Santa Monica High is a large school that does well in most sports. But in the highest profile ones, the football team didn’t qualify for the CIF playoffs last season and the boys basketball team that was headed for a league championship lost its final three games, including a quick playoff exit.
Now it is baseball season and expectations are high. Coach Kevin Brockway, in his third season, has talent and experience at most positions.
Samohi, which won the Ocean League in 2005 and lost out to Culver City a year ago, is favored to reclaim the title, win at least 20 games and perhaps make a strong playoff showing. But having potential and coming through on the field are two different things.
So far the Vikings have a 3-1 record. They crushed their first three opponents before losing to Royal High of Simi Valley, 6-4, in a match-up of undefeated teams.
On any level of baseball the first ingredient for success is quality pitching. So it was encouraging for the Vikings when returning all-CIF lefthander Joe McGrew and senior Devon Ramirez both threw shutouts in their first starts.
Once league play begins it will be important to have two outstanding starters since the schedule has the same teams playing each other twice in a week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday.
Brockway plans to have McGrew and Ramirez start those games. There are also Saturday non-league games when other pitchers will work and perhaps some backup players will be in the lineup.
An intriguing possibility to become a factor is Casey Reese, who arrived recently from Las Vegas. He’s a hard-throwing righthander who has signed with UNLV for next season and might become the Vikings’ ace reliever.
It’s unusual for a pitcher with Reese’s credentials to suddenly appear for his senior season. But Reese has had an arm injury and isn’t expected to pitch for three more weeks. He has played a few times in the field.
Bryan Little completed one of the Vikings’ shutouts and Paul Salazar, a third baseman last season, was charged with the loss against Royal.
Having experienced pitching and defense is a great way to begin. In addition, the lineup should be potent, despite a couple of setbacks.
So far the leading hitter is Ramirez at .556, followed by first baseman Diego Valdez at .545 and DH Jose Campos at .500.
A lot will depend on how well outfielder Dylan Early recovers from a back injury suffered in football. He came out for team when it lacked a kicker, figuring his soccer background would allow him to help.
He was right for awhile. He kicked seven extra points in the first game and kicked off consistently into the end zone. But in a game against Venice he tried to escape tacklers from punt formation with an errant snap. The injury he suffered ended his season and left questions about how he would fare in baseball.
Early, who led the Vikings in RBI last season, currently has a .365 batting average and has stolen two bases. Brockway has moved him to right field, with Ramirez playing center.
There’s considerable talent among the younger outfielders, but they’ll probably have to wait for playing time. Senior Bryan Eylar, who joins Ramirez and Early as starters, is leading the team in RBI with six.
Brockway is figuring out the catching situation. Mike Schwartz transferred, leaving the position to Garret Ramos. But Ramos was injured
Vince Lawrence, the football running back, started the first game but there are other candidates, including Paul Salazar.
As for the Ocean League, defending champion Culver City suffered heavy graduation losses but has won three of its first five games. Veteran coach Rick Prieto has a returning pitcher in Jacob Blodgett.
Beverly Hills has looked strong in early games.
The most famous name in Samohi baseball history is Rick Monday, the longtime major league outfielder who is now a Dodgers announcer. Terry Bevington is another distinguished alum. He became manager of the White Sox. So is ex-Dodger pitcher Tim Leary, most recently pitching coach at UCLA.
In the recent past the best players have been Jonas Swyer, who pitched two no-hitters at Samohi, and current UCLA outfielder Cody Decker.