Senior Tyler Chivens seeks to end 11-year playoff drought for Morro Bay baseball

Morro Bay High senior Tyler Chivens is leading the Pirates at the plate and on the mound.
Morro Bay High senior Tyler Chivens is leading the Pirates at the plate and on the mound.

Tyler Chivens got his long-awaited first taste of the high school playoffs in February as a member of the Morro Bay basketball team. The feeling stuck with him.

Now, in his final season as a standout pitcher and slugger on the Morro Bay baseball team, the senior is doing everything he can to recapture that feeling and help the Pirates end an 11-year drought.

With first-place Santa Ynez and second-place Templeton looking like postseason locks, Morro Bay is part of a four-team pack in the Los Padres League — along with Cabrillo, Lompoc and Santa Maria — looking to secure the final two playoff spots.

Morro Bay (9-14, 8-8 Los Padres) has won its last four league games and Chivens, along with a couple of seniors, is a big reason why the Pirates have a chance to continue their run. The lanky 6-foot-4 redhead has been an ace on the mound and carries a 5-2 record in league play and a 1.52 ERA to go along with 54 strikeouts.

“I am a lot stronger,” Chivens said Wednesday of his improvement from last season. “My fastball has picked up and has more movement on it.”

First-year Morro Bay head coach Sean Gabriel said Chivens’ fastball, which he said hovers in the mid-80s, is even more effective because of his split-finger fastball and curveball. But when asked about what makes Chivens stand out, Gabriel didn’t mention strikeouts.

“He is such a competitor. He’s not somebody you have to motivate,” said Gabriel, who coached Chivens when he was a freshman on the junior varsity team. “He wants to dominate. He wants to do his best to make you look foolish.”

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Morro Bay High’s Tyler Chivens rounds the bases in a 2016 game against Golden Valley at the 41st annual San Luis Obispo Spring Baseball Tournament in March 2016. Joe Johnston

At the plate, Chivens has been the one making pitchers look silly. Through 16 league games, the senior is tied for the team lead in batting average (.429), hits (21) and RBI (11) while batting in the No. 3 slot.

On Monday against Lompoc, Chivens had perhaps his best all-around performance of the season. He struck out 10 in a complete game shutout and drove in the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning, part of a 3-for-3 day at the plate. Chivens, who started the season playing first base, has also provided Morro Bay with solid defense after moving to center field.

He has been backed up by senior catcher Kalvin Hilliard, a longtime friend who grew up with Chivens in Cayucos. Hilliard shares an identical .429 batting average from the leadoff spot. Gabriel calls Hilliard the heart of the team. The third piece of the puzzle is senior Joe Burton, a right fielder who bats in the clean-up spot. Burton is batting .400 and has a team-leading seven doubles.

So how can Morro Bay avoid losing four of its last five games of the season like it did last year? Pitching and defense, Chivens said.

“We are on a good streak, but sometimes we have some holes in the field,” Chivens said of the Morro Bay team that has 26 errors in league play. “Our main drawback has been errors and big mistakes.”

He wants to dominate. He wants to do his best to make you look foolish.

Morro Bay head coach Sean Gabriel on senior Tyler Chivens

Hilliard, who has returned to the mound recently as the No. 2 pitcher after battling an injury early in the season, will help with the pitching side of things. He’s given up just one earned run in his last two appearances — wins over Santa Maria and Orcutt Academy.

Morro Bay will begin its final five-game stretch Friday against Orcutt Academy, followed by two games against Cabrillo and Santa Ynez, respectively. To get a spot in the playoffs and end the drought, Morro Bay might need an upset win over first-place Santa Ynez in one of the final two games of the season. But Gabriel isn’t looking that far ahead just yet.

“(Making the playoffs) is definitely something that is always in the back of our minds, kind of that main goal off in the distance,” Gabriel said. “We try to take it game by game, especially now since every game is so important to us. Looking ahead is a dangerous thing.”