In the aftermath of the Broncos’ heartbreaking 11-10 defeat in the desert June 3, there is a need to put a wrap on: a) the student athletes who compiled an impressive 19-5 record (10-0 in the Coast Valley League); and b) how Coast Union got burned twice: on a flip of the coin that sent them to a sun-seared sandy outpost called Oro Grande; and on a kangaroo hop over the head of center fielder Tommy Moreno that allowed the 11th run, in the 11th hour of this campaign.
After winning its first three playoff games — two at home and one in Los Olivos against the Dunn School Earwigs — Coast Union qualified for the CIF Division 7 semifinals but lost a coin flip and had to drive four-plus hours to play the Riverside Prep Silver Knights in the desert just north of Victorville.
Head coach Brian Machado explained that the field at Oro Grande (“big gold”) was so soft and sandy it was hard for his best base-stealer, Emmany Godinez, to get any traction. The outfield fences were dramatically shorter than the fences at Coast Union.
“They didn’t have green grass, they didn’t have a white ball, and I was having a hard time picking up the ball off the bat from the bench, so I can only imagine how it was for our fielders,” Machado said.
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“I’ve played it over and over in my head. We could have done this, we could have done that.
“Their defense was the pits, in my opinion. They made five errors and walked four of our guys. That’s nine. If I add those nine to our 11 hits, that’s 20. If I can’t beat those guys with 20 hits, there’s something wrong.”
Something definitely went wrong with one of the two vans that transported the team to this semifinal game. Machado’s strategy was to get his players to Victorville the night before the game, so they would be well-rested and adjusted to the hotter climate.
But the best laid plans of mice and men — and even Machado — can and do go awry. Just outside of Bakersfield, one of the white vehicles broke down, delaying the team’s arrival by several hours. The team ended up leaving the broken-down van, and those players piled into a parent’s car that was also heading to the semifinal game.
Asked whether the 90-degree heat affected his team, Machado admitted that “ it had to play a little bit into it. It had to. We’re not used to that type of heat.”
And when the players got to the ballpark, they quickly discovered that there was a canopy over home team’s dugout, but none for the visiting team. “We are out there in the desert in 90-degree heat; we would have melted in that dugout if we hadn’t had protection.”
They had to go back to Victorville (about 10 miles) and buy the materials (rope and a sturdy tarp) and rig up their own protection from the sun.
Looking back on the 2014 season
The coach is losing five seniors — varsity starters all four years — who made huge contributions in 2014.
- Sergio Mendoza (academic valedictorian) hit .314 and made some terrific plays in right field.
- First baseman Tommy Howard hit .429, drove in 25 runs and committed just one error. Howard said the success came in part because “we all love each other and got so close this year. We’ve always been close, but this season we were closer and it was more fun.”
- Pitcher Grant Magnuson hit .434 (driving in 17 runs and scoring 22), built an 8-3 record on the mound with a stingy 1.87 ERA, and was named Coast Valley League MVP for the second straight year.
- Quinten Raethke, who pitched (4-1 with a 3.55 ERA) and played second, led the team with 31 RBI — hitting .472 in 22 games.
- Emmany Godinez hit .452 and led the team in runs scored (39) and stolen bases (29 in 32 attempts).
A group of talented juniors should shore up Machado’s squad in 2015. Outfielder Gehrig Kniffen led the team with a .538 batting average and struck out just twice in 2014.
Junior Jake McAvoy had a 7-1 record with a 2.60 ERA. And centerfielder Tommy Moreno (.306, 15 RBI) was solid on defense.
Sophomore Land Sutherland (.421, 25 RBI) provided solid defensive play behind the plate.
It will be a huge challenge for next year’s squad to top this year’s .387 team batting average and to make the semifinals again. But Machado (who provided his own gloves for seven of the starting nine in 2014) is itching to get going.
“We’ll be OK,” he said.