Tag Archives: Baseball

Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank High’s Bob Hart, Coach, Teacher, Integrity

By Rick Assad

Bob Hart is totally and fully grounded, and this applies to his baseball philosophy, personality, standing among fellow coaches and players, both past and present.

“While I am fundamentally competitive, I don’t focus on numbers as much as I do players,” said Hart, the Burbank High baseball coach who begins his 16th season at the helm in 2021. “We try to get the players to focus on the process, knowing that the result will take care of itself. We promote competitiveness, but within the parameters of doing your job one pitch at a time.”

Hart played several sports at Burroughs where he graduated in 1978, and is in his 37th year as a coach.

The Bulldogs haven’t always won the Pacific League banner, but for much of the time under Hart, who has also coached football and basketball at the prep level, they’ve been competitive.

That’s because they are fundamentally sound, stress defense, pitching, situational hitting and running the bases with zeal.

Bob Hart has turned around the Burbank High baseball fortunes. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Longtime baseball coach Craig Sherwood, who is an assistant on Hart’s staff, knows him from both sides of the dugout.

“I have coached with Coach Hart and against him for many years and not only has he grown as a coach, but without a doubt gets the best out of his players and I have always felt they played above their capabilities,” he said. “They play above their heads and they are proud to play for him.”

With Hart’s guidance, Burbank has reached the CIF Southern Section playoffs nine times, including 2013 when the Bulldogs captured their last league title and also made the quarterfinals three seasons ago.

Hart, who attended Los Angeles Valley College and Los Angeles Pierce College, and his coaching staff have been working extremely hard during these unique times.

“Our guys are doing individual workouts as well as Google classroom assignments that we present to them each week,” he said. “In addition, I have some guys that play travel ball in different areas. Other than that, we are going to start when we are told to start by the powers that be. Not looking to be on the forefront of experimenting with players’ or coaches’ health.”

Hart also addressed how COVID-19 has caused so many people to miss out on the little matters that make life fun and exciting.

“As far as the team, it’s affected them, as with most,” he said. “Isolating and missing the things we ultimately take for granted. Connection and time with the things and the people we love.”

Winning is always important and it is for Hart, but whether the Bulldogs emerge with a victory or a loss, he wants his players prepared.

“I internalize everything and play it off. Well at least to some degree that’s probably true,” he said. “But what else is true is that I keep perspective and I don’t look at it as life or death. I see true accomplishment being playing your best baseball with honor. That doesn’t always equate to a win, so it’s the nuanced approach that grants me sanity.”

Longtime Bulldogs baseball mentor Bob Hart is well respected by players and peers. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

After a scary incident a few years ago, Hart knows a little something about life and death.

“I feel great,” he said, looking back at a heart attack he suffered. “I lost 17 pounds during this nightmare.”

Hart then added: “Appreciate your life and honor those before you by being the best you can be each day,” he noted.

A teacher in the mold of UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, whose teams claimed an NCAA record 10 national championships including seven consecutive, Hart also wants his players to give maximum effort, regardless of the score or inning.

“Some of the best coaching takes place when your team is not successful. In my experience, to remain even keel is to instill that same value in your team. Consequently taking a more businesslike approach while having fun with it rather than inducing pressure and negativity,” he said.

Reaching the top-shelf when it comes to coaching isn’t a job for the meek or timid, he offered.

“Being a baseball coach or at least a good one is a challenge, but being an administrator of a high school program is a much bigger challenge” he said.

In a very real sense, it does take a village to be successful, regardless of the chore or task ahead.

Watching the action on the field, Bob Hart is always thinking. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“It takes quite a few people in terms of support to make it work,” he said. “I have been so fortunate to have amazing parents and an administration. And the leadership I’ve had with my booster club has been off the chart.”

Sherwood knows Hart forward and backward.

“In my 40 years as a high school coach, I have worked with some of the best people around,” he said. “Bob stands out not only as a quality coach, but someone who really considers it his mission to do the right thing by the players. He demands personal responsibility and he helps build their character.”

Being on top as a player or coach requires the same attributes.

“It’s very similar to that of a player. The will to win. The commitment. The preparation,” Hart said of coaching. “The teammate. For the love of the game.”

Hart said that he has had assistance with regard to his coaching tenure. “My coaches, starting from junior high all the way through high school, were hugely impactful for me,” he said. “They include Mike Nugent, Lew Stone, Rich Grimes, Mearl Stone, Dave Jackson, Ken Tada, Bob Dunivant and Brian Hurst. Some legendary names. I could never name one. I think I took a piece of all of them. I didn’t know it at the time.”

Sherwood is among many that Hart trusts. “As a head coach, he appreciates all of his assistant coaches and discusses all aspects with us,” he said. “He wants to hear our opinions and is willing to change his if he hears something better.”

Like those coaches who came before him, Hart’s impact has been felt by many and will be for many years.

“The highlight of my career has been watching boys become men,” he said. “To watch the maturity process. Watch them accomplish their goals. To fail and get up and persevere. My biggest accomplishment is the pride I take in watching kids start their journey and become solid citizens who contribute in a positive way to our world.”

Sherwood pointed out what Hart has meant to Burbank baseball. “I think that what he will be remembered for is taking a struggling program that had a new head coach every year and not only bring stability, but respectability to the program,” he said.

Rick’s Sports Corner: How COVID-19 Wreaked Havoc On Local Sports Teams

By Rick Assad

Eight months into 2020, it’s safe to say that it has been an ugly and harrowing year.

It began ominously, when, just before Oregon outlasted Wisconsin 28-27 in the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day, it was announced that David Stern, the longtime NBA Commissioner, whose 30-year reign helped popularize basketball around the world, had died at 77.

Twenty-five days later, on an overcast Sunday morning, Kobe Bryant, age 41, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished on their way to a youth basketball game in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.

