The three most dynamic plays by the Broncos in their 12-2 loss to Santa Maria on Thursday, March 12, provide an indication of what Coast will be capable of doing once they begin playing teams from schools closer to their own size — in the Coast Valley League beginning March 24 at Valley Christian Academy.
The first applause-producing play came in the bottom of the third inning. Fleet-footed senior Bien Trieu, the fastest Bronco, laid down a good bunt and reached base when the Saints catcher overthrew the first baseman. Trieu rocketed all the way to third base on the errant throw.
Next up was Lane Sutherland; the junior catcher belted a booming drive over the left fielder’s head for a double, easily scoring Trieu with the Broncos’ first run. The score going into the fifth inning was 2-1 in favor of the Saints, but they picked up five runs in the fifth and two in the sixth to lead 9-1.
Fan appreciation play No. 2 for Coast Union came in the bottom of the sixth inning. Gehrig Kniffen hammered a drive deep into the gap in right-center field; when the right fielder couldn’t pick up the ball cleanly, Kniffen hustled all the way to third.
With Jake McAvoy at the plate, third base coach Steve Kniffen put the squeeze bunt sign on. As the Saints pitcher began his windup, Kniffen charged down the line toward home, McAvoy executed a perfect bunt, and Coast had its second run.
The Broncos committed a few errors, but they also made great defensive plays. Kniffen hauled in a tricky wind-whipped popup at first base, and Sutherland’s quick snap throw picked off a Saints runner who had led a bit too far off first base. The catcher also threw out a Santa Maria runner trying to steal second base. And Zander Stoothoff, playing third base, made a nifty play on a bunt, firing to first in time to nip the runner.
The Broncos lost several very talented student athletes to graduation in the offseason — including Grant Magnuson, Emmany Godinez, Tommy Howard and Quinten Raethke — which left seniors Stoothoff, McAvoy, Kniffen and Tommy Moreno to provide leadership for the younger, less-experienced players on the 2015 squad.
Moreno, who consistently makes outstanding plays in center field and is hitting the ball with authority this spring, talked about assuming a leadership role in the absence of the gifted players lost to graduation.
“Guys are looking at me, at what I do, and it’s definitely different, but it’s pretty fun at the same time,” he said. “If I ask the underclassmen to do something, they do it; and if I teach them how to catch a fly ball or how to hold the bat, they are open-minded. So that makes my life a lot easier. It makes the coaches’ lives a lot easier, too.”
An example of Moreno’s mentoring skills played out following Coast’s loss to Santa Maria. Sophomore Jack MacKinnon, in right field, struggled with two line drives hit in front of him. The next day at practice, Moreno worked with the sophomore and believes there will be positive results.
“Jack and all the other underclassmen — all the new guys — are very coachable, and they all know baseball in some way,” Moreno explained during a phone interview Saturday, March 14.
One point that has been made about the sophomore players who decided not to come out for baseball during their freshman year — because they figured they would sit on the bench — is that, had they come out, “they would have watched how everyone else does it,” Moreno said.
“We can only imagine how good they would be this year; but we have to teach them some things and deal with what we have. It’s not like teaching them a new language; they know a little about baseball.”
Part of the sports culture at Coast Union is the need to play early-season games against larger schools leading up to the Coast Valley League schedule. Moreno was asked whether the younger players are getting the necessary experience while enduring lopsided losses to Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and others.
“It’s great experience,” the center fielder replied. “I went through it my freshman year. We lost 20-to-zero against Templeton and 20-to-zero against Nipomo. I didn’t get down; I realized that this is what happens at Coast Union.
“And once the Coast Valley League comes around, watch out, things are going to be great,” the senior predicted.
Speaking of Coast playing significantly larger schools, on Tuesday March 17 the Broncos entertained Paso Robles — and the Bearcats shut out Coast, 12-0. Sutherland and McAvoy each had a pair of hits for the Broncos.
The next home games for the Broncos will be Saturday, March 21, against Fresno Christian: a doubleheader, with the first game starting at 11 a.m.
The first game will be broadcast on KTEA-FM (103.5) and will stream on www.ktea-fm.com.