Bonita Baseball Prepares for Opening Showdown with Damien, Feb. 24

February 6, 2012
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Look for Tyler Heslop to provide Bonita with some early-season thunder.

Look for Tyler Heslop to provide Bonita with some early-season thunder.

With marquee player Justin Garza on the mound, Bonita should charge admission to all its games this year. The senior right-hander reportedly has added about four miles per hour to his fastball.

“I had one scout tell me he’s hit as high as 95 mph,” Bonita head coach John Knott said during a Monday break in practice.

Last season, Garza completed a perfect 13-0 season. With the added pop on his fastball, Knott’s biggest concerns might be trying to keep enough baseballs in stock.

Knott, now in his sixth season at Bonita, anticipates more opponents will be first-ball swinging against Garza and more foul tips flying into the crowd.

The honor of catching Garza will go to senior Tyler Heslop, a three-year varsity player, and newcomer Jake Blunt.

“The two catchers in our program most other teams would love to have,” Knott said. “They both figure to be in the lineup.”

The No. 2 starter has yet to be determined, but Knott and pitching coach Mitch Newell have a host of arms they’re looking at, including juniors Sam Stavang and Parker Merritt, senior Mitch Johnson and sophomore Joey Halabrin. Senior Thomas Castro, who is penciled in at third, can also throw, along with catcher Jake Blunt.

Thomas Castro is cocked, loaded and ready to go.

Thomas Castro is cocked, loaded and ready to go.

“I like where we’re at, but we still have a lot of holes and question marks,” said Knott, whose team just returned from a series of workouts in Stockton, Calif., a yearly Bonita ritual.

Although Bonita lost the likes of pitchers Adam McCreery (Arizona State), Brandon Murfett and Daniel Tessone, center fielder Matt Gelalich (Pepperdine), catcher Mark Lindsay, second baseman Rober Mier and right fielder KC Huth, the Bearcats program has gotten to the elite status where it now just reloads. Bonita’s freshman team lost only tme last season.

There will likely be two new faces joining center field Nolan Henley, who shifts over from his left field spot  last year. Vying for outfield starting roles are Victor Magallanes, Conor Renard, Joe Willard and Tanner Diebold.

The infield appears more settled with Justin Rowe, an all-leaguer, returning at shortstop. Meanwhile Castro will anchor third. Woody Reyes, currently playing soccer, has the inside position at second. Meanwhile, Anthony Gonzales is expected to hold down the bag at first.

The 2012 team will get an early test against Damien, a Feb. 24, 5 p.m. game under the lights at Bonita that will kick off the Dick’s Sporting Goods Invitational that Bonita is hosting with Northview High School. The tournament runs through March 10.

Last year, Bonita spanked Damien at Mt. SAC, so Knott expects Damien will be to settle scores.

“Damien’s going to be really good, and they’ll be gunning for us,” Knott said.

A lot of teams will be gunning for Bonita, which has been a perennial league champion since Knott took over the reins. A handful of five-star contests on the schedule include San Dimas (March 15), Westlake (March 22), Los Altos (March 29) and Thousand Oaks (April 14). Los Altos, in particular, sports a veteran line-up stacked several four-year varsity players.

Should Bonita win another crown — and no one is betting against them with Garza holding the ball — it would set the school record for league titles,.

 “I like the group of guys we have,” Knott said. “They’re all passionate about baseball.”

Stealing a phrase of from the Super Bowl-winning Giants, the Bearcats of 2012 are all in.

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