Chris Fiala is back, Mike Schwartz is out and some new names are featured in Santa Monica High baseball. That’s the kind of challenging season it has been for the Vikings, who still have hopes of doing well in the CIF playoffs with or without their second straight Ocean League championship. “We can still make a run at it,’’ said Coach Kevin Brockway.
Samohi began the week with a 9-7-1 record, including 3-1 in league play.
Culver City has won 11 consecutive games and the league rivals will meet twice next week – Tuesday at Santa Monica and Thursday at Culver City. After that Samohi will have two league games remaining against Inglewood and two against Beverly Hills. The league’s first three finishers will make the playoffs and Brockway hopes players will recover from injuries to make a contribution.
Fiala, expected to be the team’s ace starter, was out until recently with an arm problem but has begun pitching effectively. He had one outstanding relief appearance, then went five innings in a victory last week. “Fiala and Joe McGrew will be important pitchers the rest of the season,’’ said Brockway. “Devon Ramirez has pitched well enough to be a factor too.’’
Last season, when Samohi went 10-0 in the league, Mike Walsh and Fiala were the starters. Walsh graduated and James Nedelman was expected to take his place. Nedelman was injured and hasn’t pitched all season. McGrew came up from the junior varsity and became the team’s biggest winner. Ramirez made a solid contribution and recently freshman Tyler Skaggs was brought up from the junior varsity.
Schwartz was a key member of last season’s power-packed lineup but he hasn’t been able to swing a bat this season because of a wrist injury. He’s been catching but a designated hitter has taken his turns at bat. Now Schwartz has been ruled out of playing at all for the rest of the regular season although it’s possible he’ll be able to return for the playoffs. ’’It’s been decided he shouldn’t catch either if the wrist is going to heal,’’ said Brockway.
Garret Ramos is the full-time catcher now, and since that makes him unavailable to play other positions two infielders have been brought up from the junior varsity – Paul Salazar and Jose Campos.
Brockway decided to schedule several games during the spring break. Samohi lost to Capistrano Valley, 6-0, defeated Van Nuys, 18-1, tied University, 4-4, beat Bell Gardens, 9-4 and lost to Granada Hills, 6-1.
David Castellanos, who played third base last season and moved to shortstop this season, leads the team in batting at .435. Alex West is hitting .385, Bryan Eyler .333 and Dylan Early .333 with a team-high 22 RBI. Early is the only Viking with two home runs and in a recent game hit two triples in the first inning. Early is tall and rangy with a smooth stroke. Last season Early, Cody Decker, Schwartz and Milan De Pillars formed the heart of the batting order.
Decker now plays for UCLA but the other three figured to keep the Vikings’ offense strong. But Schwartz hasn’t been able to bat and De Pillars injured a shoulder while diving for a ball in the outfield. To help with the offense, De Pillars has stolen six bases in seven attempts and Castellanos has stolen five in six tries.
Brockway also praises the work of second baseman Kevin Gonzalez and first baseman Diego Valdez, who also are important members of the team’s late season drive.
Brockway, who was the last baseball coach at Santa Monica College before the school gave up the sport, knows every season is different. Asked how he’s handling the vast contrast between last season and this one he replied, “The injuries are obstacles and we must deal with them.’’
The injuries have created opportunities for players who weren’t prominent in pre-season plans. McGrew, Ramirez and Eyler have emerged and Skaggs, regarded as a bright prospect, has been promoted to the varsity a year ahead of schedule.
Before the season began Brockway said Culver City should be the league favorite because of its pitching depth. The Centaurs lost six of their first nine games but are now 14-6. Jeremy Burrell, a likely all-CIF pitcher, has thrown two no-hitters in his career. Most recently another Culver City pitcher, sophomore Ryan Sherriff, also had a no-hitter.
Samohi has played in the Bay League in the past, a league considered stronger than the Ocean. Although some Ocean League schools don’t have strong baseball programs, the competition at the top is providing Samohi a challenge in this troubled season.
Samohi lost a game to Morningside and will need its best performances to defeat Culver City.