The news didn’t get any better when in January, a mysterious virus was infecting and killing thousands of people.

The World Health Organization named this virus, COVID-19 on February 11.

A fall sport, football won’t begin until January. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Nothing like it had been seen since the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people worldwide from February 1918 until April 1920 and killed between 17 to 50 million people.

It was one of the most deadly pandemics the world had ever witnessed.

On March 12, COVID-19 became real in the United States when the NCAA decided to cancel the highly-popular and highly-profitable men’s basketball tournament.

The NBA, NHL and MLS followed suit and suspended their seasons. MLB was holding exhibition games, but sent its players home, weeks before the baseball season was set to begin on March 26.

COVID-19 didn’t spare anything in its way and that includes high school sports. The following week, I was scheduled to cover a Burbank High girls’ volleyball match.

Patrick McMenamin, the Burbank co-athletic director and math teacher, said it would be played, but with no fans in the stands and no media.

High school classes in Burbank and elsewhere became virtual and all sports were put on hold.

I’ve covered high school athletics for three decades, including eight years at this website.

Basketball will be put on hold until March 2021. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

You get to know athletes, coaches and administrators. I started thinking how awful it must be for a senior to not be able to finish out their athletic career on the field or court.

Being a prep athlete isn’t easy, as it takes  skill to juggle sports, academics and a social life.

Doug Nicol, the longtime softball coach at Burroughs, chimed in with his thoughts on what it was like to have the season end.

“It’s been extremely hard. The bonds that you build and share with your players. It is hard to just put that aside,” he said. “It was an abrupt stop. Stopped us in midseason so that made it even harder. We were just starting to come together and build our culture back up. To have it stop so suddenly was really hard.”

Nicol also knew it would be difficult news for the seniors. “I feel for our four seniors because all four were performing at such a high level and giving me 100 percent,” said Nicol, who is in his second tour of duty as coach. “They were so bought in and invested and it was hard to not let them finish. Third baseman Memorie [Munoz], pitcher Sidnie [Dabbadie], center fielder Isabella [Kam] and right fielder Sabrina [Englebrecht] laid the groundwork last year for our foundation and any success we have next year, they will be a part of.”

Baseball was interrupted in March because of COVID-19. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The football season, which usually begins in late August or early September, will begin in January.

Adam Colman, the Burbank football coach, said he expects his team to be ready, but realizes there will be roadblocks.

“It’s obviously been a challenge and very different, but we’ve tried to approach it with optimism and as an opportunity,” he said. “One of our core values is resiliency and what better way to work on that then in this setting. We’re focused on working on the mental side of the game and linking it to handling any adversity life throws at you.”

Colman feels confident that his players will be prepared when the games commence.

“Our team has responded tremendously. They’ve taken initiative and many are working out on their own, staying active and engaged, watching film and asking questions, reviewing the playbook and all that,” he said. “So as much as I miss being out there with our team, and I think everyone misses it, we’re really focused on controlling what we can control. Complaining and being upset about it doesn’t do anything, so we might as well use it as an opportunity to grow and get better.”

Allan Ellis, the Burroughs boys’ basketball coach, is looking and hoping for the best despite what lies ahead.

Softball hopes to begin its season in 2021, like the other sports. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“COVID-19, the pandemic, quarantine, school closures, business closures, it’s taken a toll on me personally, and our team, players as a whole, as it has with a lot of people,” he said. “But myself and my coaches always try to teach our players that, we don’t make excuses and we don’t dwell on problems. We look for solutions. And we also must remind ourselves that there are people dying, suffering and livelihoods being affected at the same time, to keep everything in perspective.”

Ellis is fairly certain his team will bounce back from this adversity.

“I believe we’ve done a good job of keeping our kids connected with our coaches in general, keeping them informed and also trying as best as can be done to conduct workouts with many of our kids, whether that’s with Zoom workouts, emails, with specific personal information,” he said. “So I’m pleased with the overall efforts of my staff and the resiliency of our kids during this time. Nothing takes the place of actual gym time as a team, but we’ve learned to adapt, like most programs are doing across the country.”

Burbank baseball coach Bob Hart saw the Bulldogs’ season end prematurely. “Like everyone, we have been greatly affected. Team sports is about camaraderie and it’s hard to develop when you can’t be around each other,” he said. “Our approach is going to be that patience and resolve and as we tell the players, that will ultimately serve them well in life.”

Hart has faith in his players. “We will be doing individual training in the fall and adjust as we are able to. Predicated on decisions made by the powers that be,” he said.

Sports are going to be different, but at least the coaches and athletes will hopefully have a chance to finish the season on the field or court.

Rick’s Sports Corner: OakLee Spens, Burbank High’s On-Field Catalyst

By Rick Assad

Maybe it’s because OakLee Spens batted leadoff and played center field for the Burbank High baseball that he was an on-field leader.

“I knew that I needed to be there day in and day out to help my team,” said Spens, a recent graduate who will play baseball at Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wisconsin, in the NCAA Division III, where he will major in Criminal Justice and Communications. “I was actually one of the captains of the team for my junior and senior year.”

Leadoff hitter, OakLee Spens following through. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

Spens continued: “I knew that leading off a game with a base hit or a walk would get the team rolling early,” he acknowledged. “I knew that everyone counted on me and trusted me to be in that spot to get on base with the most at-bats possible. I viewed my role on the team as a leader and a bar-setter. If I could get going early, it would only help the team.”

Spens was on the varsity for three years, collecting 30 hits, scoring 23 runs, driving in 16 runs with 13 walks and was a premier outfielder.

“I knew the pitchers and coaches had trust in me that whenever a ball was put into the air, that I would be there to catch it,” he said.

Bob Hart, the Burbank coach, thought Spens was the finest at the position.

“OakLee was the ultimate competitor,” he said. “Quiet, but measured. Always someone you could count on to work hard every day. In my opinion, he was the best center fielder in the [Pacific] league.”

