By now, everyone in town should know that when tiny La Verne Lutheran High School is out to make a name for one of its sports programs, we all better sit up and take notice.
For the past few years, the Trojans basketball program has been synonymous with excellence and state championships. This past season, the basketballers under the direction of Brandon Lee made another fabulous state championship run with only eight players.
Can the baseball program do the same, despite a school enrollment of 137 students?
Don’t count them out. They have too much heart and character, according to their coaches Michael Lange, Jeff Henderson and Robert Peterson.
“This team has jelled together better than any team I’ve been around,” Henderson said, observing a Trojans practice taking place on the Bonita freshman field on March 12.
They play their home games at Bonita because they don’t have a home diamond to call their own. For practice, they typically run their drills on Lutheran’s football field. This past off season, they finally got their own batting cage. Other schools have handfuls of them.
But don’t start feeling sorry for Lutheran. They relish their underdog roles. Every kid who is in the program loves to play baseball. They’re not chasing the white rat each day because they love the shine of their uniform or the emblem on their hat.
“These kids just wanted to come out and win some games,” Henderson said. “In all honesty, we all feel like we’re kind of behind the 8 ball here. But I think with the heart these guys have, they’ll persevere and I think they’ll do everything they have to do to get to the CIF playoffs.”
That’ll be a prediction worth watching every single week because the range of talent on the Trojans team is diverse, to say the least. The Trojans boast players attracting looks from D1 colleges and players who haven’t slipped on a baseball uniform since their first year of Little League.
Recruiting in the off-season went something like this. “Hey, you used to play ball, didn’t you. Why don’t you come out for the team.”
It’s a message that traveled far.
Layne Henderson, who enjoyed successful freshman and sophomore years playing for Bonita transferred to Lutheran a year ago. To do so, he had to sit out a full year. On Wednesday, March 12 of this week, he was eligible to play again, after sitting out 365 days.
“The Bonita JV program just didn’t work for him,” Layne’s father, Jeff, said. “It’s second-to-none, don’t get me wrong, but it just didn’t work for him.”
That’s part of the beauty of the La Verne Lutheran baseball program in this era of high school free agency. Instead of being buried behind Bonita’s elite roster of pitchers, which itself attracted two transfers, the Hendersons saw new opportunity and a fresh start at Lutheran - - a place to blossom.
Layne throws stands 6-foot-4, weighs 190 pounds, throws five different pitches and can pop the glove with 90 mph fastballs. That’s talent that would have a hard time developing on the bench.
Meanwhile, Robert Peterson, a former La Verne Little League all-star, came over from Calvary Baptist. Knowing that his Little League friends Layne and Sean Heberer, Trojans team captain, were now playing for La Verne Lutheran made it easier for him to also make the switch. He also brought his high 80s-plus fastball with him.
Shawn Kincade and catcher Brady Lange are wrestlers who got the baseball bug. Austin Gump is another former Bonita player hanging his hat with Lutheran now. He can’t see game action until April 1 because of his transfer.
“He’s like a racehorse chomping at the bit,” coach Henderson said. “He can’t wait to pop the starting gate.”
Thus far, the team has played one game against Southlands Christian High School, coming out on the short end, 13-3, but that game was played while the Lutheran lineup was still taking shape. They’re looking forward to a rematch.
“Our kids know the handicaps and challenges they face,” Henderson said. “We may not have the facilities these other schools have, but we’re not afraid to play anybody. If we take the loss, we take the loss, we’ll hold our heads up.”
When it comes to La Verne Lutheran, there’s no crying in baseball. There’s no complaining, either. They just want to play old-fashioned baseball.
The Trojans will be at home (Bonita freshman field) against The Webb Schools on March 19. The first pitch is set for 6 p.m.
Manager: Michael Lange, Coaches Jeff Henderson and Robert Peterson