Bob Miller has set a certain standard of excellence at Cuesta College since he took over the Cougars’ baseball program 14 years ago.
Standing down the third-base line late Friday afternoon, the longtime head coach was able to soak in another rewarding moment.
Cuesta cruised to a 9-2 win against last-place L.A. Pierce in the final game of the regular season, putting the finishing touches on the Cougars’ first Western State Conference championship since 2013.
“You start off in August with a group of players to accomplish a goal like this,” said Miller, a four-time conference coach of the year recipient. “It’s a proud feeling, and I’m proud of the effort that we got and the achievement by the team.”
Cuesta completed the regular season with a 25-11 overall record and an 18-6 mark against conference opponents. It was the eighth Western State Conference title celebrated in Miller’s tenure and insured the Cougars will host a first-round, best-of-three playoff series next Friday and Saturday.
The lopsided margin of victory allowed Miller to get 22 players into the game, and by the end, it was Morro Bay High graduate Dan Beavers recording the final out.
The sophomore reserve pitcher caught a line drive off the bat of L.A. Pierce’s Jason McKeever-Rowe, and the Cougars charged the mound for a celebratory dog pile.
“Everyone’s worked really hard,” starting pitcher Louis Raymond said. “We’ve put a lot of hours in together, and it was good to see that pay off.”
Raymond turned in another sharp outing and improved to 8-2 on the year after giving up one hit over five scoreless innings. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound sophomore struck out five and walked one while maintaining his team-best 1.34 ERA.
Raymond and fellow sophomores Brendan Jenkins (7-5) and Neil Uskali (6-1) have proven to be one of the key strengths for Cuesta throughout the season. The trio has combined to strike out 195 batters against 35 walks with six complete games to their credit.
Miller said the coaching staff has not made a decision on who will start Friday’s playoff series opener.
“But we’re really confident with any of the three that we roll out there,” Miller said. “We’re putting out a guy that gives us a chance to win the baseball game.”
A defense that was inconsistent early in the year seems to have rounded into form. Cuesta committed 63 errors in 35 contests overall, but had only seven miscues over the final nine games.
Miller said the past two weeks have “been a lot better for us defensively,” and he hopes to maintain that composure in the postseason.
He also likes the potential depth in the Cougars’ batting order, starting at the top with sophomore Dustin Miller, who leads the team in runs (33), hits (54) and triples (four).
Former San Luis Obispo High standout Garrett Giovanelli is batting a team-high .374 with nine doubles, 30 RBI and 13 stolen bases.
Designated hitter Tanner Bos hit a grand slam during Friday’s victory, his team-leading fourth home run of the season.
“We’re not just relying on a couple guys,” Miller said. “If everybody is right, we can give a pitcher not too many soft outs there in the ballgame.”