Cambrian: Sports

Coast Union standouts Kniffen, McAvoy add more baseball honors

The beat goes on for Bronco baseball standouts Jake McAvoy and Gehrig Kniffen as they continue to be lauded for the outstanding seasons they put together. Just last week, the two players were honored by being placed on the Tribune’s All-County Baseball Team (Kniffen on the second team; McAvoy as honorable mention).

Earlier this month, McAvoy was named MVP of the Broncos and MVP of the Coast Valley League, while Kniffen was named Outstanding Hitter of the Broncos and was placed on the All-Coast Valley League first team. 

This week, more accolades rolled in as Kniffen was placed on the All-CIF Division 7 first team, and McAvoy made it to the division’s second team. Kniffen’s outstanding season featured a beefy batting average of .460. He led the team in hits (29) and runs scored (25), swiped 16 bases in 16 attempts and drove in 15 runs. 

If all these honors and awards resulted in heavy hardware, Kniffen and McAvoy would need U-Haul trailers to transport their postseason goodies to the next stops in their educational careers. Kniffen is heading to Santa Cruz County, where he’ll attend Cabrillo Community College (while simultaneously serving as volunteer for the UC Santa Cruz basketball program). McAvoy is off to College of the Siskiyous in Northern California to study business and pitch for the Eagles.

Reflecting on his athletic experiences after moving to Cambria and attending Coast Union beginning his sophomore year, McAvoy said his goal was basically to play varsity baseball: All he hoped to do was first make the team, second become a starter and third to “help the team.” 

He certainly did that, going 5-2 on the mound with a 1.70 earned-run average, giving up only 14 earned runs in 57.2 innings while striking out 50 batters. At the plate, he hit .396 while leading the team with 18 runs batted in. 

Having been given a chance to pitch for the College of the Siskiyous baseball squad, McAvoy’s next challenge is to “work on control of my pitches, add some velocity,” and continue to improve on his use of his “four-seam and two-seam pitches,” his cutter and his “12-6 breaking ball.” 

He describes playing ball for two years at Coast Union as fun, even though the 2015 team didn’t bond as a group the way the 2014 team — a group that made the Division 7 CIF semifinals but lost by an eyelash, 11-10 — came together.

The fact that the 2015 team didn’t click — even though the Broncos went 10-0 in the Coast Valley League — didn’t affect McAvoy. 

“The guys did their best to do what they needed to do, so it really didn’t change the way I hit or pitched,” the graduate explained. 

He credited head coach Brian Machado and assistant coach Steve Kniffen as being “probably the most influential coaches I ever played for. Coach Brian really helped me to become a better all-around player, and Coach Steve taught me to control my nerves and trust my defense.”

Gehrig Kniffen, who made the All-CIF Division 7 team for the second straight year, was pleasantly surprised. 

“It was kind of unreal to me. Last year, I never would have even thought of being all-CIF, and this year because the team didn’t go very far, I didn’t expect it. But it is really exciting; two years in a row is really cool for me.”

Asked whether this additional honor helps ease the sting from his last at-bat in the Broncos’ only playoff game (he bunted into a double play with one out in the bottom of the seventh and a runner on third), Kniffen didn’t hesitate for a second.

“I would definitely trade all-CIF to take that play back — for sure.” 

Those close to the Coast Union baseball program, including those in the stands that day, were expecting Kniffen to swing away rather than bunt, since he had the highest batting average on the team and was a clutch hitter. But, characteristically, Kniffen handled the stumble with grace, and saw the big picture, recognizing that it really is just a game, and that part of dealing with life is learning to handle setbacks.

The Kniffen family home in Cambria is an ideal place for a kid growing up who loves baseball. Gehrig’s dad, Steve installed a batting cage in the yard (with a pitching machine throwing as many pitches to batters as a kid can swing at). Little League batters and others have used this facility for years.

“This year, I used it more than perhaps I had before. I’d go in there and hit pitches for 15 minutes or so. It’s really nice to get up early and hit some balls. The machine doesn’t throw very hard anymore, so it’s not realistic compared to live pitching. But it’s good to practice your swing, get the bat on the ball. You can definitely work on your mechanics in the batting cage.”

In college, both Kniffen and McAvoy will have opportunities not only to hone their skills (Kniffen’s immediate sports-related goal is to prepare for a career as a coach; McAvoy’s is to become a top-quality college pitcher), but to take a serious bite out of the academic world — and the challenges that come with life in California as a young adult.