It’s been a year since a new coach was hired to guide the Santa Monica High baseball team.
Not much was known about Kevin Brockway then, except that he was the last baseball coach at Santa Monica College before that school gave up the sport. And he probably didn’t know about some challenges of the position he was accepting.
It’s a lot different now.
Brockway’s Samohi team started slowly and he realized some changes had to be made. Five new starters began playing, including a couple who had played other sports.
Samohi’s lineup became stronger as opponents found out they’d pay heavily for pitching around all-CIF catcher Cody Decker. The Vikings’ defense improved too, and with Mike Walsh and Chris Fiala providing outstanding starting pitching the team went 10-0 in the Ocean League and won a playoff game before losing to eventual champion El Segundo in the second round, 8-7.
That was just the beginning of the Brockway Era at Samohi. His next venture was coaching the Santa Monica American Legion team, succeeding longtime coach Billy Keep, who moved to the San Fernando Valley.
That team, again featuring Decker, went 17-3 and won two of four playoff games.
The next opportunity came in the RBI League, an off-season venture designed to give high school players more playing time. Decker and other graduates weren’t eligible to play but Brockway coached a group who’ll make up the majority of the roster of next season’s Samohi team to an 11-3 record.
“The more you play the better you become,’’ said Brockway, who is glad high school players have the chance to compete in sanctioned play virtually the year-around.
There’s one more league — a Fall League that begins in a month, but high school coaches aren’t permitted to coach, so Brockway will be an interested spectator.
Samohi won 20 games last season and is 28-6 in offseason leagues, meaning Brockway has coached 48 victories since he accepted the Samohi job.
“The lineup changes I made were made primarily to improve the defense,’’ said Brockway. “I always put defense first.’’
The off-season games have helped Brockway develop talent. Of the players who’ve had a chance to sharpen their skills, Brockway places outfielder Milan Depilars near the top of the list.
“He started for Samohi last season and he’s improved a lot,’’ said Brockway. “He’s one of our best players now.’’
Some players who were on the Vikings’ junior varsity last season have shown they’ll likely be important members of the varsity next season. That group is headed by pitcher Joe McGrew, who was effective for the Legion team, and Garrett Ramos.
Nick Lerner, who’ll be a sophomore, displayed hitting talent in the RBI League. Pitcher James Nedelman got in some innings for the varsity last season as a sophomore and figures prominently with Brockway next season.
Brockway says Culver City should be the favorite in the Ocean League next season, based on the return of outstanding pitchers. But Samohi figures to be strong again even without Decker, who signed a letter of intent with UCLA.
When Brockway changed the direction of the team last season he brought Dylan Early and Mike Schwartz into the lineup. Early was a soccer player and Schwartz was on the baseball team but not in the lineup. The two newcomers batted in front of and behind Decker and made a major difference.
Early, a lanky outfielder, has a nice hitting stroke. Schwartz, who is more muscular, often hits the ball hard and has power. With Decker gone, Early, Schwartz and Depilars are likely to become the heart of next season’s lineup.
Fiala, McGrew and Nedelman should be the primary pitchers. Culver City’s pitching may be better but Samohi’s staff should be competitive.
There’s a grand baseball tradition at Samohi. It produced the first player chosen (outfielder Rick Monday) when baseball installed a draft, and the school has developed other major league players, including pitcher Tim Leary and outfielder Tony Tarasco, and a big league manager — Terry Bevington (White Sox).
Before Brockway arrived, Mike Czarnetski guided the team for six years, and the Vikings held their own in the stronger Bay League. Czarnetski then moved on to North Torrance High.
It is not unusual to see major league scouts at Samohi games. Most recently, Viking football star James Cooper was a Samohi outfielder and drew some attention. He went on to Loyola Marymount and became a ninth round selection of the Yankees in the most recent draft. He signed and is currently playing for the Yankees’ Staten Island farm team.
Pro scouts looked at Decker last season but he decided to attend college.
With Brockway firmly in control of the program the tradition is expected to continue.Not only did the varsity do well last season but the lower level teams also excelled.