Spens was a two-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year and Utility Player of the Year and was recognized by the California Baseball Coaches Association.

OakLee Spens was a versatile baseball player for the Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

“That’s a tough question because both are fun, especially when you love the game, but I’ll have to go with defense,” he said of whether he preferred being at the plate or in the outfield. “Sitting out in center field or really any position knowing that anything could happen is just exciting. Making diving catches or jumping the fence to catch a ball, or even throwing a guy out at home plate, just gives you a little bit of swagger in your mindset and it can really energize the team.”

Spens helped the Bulldogs reach the CIF Southern Section playoffs in 2019, a first-round loss, and said he was disappointed the season was cut short because of COVID-19.

Spens batted .273, with a .346 on-base percentage, scoring three runs and knocking in four across seven games this season.

“Having my senior year get shut down due to COVID-19 was horrible,” he said. “You grow up with dreams on how you want to live out your season. I went through a lot before the season this past year and to have it cut short due to the pandemic was gut wrenching.”

Spens went on: “I went through a knee surgery the first week of school and I was going to be lucky if I made it back by senior night, but I trained and worked through hours of pain with a great trainer in Claire [Coudray] and she helped me get back to the field just before the end of December,” he said.

Practice is over for OakLee Spens (on the right). (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

Spens added: “Mentally it has been very challenging, but physically it has made me want it more. I’ve been working out and running a lot to stay in shape. I’ve been doing drills to keep my game up and I have been finding places to go hit every so often so I don’t lose any progress in my game,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not impossible.”

Spens came to love and appreciate the game because of his grandfather, Vergil and his father, Randy.

“My grandpa started teaching me this game when I was two years old,” he pointed out. “Growing up having both my grandpa and my dad by my side to guide me into being a better player really made me fall in love with the game. My grandpa actually passed away on my 10th birthday and ever since then it was more than a game to me, it was my life.”

Baseball can humble even the best and Spens is well aware just how tough it is.

“I learned that it is okay to fail, in fact, you have to fail in order to succeed,” he said. “I play a sport where a great player is still failing 70 percent of the time. You have to fail to realize you need to work harder or keep working on a certain skill. I learned that it’s just like life. Sometimes you are going to fail and you are going to get beat down to the ground, but you have to be resilient in order to push back toward the top.”

Spens talked about being moved into the leadoff spot late during his sophomore season and going hitless in his last 17 plate appearances.

OakLee Spens seems pleased with the result. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

“It really sucked, but I learned that I had to get back up and keep trying and keep working because failure is a part of this game and it is a part of life,” he said.

Spens said he tried to make baseball easier, if that’s possible.

“Slowing it down came with a lot of practice in the cages and on the field,” he said. “It takes a lot of repetitions to be confident that you can play this game. I really just took it one pitch at a time and tried to just focus my mind on that. It really helped me.”

Spens said a game during his junior season, one in which he batted .250 with 12 runs scored and a .343 on-base percentage over 23 games, still brings chills.

“One of the most important games I’ve played in was against Crescenta Valley,” he said. “We needed to at least split to help us get a playoff spot. We were playing at home under the lights and it was one of the best games I have ever played in my life.”

Spens added: “I scored two runs, one very important run in the fifth to tie the game at two a piece,” he said. “Then I believe in the top of the seventh, I threw one of their runners out at the plate, keeping the game tied which later ended up as a walk-off win for our team.”

Though professional baseball in America dates to 1869, it has changed, which is part of its appeal for Spens.

“Baseball is always evolving,” he noted. “Nowadays, pitchers are throwing faster and have more movement to the pitches, while hitters are working on proper launch angle to hit a home run. If you master one thing, it evolves and you have to remaster it, even at that you always have to keep practicing or you will lose your skills.”

After playing baseball four years including one at the junior varsity level, Spens said he will look back fondly on this time.

“High school baseball was what I envisioned it to be,” he said. “Besides the ending, I loved every moment that I was able to spend out on the field. It is something I will never forget for as long as I live. It was a great ride while it lasted.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank High’s Jakob Duarte, A Triple Threat

By Rick Assad

There aren’t too many things that Jakob Duarte can’t handle on a baseball field or for that matter in a classroom.

A gifted defensive third baseman for Burbank High, the senior right-handed hitter was equally deft on the pitcher’s mound as cracking open a book and turning out A-plus work.

Though he doesn’t pitch as much and his season has come to an end because of the COVID-19 pandemic, does he prefer being a position player or a hurler?

Jakob Duarte takes a big swing. The Burbank High third baseman will attend Cornell University. (Photo courtesy Jakob Duarte)

“I don’t think one was necessarily more fun than the other,” said Duarte, an honor student who will attend Cornell University where he’ll major in applied mathematics. “I really enjoyed both while playing them equally. Unfortunately due to repeated injuries, pitching just became too painful to continue, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it during the first two years primarily.”

Duarte, who also played first base, said that he would love to play baseball at Cornell, and that sometimes he thought too much on the mound.

“I think the most difficult thing for me as a pitcher was the mental aspect,” he said. “I am a very big overthinker and perfectionist, which made pitching difficult at times, as you have to learn to move on quickly.”

Bob Hart, the longtime Burbank coach, was pleased to have Duarte in his program.

Burbank High’s Jakob Duarte was a dual threat on the diamond and an honor student. (Photo courtesy Jakob Duarte).

“Jakob is a super-bright, hard-working, high-character, student-athlete,” he said. “He is one of our captains and is definitely someone for younger players to look up to and aspire to be like.”

It seems that athletic ability and scholarship runs in Duarte’s family.

His older sister, Julia, is a former Bulldog softball player who played for the University of Pennsylvania, and like so many others, as a senior, had her season halted.

