The Bulldogs of the Pacific Northwest have landed another Eagle from the Central Coast.
Hours after Arroyo Grande High tennis star Sophie Whittle inked a National Letter of Intent to play at Gonzaga, one of the area’s top pitchers, Templeton junior Mac Lardner, announced his intention to do the same in one year’s time.
Lardner verbally committed to Gonzaga on Wednesday night after an unofficial visit to Spokane, Wash., this past weekend sold him on the team’s vision for his future on the mound and in the classroom.
“Basically, every Division I school in the West has state-of-the-art facilities and schools,” Lardner said in a phone interview Thursday. “So I knew that was going to be (at Gonzaga). What made the difference for me were the people that are going to be around me every day.
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“When I met the coach, the coaching staff and one of their guidance councilors, I felt like I knew them for years.”
Lardner, a lanky left-hander with a deceptive changeup and a burgeoning fastball, burst onto the local scene when he was the Los Padres League Pitcher of the Year as a freshman with a 9-2 record, a 1.63 earned run average and 51 strikeouts in 682⁄3 innings.
As a sophomore, his ERA dropped to 1.08 to go along with a 6-2 record and 74 strikeouts compared to just eight walks in 642⁄3 innings. He put on a masterful performance in the Eagles’ first-round playoff game against La Puente, throwing a complete game two-hitter with seven strikeouts.
Since then, he’s continued to grow — literally and figuratively.
He’s up to 6-foot-4 and has added 20 to 25 pounds of muscle to his frame.
“I used to always just be this tall, lanky kid,” he said. “I’m starting to fill out now.”
That’s helped him gain velocity, and he said his fastball topped out at 87 mph at the Fall Senior Classic in Arizona this past summer.
The event, which he attended with his Trosky Baseball club team, features more than 100 clubs from around the world playing in front of college and professional scouts.
It’s where the Bulldogs first popped on his radar, when teammate Casey Legumina — a Gonzaga commit — told Lardner the college was interested in him and that he should give them a chance.
Lardner admitted that as a kid, he’d have scoffed at the idea of a West Coast Conference school over a Pac-12 program, but with offers from both Gonzaga and Washington, he went with what he felt is the better fit overall.
“I guess I’ve grown wiser and I saw that, to be honest with you, a lot of the reason why people always talk about the Pac-12 is because of their big football and basketball teams,” he said. “I really don’t care how good the football team is.
“I looked at Gonzaga’s schedule, and there’s UCLA, Arizona State, Cal Poly. They play all these big-time schools.”
Lardner said he leaned on advice from a number of outlets, from his parents and coaches to his godfather, former Cal Poly and MajorLeague pitcher and current San Francisco Giants commentator Mike Krukow.
Krukow and his father have been best friends since middle school, Lardner said, and the trio would spend hours watching baseball while observing hitter tendencies.
“They all told me not to get caught up in all the flash and find the right school for me,” Lardner said.
“That’s really all I could think about during my high school career — finding the right school. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders now that I’ve finally done it.”