Cambrian: Sports

Bronco diamond star also a gold star student

Coast Union senior outfielder and valedictorian Sergio Mendoza slides into third base during the Broncosâ™ 8-1 playoff victory May 27.
Coast Union senior outfielder and valedictorian Sergio Mendoza slides into third base during the Broncosâ™ 8-1 playoff victory May 27. Special to The Cambrian

Senior right fielder Sergio Mendoza’s solid defensive and offensive contributions to Coast Union’s 2014 baseball season helped the Broncos achieve a sizzling 19-5 record, the best in recent years.

And although Mendoza’s respectable batting average (.314) was a significant improvement from his previous years, it wasn’t the best average on the team. However, when it came to his grade-point average at Coast Union, Mendoza not only surpassed his Bronco teammates — he also recorded the best GPA in his class and was named valedictorian. 

When was the last time a starting varsity baseball player was valedictorian?  That research is ongoing, but the last time a starting varsity student athlete at Coast Union earned valedictorian status was in 2010, when the gifted Conner Cunningham (football and basketball) achieved that lofty goal.

In 2009, his talented sister, Mackenzie Cunningham, led her basketball team to a CIF Division 7 championship (and played tennis all four years) and achieved valedictorian status as well.

Meanwhile, in an interview following graduation, Mendoza was asked whether being valedictorian was a goal of his entering his freshman year.

“Not really,” he said. In fact, becoming valedictorian “never came to mind until they told me. I forgot that I might be close to that.” 

Mendoza said his GPA (4.24) was just slightly higher than the GPA of Alison Brunschwiler, the class salutatorian. 

What were his academic goals entering Coast Union? 

“Just to do what I have 

always done,” Mendoza said, “which is to do well in school. I was kind of doing my own thing. My parents always told me to do my best. They always told me how important education was. 

“They told me to always pay attention,” he added with quiet laughter. As for his study habits, he enjoys listening to music — soft rock, he said. 

When it comes to his performance in varsity baseball, as a freshman Mendoza had just one hit in nine at-bats, and he stole one base. During his sophomore year, he had three hits in 32 at-bats (.094) and stole two bases. In his junior year, he collected four hits in 10 at-bats and stole three bases. 

But this year, his break-out year, Mendoza contributed 16 hits in 51 at-bats (.314), stole seven bases and made some brilliant catches in right field that prevented runners from scoring at crucial times. How does he explain his dramatic improvement this baseball season?

“I felt a lot more comfortable in the field,” he said, chalking his improved skills up to experience. 

Plus, “the coaching this season was really good.” Coach Steve Kniffen used a machine to send fly balls soaring deep into the outfield every day in practice, Mendoza recalled. 

Moreover, the team “was a lot more serious — we kept together as a team. It all just clicked. We finally clicked. It was pretty cool,” he added. 

“It was like a little family. It was awesome.”

Speaking of moments that were “awesome,” Kniffen said he was greatly moved when he heard Mendoza’s valedictorian speech on graduation day. 

In that speech, Mendoza used “a compilation of sayings that had been put together” by a colleague of Kniffen’s (who had a brain tumor). Kniffen had used those sayings to motivate the team during the season.

Hearing Mendoza repeat those sayings “was the proudest moment of my baseball coaching career,” Kniffen explained, tipping his cap to his right fielder and valedictorian, Sergio Mendoza.