Duarte was batting .238 with two runs batted in across seven games for the Bulldogs, who were 3-4 and 0-2 in the Pacific League this season.

Was playing prep baseball what Duarte, who hit .245 with 13 RBIs and six doubles in 21 games as a junior, what he expected?

“Playing high school baseball was definitely what I thought it was going to be,” he shared. “I was extremely excited about the opportunity to play in the BHS program during my eighth grade year. I knew it was going to be a lot more demanding in terms of my devotion to conditioning, practices and individual work, but I knew I was ready for that challenge.”

It’s been said and it’s likely true, that baseball is the toughest sport to master. Has Duarte, who started playing on the varsity as a sophomore, found this to be the case?

“In my opinion, baseball is the most difficult sport to play because of how smart you have to be to play it,” Duarte said. “Baseball requires acute mental focus and adaptability as well as physical ability, where in other sports you can beat someone by brute strength. In baseball, no two plays are ever the same, so you have to be ready to adapt to any situation on the field and at the plate.”

Duarte is highly analytical which helped him differentiate between offense and defense.

Duarte and the Bulldogs face city rival Burroughs. (Photo courtesy Jakob Duarte)

How would Duarte break the two down? “I think there’s a different mindset offensively versus defensively,” he noted. “At the plate, especially after I had matured more during my junior and senior year, I was always thinking “attack.” I was constantly trying to hunt for a pitch to hit.”

Duarte clarified this thought. “When playing good teams like the Arcadia’s and Crescenta Valley’s of the Pacific League, you have to be prepared to jump on a good pitch to hit, as it might be the only hittable pitch you get during an at-bat,” he said.

Duarte then defined how he approached defense.

“On the field, I was always thinking of what I was going to do with the ball dependent upon the situation at hand,” he said.

A dependable hitter who could hit for power, Duarte held his own in clutch situations against the top-tier teams in the league.

“Off the top of my head, I immediately think of the walk-off win against Burroughs last year and also beating them twice,” Duarte said of the games that stood out. “I also think beating CV for the first time in nearly a decade in walk-off fashion was also a very special moment for me and the team.”

Athletics are often teaching tools. Were they for Duarte? “All of the most valuable lessons I have learned in life are rooted in baseball in some way,” he said. “I have played this game nearly my entire life and along the way have learned to hold myself accountable to my own mistakes, to lead by example, and most importantly, I’ve learned how to learn from my own failures.”

Slumps are something that baseball players have to live with. How did Duarte handle his?

“Many of my slumps stemmed from me being too much of an overthinker,” he admitted. “I’ve always liked to think of success as a measure of confidence in baseball and when you’re not confident, it’s nearly impossible to succeed at the plate. As a younger player, I let my failure eat me up at times and worried about what others thought about my performance; however, as I’ve matured as a player, I learned to reflect upon my failures and fix what went wrong. If I ever felt like something was mechanically wrong with my swing, I would go and hit in the cage off the tee or the machine and take a few buckets worth of swings.”

Having succeeded as a baseball player and a student, what advice would he offer to someone interested in playing hardball.

“If someone wants to try out for the team, I would wholeheartedly encourage them to,” Duarte said. “I think the guys on the team would agree when I say that playing in the program has been an experience of a lifetime, leading to a lot of personal and athletic growth. I have met some of my best friends and made some of my best memories during the last four years. Playing baseball at BHS is a special opportunity that you simply cannot miss out on.”

Burbank Baseball Blanked 11-0 By Visiting Arcadia

By Rick Assad

For the second time this week, the Burbank High baseball team faced a very good pitcher and for the second game the Bulldogs fell short.

Burbank managed just one hit against senior Dustin Allen on Friday night and lost 11-0 in a Pacific League match at home.

Ian Schenk (shown) came in a relieved Ryan King, who went four innings for the Bulldogs against Arcadia. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Senior Dominik Severo’s leadoff double to left center in the sixth inning was all Burbank could manage versus the hard-throwing left-hander, who struck out seven and didn’t issue a walk.

“After we take this, I feel like it’s better for us. It’s going to motivate us more to push through the season and come out with a win every single time we come out and play harder,” said Severo, the catcher. “I think they’re [Arcadia] some good competition, but they’re not better than us. So if we just bring it to every team we play, we can win this all.”

Junior Mikey Easter, who pitched one frame, replaced Allen and was able to strike out senior Aidan Gonzalez, looking.

Junior Ian Scheck then bounced back to Easter and then induced senior Oaklee Spens to ground out to third base.

Ryan King is about to tag Arcadia’s Alex Dolan, who was caught in a rundown. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“We just missed out on a couple of opportunities,” said Spens, the center fielder. “We just gotta get back to practice and fix it. I think we’ll come back tomorrow and have a team meeting and we’ll bounce back. We’re a good team.”

The final score looked lopsided, but the Bulldogs (3-4 and 0-2 in league) only trailed 1-0 in the second inning and 3-0 after five frames.

“Sports is a lot about having a short memory,” Burbank coach Bob Hart said. “You have to learn from your mistakes, but at the same time you have to turn the page. We’ll come back. We’ll practice hard. It’s next man up.”

The contest fell apart when the Apaches, who knocked off the Bulldogs 9-0 on Tuesday, tacked on five runs in the sixth inning and added a three-run seventh for a 11-0 lead.

It’s a close play at first base as Jaden Rez is about to apply the tag. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Junior Ryan King was Burbank’s starting pitcher and allowed a one-out single to senior Gavin Vogel (two hits).

King rallied and fanned Easter looking and saw senior Preston Howey fly out to right.

King took the loss after toiling four innings, surrendering five hits and one run with four strike outs and two walks with a hit batter.

Arcadia (4-2 and 2-0 in league) pulled ahead 1-0 in the second inning when senior Justin Rios (four hits) slapped a one-out, run-scoring single to left field that plated junior Brandon Nguyen, who reached on an error.

