Like the world champion San Francisco Giants, the 2012 CIF-champion Bonita Bearcats used pitching, defense, clutch play and that intangible — team unity — to take the title.
“It’s guys who are willing to do whatever it takes to win,” Bonita head coach John Knott said, reflecting on the magical 2012 season. “It’s guys who are able to thrive in whatever their role is. So, if they’re asked to bunt, if they’re a defensive specialist, if they’re coming off the bench to pinch run, if they’re asked to take a pitch, they know how to respond. Really, it’s the ability to be resilient.
The 2012 team earned every accolade they received.
“It was probably the worst hitting group we’ve had in the last five years, and when I say the worst, it’s not that we stunk, but we had better hitting teams in previous years,” Knott said, explaining the team’s unorthodox path to the championship. “But this group pitched well and we played really good defense. I want to say we made only 32 or 33 errors in 33 games. So we made about an error a game, and in high school baseball, that’s incredible.
Compiling an almost unheard-of 31-2 record in 2012, Bonita was in every game to the final out.
But now the question arises, can Bonita repeat with its ace Justin Garza now wearing a Cal State Fullerton jersey? Garza was arguably the best high school pitcher ever to throw a 5.25-ounce baseball in the San Gabriel Valley.
In Bonita’s favor, the Bearcats return pitchers Sam Stavang and Parker Merritt, who both came up big last year. Moreover, there are two new transfers now on campus, Chad Hockin from Damien High School and left-hander John Reed from Charter Oak, who are expected to showcase their ample pitching talents.
“They’re both Division I commits,” Knott added.
Both players signed national letters of intent last week. As part of the new high school transfer rules, both Hockin and Reed will have to sit out the first 30 days of the season. They’ll become eligible to play April 1, 2013.
While Bonita appears to boast a front-line starting rotation that many Major League Baseball teams would envy, Knott faces the enormous challenge of replacing pitching coach Mitch Newell, who helped develop Garza and many other top hurlers for Bonita the past six seasons. Knott has been interviewing several candidates to try to fill the role.
“I’ve had a lot of people apply,” Knott said. “It’s about trying to find the right fit and the right person for the kids.”
Also coming back from the championship team are shortstop Justin Row and catcher Jake Blunt, both seniors. Other returners include Victor Magallanes, Tanner Diebold, Austin McGilvra, and “Miracle” Joe Willard. Willard helped Bonita defeat Paramount 2-1 in the quarter-finals when he threw out three runners at first base from his right field position, something you may never see in two lifetimes!
Although the diamond dust has settled from the 2012 season, Coach Knott likes where he sits entering 2013. Bonita owns a championship, and Knott fully expects the team to be ready to defend it.
“It’s probably more fun getting to the top,” Knott said. “It’s definitely harder staying there.”
To stay there, Knott is keeping a close eye on the approximate 22 players now practicing and vying for varsity positions.
“We’re just trying to figure out who is going where and get down to a reasonable roster that we think will give us the best chance to make a run at it again,” Knott said.
“I like the group of guys we have. They’re passionate. But we have a long, long way to go.”