and is still a very close friend of Coach Goelz. In 2004, Rob was selected as a member of the Sonoma State University Athletic Department Hall of Fame. After two years at Sonoma State, Rob was drafted by the San Francisco Giants and played one season in their minor league system in Everett Washington where the Giants won the Northwest League Division Championship. After his minor league baseball stint, Rob attended Saint Mary’s College in Moraga and earned his Master’s Degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Again, the Saint Mary’s experience was an outstanding one where many influential faculty members and students still remain close with Coach Willson.
Coach Willson has been very fortunate to have had many outstanding assistant coaches who have played a major role in his success as a head coach and appreciates all of their very hard work. He also credits his parents Bob and Frances Willson for raising him and allowing him to be involved in baseball his entire life. The Willson family vacations always took place well after baseball season ended to ensure Rob and his brother would not miss a game. His dad would throw batting practice to him and his friends on a daily basis after a long day at work. He will never forget those days at Memorial park.
Two other major influences growing up were John Whitman, longtime Head Baseball Coach at Antioch High School and Jeff O’Donnell, Rob’s 15 year old coach who guided the Albany Mets to the TOC Championship. Rob’s brother Cary is a physical education teacher and Head Basketball Coach at California High School in San Ramon.
Rob and his wife Christina live in Rocklin with their three children, Marisa 18, Briana 16 and Anthony (TJ) 12.