Three frames later, the Apaches extended their advantage to 3-0 when they sent seven batters to the plate.

It’s wild and wholly at third base as Jakob Duarte tries to get Alex Dolan out. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Sophomore Alex Dolan’s force out scored Easter, who walked and a run-tallying single to left field by Rios brought home Howey, who was safe on an infield hit.

The next inning put the game out of reach as Arcadia trotted nine hitters to the dish.

The key hit was a two-out, three-run double to deep left by Rios that made it 8-0.

Two batters earlier, junior Matthew McIntire walked with the bases loaded for a 4-0 edge and it became 5-0 when Dolan (three hits) was safe on an infield single.

A three-run seventh capped off the evening for the Apaches as nine batters went to the plate in an inning that featured two Burbank miscues.

Two of the three runs were scored on bases-loaded walks to Howey and pinch-hitter senior Sean Jackson.

Senior Jared Hunter entered the contest in the seventh inning for Arcadia as senior Adam Loera hit back to the box, junior Jaden Rez lined out to left field and senior Troy Lee fanned swinging to end the game.

Burbank Baseball Takes Out Kennedy, 3-1, In Easton Tournament Finale

By Rick Assad

A potent and effective lefty-righty pitching combination was simply too good when the Burbank High baseball team faced visiting Kennedy on Tuesday afternoon in the final matchup of the prestigious Easton Tournament.

Josh Balos went five and two-third innings and Ryan King worked a flawless one and one-third in a 3-1 triumph over the Cougars.

Senior Josh Balos went five and two-third innings and picked up the win over Kennedy. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“Solid pitching and no free passes. Put the ball in play and a little situational hitting. Good things happen,” Burbank coach Bob Hart said. “I liked my guys’ energy today and they were in the game and I liked it.”

The Bulldogs (3-2) scored all of their runs in the fifth inning as eight batters made their way to home plate.

Senior Troy Lee led off the fifth with a line-drive base hit to right field.

With one out, junior Ian Schenk drew a walk as Lee trotted to second base.

When senior Aidan Gonzalez walked, it filled the bases and after senior Tyler La Marsna reached base on a fielder’s choice, Lee scored the tying run.

Junior Andrew Wright replaced senior starter Jonathan Arrieta on the mound for the Cougars (3-2) and was greeted by senior Oaklee Spens lofting a deep fly ball to center field that plated Schenk and made it 2-1.

Ryan King earned a four-out save against the Cougars. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

King then stepped up and laced a hard-hit smash that grazed the shortstop’s glove and found a home in left field for a 3-1 cushion as Gonzalez scored.

The only inning that Balos, who picked up the win, struggled was the fourth when Kennedy sent five hitters to the plate.

The key hit was a one-out double down the left-field line by senior Vince Esparza that scored junior Chris Hosegera, who was safe on an error as the Cougars led 1-0.

Balos then composed himself and was able to get junior Daniel Tovar on a fine defensive play by senior third baseman Jakob Duarte for the second out and senior Joel Castillo on a terrific scoop by junior first baseman Jaden Rez on Duarte’s throw for the third out.

Balos worked two perfect innings including the first frame as the senior left-hander induced junior Manolo Tafolla to foul out to Rez, saw junior Jonathan Gonzalez ground out to second baseman La Marsna and fanned Hosegera swinging.

“My approach out there was to attack every batter,” said Balos, whose best pitch is a changeup. “Throw them a lot of off-speed and keep them off their feet and attack, attack, attack.”

The Bulldogs managed four hits in a 3-1 triumph over visiitng Kennedy. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Balos began the second inning by getting Esparza to ground out to La Marsna, but allowed a single to center to Tovar, who promptly stole second base.

Balos then induced Castillo to fly out to Lee in right field and sophomore Alex Olvera to line out to Spens in center field.

Senior Tommy Mendoza opened the third frame against Balos by drilling a hard-hit ball at Rez, who made an excellent leaping grab.

Balos fanned junior Brandon Alfaro swinging and Tafolla grounded out to King at shortstop for the third out.

In the fifth inning, Balos surrendered a one-out bloop single to left center by Mendoza, who was later picked off and caught in a rundown. When Alfaro bounced out to Duarte, the inning came to an end.

Balos began the sixth inning by getting Tafolla to line out to Spens and getting Gonzalez to ground out to King.

Balos then walked Hosegera, which brought Hart to the mound, who then replaced Balos with King.

King responded by striking out Esparza looking as the threat was vanquished. “I felt confident in myself and I felt confident in my team,” said King, a junior, who picked up the save. “I knew I was going to get that [out].”

King was even better in the seventh inning as the power-throwing right-hander fanned Tovar and Castillo, both looking and secured the last out when Olvera looped a ball to short right field which Lee grabbed a gunned to Rez for the final out.

Duarte led off the second inning by lining a single to center field, but was left stranded. Spens opened the third by smacking a single to left and then swiping second base before moving to third on a grounder.

 

Kyle Nicol Prepares For Next Step At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

By Rick Assad
 
 

 

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that baseball’s toughest position is being behind home plate.

A catcher’s job requires catlike quickness to step from the plate and throw the ball to second base on a steal attempt, blocking balls that are in the dirt, handling balls that are tipped off the bat, physical strength because you are squatting for nine innings, seeing the game as it develops and perhaps most important of all, the ability to call for the correct pitches and location.

The next most difficult position to master is shortstop, which also requires being quick-footed and quick-handed with a cannon-like throwing arm when the ball is hit deep into the hole and then being able to turn the double play, and ready for anything and everything that can possibly happen on a baseball field.

Not far behind those two is being relief pitcher, which asks a hurler to enter a contest with no one on base, one runner on base, two runners on and in the most dreaded situation, three runners on base.

This is truly living on the edge while walking on a tightrope. Some can handle the situation while others simply cannot.

