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Pair of aces with Roseville roots

Berger, Guilmet continue to excel
By: Andrew Eggers, Special to The Press-Tribune
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Two high schools, linked in the ongoing success stories that surround a pair of former local pitching stars, will meet on the diamond when Oakmont and Woodcreek get together Tuesday and Thursday to close out the current season. Eric Berger (Woodcreek 2004) and Preston Guilmet (Oakmont 2005) had never formally met each other before pitching on the same staff for the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2006. When the duo played their high school ball, Oakmont played in the Pioneer Valley League while the Timberwolves were part of the Sierra Foothill League. “We didn’t get to play each other in high school,” Berger said. “(When Guilmet was a senior with a 12-0 record) I think my step-dad called the coaches at Arizona and told them there might be a guy (at Oakmont) that they might want to look at.” “I didn’t know Berger until I got (to Arizona),” Guilmet said in a phone interview. “We got to know each other really well playing on the same team.” Berger, a southpaw, has since become a member of the Kinston Indians, the single-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, after being selected in the eighth round of the 2008 baseball draft. The right-handed Guilmet is currently finishing his senior season as a Wildcat after turning down a 22nd-round selection by the Oakland Athletics last June. Back with the Wildcats in 2006, Berger redshirted in his sophomore season to have Tommy John surgery, which ironically opened the door for Guilmet, a freshman at the time, who stepped into the rotation and worked a team-high 93 innings. “When (Berger) went down with Tommy John surgery, we really lost our Friday night guy,” Wildcats’ head coach Andy Lopez said. “We gave (Guilmet) the opportunity to be the Friday night guy and he did a marvelous job.” The injury would cause Berger to miss the next season while Guilmet had a brilliant sophomore year. He was awarded the Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year award with a 12-2 record, a 1.87 ERA and a four-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. “(Preston) has a tremendously competitive nature,” Lopez said. “He’s got four pitches he can throw for strikes. He’s got a definite out-pitch in his slider…If you look at his track record, some organization is going to pretty happy with his work habit and competitiveness.” A healthy Berger rejoined his teammates and posted an 8-4 record in 13 starts as a junior last season before being drafted by the Indians. “We really didn’t get a chance to see (Berger) completely blossom,” Lopez said. “At the end of (last) year in the regional and super regional (tournaments), he was as good as anybody we had. He has a bright future in pro ball.” As of April 28, Berger is enjoying a stellar 1.42 ERA to go with a 2-1 record in four starts for his new club in the Carolina League. “It’s great. I get to play a game every day,” Berger said of his new profession. “It’s nice going to the field to work on different parts of your game every day.” Lopez initiated the recruiting process with Berger and Guilmet after seeing both play at the Area Code Games in Long Beach. Berger turned down a professional contract from the Tampa Bay Rays, who drafted him out of high school, in order to attend the prestigious baseball school in Tucson. “There’s a huge sense of pride coming to a university like (Arizona)…getting to play against some of the best competition in the nation,” Guilmet said. “Just to be able to go in there and lead a program, not just play in a program, has been a great opportunity.” “It gave me the chance to grow up and become a man. To live and support myself on my own,” Berger said. “It was cool because we were both going through an experience together being from the same town.”