When the baseball season began at Santa Monica High this month, Coach Kevin Brockway began adjusting to the absence of two star players.Cody Decker, one of the best power hitters in school history, now plays for UCLA. Mike Walsh, one of the Vikings’ two starting pitchers on last season’s Ocean League champions, also graduated.To complicate matters, two key returnees are currently injured. Starting pitcher Chris Fiala (arm) and hard-hitting Mike Schwartz (wrist) aren’t expected to return for two weeks. ’’It’s a different team,’’ said Brockway. “When Cody was in the lineup it changed the whole game. ’’And we have to find a replacement for a pitcher who was a big part of our success.’’Santa Monica and Culver City are co-favorites to win the Ocean League but Brockway will use non-league games to develop chemistry. Last season he brought up several players in mid-year and they made important contributions.The Vikings have won two of their first three games. They opened with a 3-1 victory at Malibu, lost at home to Cleveland 8-1 and won at Palisades 6-2.Joe McGrew, who was on the junior varsity last season and made progress in American Legion competition, has pitched both wins.Schwartz batted .333 last season and had 20 RBI. He was primarily the team’s Designated Hitter because Decker was the catcher. This season Brockway plans to install him as the regular catcher and bat him third.Dylan Early, one of the mid-year newcomers who fit in so well last season, is a centerfielder who can hit and is outstanding on defense. His average last season was .443 and he had 23 RBI. The lefthanded batter is tall and has a smooth stroke.Milan De Pillars, who played right field last season, has moved to left. He draws extensive praise from Brockway.“I wish I had nine players just like him,’’ said the coach.De Pillars brought speed and a strong arm to the club last season. He doesn’t have the clout of Schwartz but has worked hard on his hitting and improved. Fiala’s record last season was 5-2 with a 3.92 earned run average.Brockway says the infield defense looks sound with returnees Kevin Gonzalez, David Castellanos and Johnny Huerta, who has moved to third base. Gonzalez is an excellent leadoff hitter.A new starter is 6-foot-4 first baseman Diego Valdez, a JV player last season.Garret Griffin is playing right field and Garret Ramos was the Vikings’ leading hitter in the first three games with a .333 average.Since two games are played against an opponent in the same week once league play begins, usually on Tuesday and Thursday, it is important that Fiala and McGrew be the starting pitchers or Brockway must find someone else.One possibiity for this season or next is Josh Miller, who started a JV game last week.Decker, who hit 30 home runs in his Viking career, got off to a slow start at UCLA this season but began hitting with authority in the last couple of weeks. He had four hits in two games, including two home runs.He’s been beaten out as a catcher by another freshman but is playing first base. He’s not in the lineup in every game but when he plays he’s the cleanup hitter,’’ said Brockway. “That’s incredible for a freshman at a Division 1 university.’’Last season Samohi was undefeated in the Ocean League. The Vikings won one CIF playoff game over Lompoc before losing to eventual champion El Segundo, 8-7.Culver City had a 17-11 record and now has the best pitching depth in the league led by all-CIF candidate Jeremy Burrell.
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