Kyle Nicol throwing for Burroughs during his senior season. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Onetime Burroughs High pitcher Kyle Nicol was a reliever and then a starting pitcher during his senior season.

After playing one season at Cal State University Northridge, Nicol, who doesn’t throw hard and comes sidearm with an almost submarine-like motion, redshirted the next because of an injury.

Nicol then transferred to Glendale Community College where he was both a starting pitcher and a reliever.

Nicol will attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this fall, where he will continue his baseball career as a reliever.

What was the experience like playing for CSUN and then playing for the Vaqueros?

“There were a lot of factors that led to my transfer to Glendale,” said Nicol, who played four years for the Indians. “Part of the decision was based on academics and some had to do with the culture of the school and baseball team. I just felt that it was not a good fit for me personally.”

There had to be some positive that Nicol, who appeared in 17 games with eight starts and two saves for GCC in 2019, took away the lone season as a Matador?

“I learned lessons at CSUN that are invaluable,” he said. “It helped me learn to fight through adversity and deal with difficult situations, on and off the field.”

Kyle Nicol with his parents, Doug and Rose. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

It seems that the fit was much better at GCC for Nicol, who went 0-3 with a 4.23 earned-run average and 38 strikeouts with 16 walks across 38 and one-third innings, despite it being a junior college. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more of my experience at Glendale,” he said. “The program is run very well and the coaches do a lot for their players. Transferring to Glendale helped me get to Cal Poly and was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m extremely thankful for everyone over at GCC.”

Nicol said the surgery was necessary and though it ruined his second season at CSUN, he’s ready to move forward.

“The surgery was a setback, but I’ve fully recovered and I feel better than ever on the mound,” he said.

As a reliever, it’s critical that one doesn’t get rattled and out of sorts.

Nicol wasn’t when he pitched for Burroughs and has maintained that assuredness three years later.

What does Nicol feel is his best quality on the hill when he’s facing a tough batter in a tough situation? “I would say my best asset is my composure,” he said.

Nicol wasn’t a hard thrower at the prep level, but was still able to get batters out. Did Nicol have a secret weapon?

“I feel that my best pitch is the slider,” he said when asked what he likes to throw when it’s a tight situation.

Someone who knows Nicol, who started five games with eight appearances and one save while posting a 3.68 ERA in 22 frames in the Western State Conference, is longtime Burbank-area baseball coach Craig Sherwood, who was the head man for Burroughs during the time Nicol played there.

“When I first saw him throw I thought he would be a natural submarine type pitcher,” he said. “All I really did was give him an opportunity and he made it special.”

Kyle Nicol was a dominant starting pitcher who used a submarine style. (Photo by Dick Dornan)

What does Sherwood think made Nicol stand out in a crowd?

“One of the things that makes Kyle special is his competitiveness and the will to succeed,” he noted. “It is something that is inherent in all great players. He gets into a big situation and excels every time.”

The game that drew attention to Nicol, who fanned 17 and walked nine in WSC action, from Division I baseball coaches was the gem he threw at perennial power Harvard-Westlake in 2016 title game that clinched the prestigeous Easton Tournament.

As a relief pitcher, does Nicol feel any additional pressure knowing that it’s generally late in the game and it’s a high-leverage situation when he’s called in?

“I try to treat every game the same,” he said. “As a reliever, I have to be ready every day, so a good throwing routine is important.”

As one gets older, and especially in sports, each level should get more difficult. Has Nicol noticed this to be the case as he’s progressed as a baseball player?

“The competition is definitely better as you climb the ladder,” he said. “Everyone is trying to make it to the next level.”

When someone begins playing baseball, many have desires of playing at the highest level. Is Nicol any different?

“It’s every ballplayer’s dream to play professional baseball,” he said. “When so many of your teammates or former teammates get drafted and sign pro contracts, it’s a huge motivator to try to reach that level as well. I just want to play for as long as the game allows me to.”

Nicol said that watching college teams on television and then actually playing against them was a thrill.

“Pitching against teams that I grew up watching at schools like UCLA and Vanderbilt is pretty cool,” he said.

Classes at Nicol’s third college begin soon and he’s looking forward to a new chapter in both his studies and baseball career.

“I’m excited to start at Cal Poly with a clean slate and see what the future holds,” he said.

Lewis Headed to NCAA D-III Regionals in Baseball

Former Burroughs catcher Tyler Lewis helped bring the first league title to the Burroughs program since 1997 in 2015. He has now contributed to his college team at Whitman College in Washington reaching the NCAA DIII regionals for the first time since 1952 after winning the Northwest Conference Tournament.

Seeded number three, the Blues defeated number two ranked Pacific, 7-1, on Friday, then number one seeded Whitworth, 5-3, on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s championship against Whitworth.

After loosing the first game 9 to 6, the Blues won the deciding game 8-7. This is the Blues’ first appearance in the Northwest Tournament and first conference title since 1952. The Blues will play in the NCAA DIII regionals May 17-19 opponents and location TBD.

Lewis, a senior, has been an instrumental part of Blues success. Recruited as a catcher and a two way player, Lewis was moved to right field this year to fill a gap in the outfield. His strong right arm gave him the nickname: “the cannon” holding opposing players from advancing to third or scoring on balls hit to right field.

Tyler came on strong in the second half of the season with a 250 average, scoring 17 runs, with 14 RBIs, 5 doubles, 3 stolen bases and 3 home runs, one a grand slam.

Tyler graduates with a BA in Biology and minor in History. He is applying to the USAF hoping to fly fighters in defense of our country.

Burbank Baseball Caps Regular Season With 10-3 Win Over Burroughs

By Rick Assad

 

Because of proximity and history, any time Burbank High and Burroughs face each other in athletic competition, something is always at stake.

On Friday night at Tomahawk Field, the stakes were raised even higher because if the Bulldogs captured this Pacific League baseball encounter, they had a chance to pull even with Crescenta Valley for second place behind first place Arcadia.

But if the Indians prevailed, they would be tied with Muir at 8-6 and have a chance for the postseason.

Davis Mieliwocki went five innings and collected the win as Burbank prevailed 10-3 over Burroughs. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

In a game that lasted almost three hours and saw nine total pitchers employed and eight combined errors committed, Burbank walked away with a 10-3 victory.

With the triumph over their longtime rival, the Bulldogs are 10-4 in league, tied with the Falcons while the Indians posted a 7-7 mark, one game behind the Mustangs, and are out of the CIF Southern Section playoffs which begin next week.

For the seniors who win, there is always extreme joy and happiness, while for the losers there is only pain and sadness.

“Tough preseason for us. We played the monsters. But it seemed to kind of work in our favor,” said Burbank coach Bob Hart, whose team went 8-3 down the stretch. “I liked the resiliency. I like the fact that they were in every game. I had juniors wanting to give at-bats for the seniors. Ultimately that’s a testament to their character and that’s probably what I’m most proud of. I love to see guys who are selfless. We’ve got a bunch of those guys. I’m probably more proud of that than the score.”

Xavier Dubon was one of seven pitchers used by the Indians. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Craig Sherwood, who has coached baseball for 39 years and has also won a CIF championship, knows the other side.

“Sixteen seniors,” he said. “All I did was get those kids into the ballgame tonight. Hopefully we would do well and we just didn’t do well. The ball didn’t bounce our way.”

Sherwood went on: “I’m proud of all my players,” he said. “Every single one of them. The toughest part is you’re a family. You spend 10 months together. Then suddenly it’s gone after the third out is made. It’s tough. It’s emotional.”

Neither team scored in the first inning, but the Bulldogs (10-12-1), who scored three runs in the third and fourth inning, struck for two runs in the second as junior Jakob Duarte’s double into the left field corner scored junior Troy Lee, who walked to begin the frame.

Duarte then advanced to third base on a passed ball and eventually crossed the plate on an error.

The Indians (10-19), who committed four miscues, evened it at 2-2 in the second frame when senior Nicco Chuidian was hit by a pitch that nipped his nose, went to third on a double to right field by senior Preston Lemus and scored on a wild pitch.

Jakob Duarte stretches at first base as Nicco Chuidian runs hard. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Lemus took third base on a wild pitch and scored on a single from junior Brian Garcia, who also doubled to left center in the sixth inning.

Chuidian was the starting hurler and allowed one hit, striking out one with three walks across two frames.

“It hurts. It really does,” said the right-hander. “Coming into this season and having our heads high and expecting to win. Having that high note. Having that high goal. That expectation.”

Chuidian added: “My team. We’ve been through it all. We’ve been through countless walkoffs. Countless wins. Countless losses. We’ve been together,” he said.

Aidan Gonzalez motors down the line as Collin Johnson readies for the catch. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Was there a point that changed the season?

“I wouldn’t say there was a tipping point, per se,” he noted. “But it would seem that after Pasadena, that loss, really got to us. From there we got on a consistent losing streak.”

Chuidian, who will attend Cal State Fullerton, but not play baseball, went on: “We came out and gave it our all. I am glad that I was able to play with this team,” he said. “This team has been battling with me for over three years It’s been a blessing to play for these coaches and be part of this family.”

After that 6-1 setback to Pasadena at home on March 29, the Indians went 2-7 that included a 3-2 loss in eight innings to Burbank on Tuesday.

In a cloud of dust, the Bulldogs score a run in a 10-3 victory over the Indians. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Burbank, which also turned in four errors, made it 5-2 in the third inning as senior Daniel Ruiz lashed a run-scoring double to left field that brought in sophomore Ryan King, who led off with a base hit to right field.

Lee’s single to right field plated senior Davis Mieliwocki, who walked and a sacrifice fly to left by junior Dominik Severo brought home Lee.

Mieliwocki toured five innings and was credited with the win after surrendering three hits, fanning nine, walking four and hitting two batters.

Senior Joey Clark entered in the sixth inning and struck out three and allowed two hits over two frames.

A three-run fourth was helped because of three errors by the Indians as Burbank, which didn’t get a hit in the frame, extended its lead to 8-2.

Neither visiting Burbank or Burroughs played stellar defense. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Junior Oaklee Spens walked and scored, King was nicked by a pitch and scored and Mielowicki, who reached on a two-base fielding error, also crossed the plate.

Burbank tacked on two runs in the fifth inning when it rapped out four hits including a run-scoring single by Mieliwocki that drove in junior Aidan Gonzalez, who singled to left field.

The other run scored via a walk to Lee with the bases filled as Spens, who singled to left field, scored.

A run in the sixth sliced Burbank’s lead to 10-3 as senior Jesse Rodriguez, who was safe at third base on a throwing error, scored on senior Andres Salazar’s grounder.

Senior Julian Jaramillo singled in the third and seventh inning for the Indians and senior Cody Winters doubled off the fence in the fifth for the Bulldogs.

Senior Nathaniel Metz took the loss and didn’t retire a batter, yielding one hit with one walk.

Senior Xavier Dubon went one inning, striking out one and allowing two hits and senior Josh Hooker hit two batters, issued one walk and whiffed one over one inning.

Senior Brandon Aguilar failed to retire a batter and allowed one hit, Jaramillo gave up three hits, struck out two with one walk in one inning and Salazar fanned three with one walk in two innings.

Burbank Baseball Wins Thriller, 3-2, Over Visiting Burroughs

By Rick Assad

 

There’s something magical it seems when the Burbank High baseball team plays in a Pacific League game and it’s a one-run differential.

On Tuesday night, the team participated in its eighth such contest and came away with its seventh victory after defeating visiting Burroughs 3-2 in eight innings before a capacity crowd.

Runs and hits were somewhat hard to come by, but errors seemingly weren’t as each team had four.

The eighth inning began with sophomore Ryan King drawing a walk off senior Julian Jaramillo, who took the loss after working one and one-third innings while walking three.

Burbank pitcher Andrew De La Torre went eight innings and allowed four hits and two runs. Photo By: Edward Tovmassian

King stole second base and senior Davis Mieliwocki, who belted a towering home run to right field in the fourth that tied it at 2-2 and singled in the first, was intentionally walked.

“We definitely settled down and Andrew [De La Torre] pitched a really good game so we had to pick him up with the at-bats,” said Mieliwocki of Burroughs’ two-run first.

Mieliwocki then spoke about his long homer.

“I knew he was going to give me a pitch to hit,” he said. “I just remember getting a pitch I could handle and doing damage with it.”

Both runners then moved up a base when senior Daniel Ruiz laid down a well-placed sacrifice bunt.

Junior Troy Lee stepped into the batter’s box and hit a ball back to the pitcher, who didn’t handle it cleanly as King raced home with the winning run.

Bob Hart, the Burbank coach, thought that Burroughs would walk the bases loaded and one out to force a play at home plate or a double play that would end the inning.

“I kind of thought they would do that,” he said of the strategy. “They were all pumped up. It’s a big Burbank-Burroughs game,” he said of the longtime rivalry that can be tough on your nerves. “You try to not panic. You take a business-like approach.”

The Indians (10-14 and 7-6 in league), who will host the Bulldogs (9-12-1 and 9-4 in league) on Friday night at 6 p.m., bolted ahead 2-0 in the first inning with the assistance of two Burbank miscues.

Julian Jaramillo was tagged with the loss. Photo By: Edward Tovmassian

Junior Brian Garcia lined to center field and senior Michael Le struck out looking by De La Torre, a senior who went eight innings.

“I don’t really focus on throwing hard as long as I’ve got defense,” said De La Torre, who yielded four hits with four strikeouts and four walks. “Yes, I was tired. I always want a chance to get my team through.”

Senior Collin Johnson walked and Jaramillo drilled a double down the left-field line.

Senior Nicco Chuidian was safe at first base when two errors were committed on one play as both runners crossed the plate.

“We took the lead because they threw the ball around,” Burroughs coach Craig Sherwood said. “We average about two runs a game and our pitching is just over-taxed when they have to be perfect on the mound all the time.”

Sherwood, whose team is hitting a collective .230 with a team pitching staff earned-run average of 2.50, then added: “You’ve gotta play defense and you’ve gotta score runs. There’s three things in this game. Pitching. Hitting and defense.”

Burbank shortstop Ryan King making the throw to first base. Photo By: Edward Tovmassian

Sherwood said he should have pulled senior Xavier Dubon after three innings.

“That’s on me,” he pointed out. “They had a left-hander leading off and he struggles with left-handers. Our kids play hard. Our kids play well. I’m proud of our kids. I’m proud of all our guys.”

The Bulldogs came up with one run in the first inning with one out as  King was safe at first base on an error.

Mieliwocki’s single to center field off Dubon, who toiled four innings, striking out one with four hits surrendered, moved King to third base and cut the lead to 2-1 when Ruiz was safe on a force out.

After fanning senior Preston Lemus swinging and getting junior Hyatt Entz to ground to third base, De La Torre walked junior Albert Prado, but induced Garcia to bounce to third base.

Dubon worked a perfect second inning as junior Dominik Severo grounded to third base. Junior Jakob Duarte grounded to second baseman Lemus, who made a spectacular play, and senior Cody Winters grounded to first base.

De La Torre faced five batters in the third as Le walked to begin the frame. De La Torre whiffed Johnson swinging and Jaramillo popped up to the pitcher.

Both Burroughs and Burbank were a bit sloppy defensively as each committed four errors. Photo By: Edward Tovmassian

Chuidian was safe on an error as Le moved to second, but the inning ended when senior Andres Salazar popped up to shortstop.

Junior Aidan Gonzalez led off the third with a single to left center, but junior Oaklee Spens bounced into a double play and King hit back to De La Torre, who tagged him.

Lemus flied to center field to lead off the fourth and Entz was aboard on an miscue. De La Torre hit into a double play to end the frame.

Dubon is a submarine-style hurler and left an offering slightly up and in where Mieliwocki likes it and sent the pitch high and deep over the fence.

Dubon faced seven batters in the fourth inning as Burroughs committed two errors and beside the homer, allowed only a single to Severo.

De La Torre saw Garcia bounce back to the box and Le fly to center. Johnson walked, but Jaramillo flied to center.

Chuidian replaced Dubon and worked a 1-2-3 fifth inning as Spens flied to center, King lined to second base and Mieliwicki fanned, catcher to first base.

The Indians collected two hits in the sixth off De La Torre as Chuidian had an infield single to lead off the stanza and Lemus added a one-out base hit to left.

Salazar, the second batter in the frame, struck out swinging, while Entz was safe on a fielder’s choice as Chuidian was out at third base. Prado’s liner to second base concluded the inning.

Chuidian tossed another perfect inning in the sixth when Ruiz flied to left field, Lee fanned swinging and Severo lined to center field.

Garcia opened the seventh inning by grounding to shortstop, but Le roped a single to right center. The inning was over when Johnson bounced into a double play.

Jaramillo took the mound in the seventh inning and issued a leadoff walk to Duarte and senior Vincent Romano entered as a pinch runner.

Pinch hitter, junior Tyler La Marsna, grounded into a force out, Gonzalez grounded to second base and Spens bounced to Jaramillo.

De La Torre worked a perfect eighth frame as Jaramillo was out on a terrific stop and throw by King, the shortstop.

Chuidian, who fanned two hitters across two innings, lined to second base and Salazar popped to second.