Solid, Savvy Wilson Seniors Lead Bruins To No. 1

If high school seniors prepared for exams the way they do the prom,
we’d all have brought home straight A’s. For generations, it’s been the
school year’s most anticipated occasion, but for 11 seniors on the
Wilson High baseball team, prom night carried significance for a much
different reason this spring.

On the night when their peers
reveled in their last hurrah together, Elliot Glynn and his teammates
sat around a table at senior first baseman Chase Kaesman’s house,
dressed in tuxedoes, and rather than soaking in the celebration of the
evening, turned discussion to the task ahead.

“It was a pretty
passionate conversation,” said Glynn, the team’s co-captain who
delivered an emotional speech that night. “The day before, we had won
our first-round (playoff) game. I had never been part of a team that
actually won a playoff game, and we ended up talking about how much we
wanted to keep it alive, just win.”

Which is precisely what the
Bruins went out and did, earning a pair of come-from-behind victories
the following week before polishing off the season with a 5-1 win over
Anaheim’s Canyon High at Dodger Stadium to claim the California
Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division I championship.

Wilson
(Long Beach, Calif.) entered the final week of the season as the No. 1
team in the country, and finished as the top team in the Baseball
America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association Top 50 poll,
becoming just the second California school in the 15-year history of
the poll to finish No. 1.

“Senior leadership was the backbone of
this team,” said Andy Hall, a 20-year coaching veteran, including seven
years as the head coach at Wilson. “When you hear stories like that,
for those guys to be thinking about our season rather than the prom,
that’s pretty special.

“This was the finest team I’ve coached.”

A Year In The Making

With
an enrollment of approximately 4,400 students and an athletic
department that has produced former major leaguers Bobby Grich, Jeff
and Sean Burroughs as well as a summer Olympian in every Olympics since
1956, including a handful of record-setting swimmers, Wilson has long
been a hotbed for standout prep teams. Last year was no exception, as
the Bruins got off to an 11-3 start before losing eight of their final
16 games in 2006.

The tailspin was underscored by selfishness and dissension, not a lack of talent, and it left Hall with a sour taste.

“I
remember telling them that, ‘if we have another season with all of the
non-baseball related stuff, next year will be my last as your coach,’ ”
Hall said. “After the meeting, Glynn came up to me, put his arm around
me, and assured me that next year would be different.

“Those (seniors) did a great job on that level. We were a great team because we had great players who cared about each other.”

With
last year’s implosion behind them, the Bruins opened the season ranked
No. 6 in the Preseason BA/NHSBCA poll, and again got off to a strong
start, advancing to the championship game of the season-opening Loara
Tournament in Orange County.

There, they squared off against
another nationally-ranked team in Cypress (Calif.) High, which boasted
the nation’s best high school hitter in senior third baseman Josh
Vitters. Cypress won 9-6, but the tone for the season had been set.

“It
set us back a little, we were pretty down about it,” Glynn said. “And
we said, ‘we’re never going to be the bridesmaid anymore.’ “

Wilson
rolled off an 11-game winning streak before dropping its second game of
the season, this time to nationally-ranked Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High
7-4 in the Lions Easter Tournament, which featured five games in three
days. But after a late-April setback in a rematch against conference
rival and defending CIF Southern Section champion Lakewood (Calif.)
High, which was ranked No. 4 at the time, Wilson never stumbled again,
winning its last nine games and marching to the top of the CIF’s most
competitive section (California doesn’t have a state playoff).

Along
the way, the Bruins defeated a third-round draft pick in Simi Valley
High senior righthander Nicholas Barnese, and then held a
second-rounder, El Modena High first baseman Freddie Freeman, to
0-for-3 with a walk.

Traditional power Esperanza High was the
hottest team in the region entering the postseason, and after knocking
off Lakewood, Esperanza drew Wilson, with a date at Dodger Stadium on
the line.

The Bruins found themselves on the ropes once again,
falling behind 1-0 and again 3-1 before rallying in the bottom of the
seventh to pull out a 5-4 win that Hall likened to, “one of those
football games where whoever had the ball last was going to win.”

Complexion Of A Champion

Hall
knew his team was built for success, and during its rigorous schedule,
watched it develop the resolve it needed to match its ability. With
Glynn stepping to the front of the rotation, as well as the clubhouse,
all the other pieces fell in place. Junior Ray Hanson was the perfect
complement to Glynn’”a righthander with power stuff to go with Glynn’s
feel and command from the left side. Hanson went 9-0, 2.16 and led the
team in innings (71) and strikeouts (77) while Glynn added nine wins
and 72 strikeouts with 19 walks in 68 innings.

Kaesman and
senior catcher Tyler Albright provided the heart of the order with
thump, and senior second baseman Pat Radford reinvented himself,
improving his approach at the plate tenfold from last year, to provide
the lineup with balance.

But when the Bruins weren’t
out-executing their opponents, they could rely on superior talent with
senior shortstop Ryan Dent and junior center fielder Aaron Hicks, who
doubled as the team’s closer.

Dent was one of the nation’s best
middle infield prospects who, before being drafted in the supplemental
first-round by the Red Sox, capped his four-year varsity career with a
.468 average, seven triples, 28 stolen bases and a mind-blowing 30-7
walk-strikeout ratio.

Hicks might be drafted higher than Dent
next year. He was 44-for-45 in stolen bases, posted a .370 average and
went 3-0 with three saves and 27 strikeouts in 19 innings on the mound,
running his fastball up to 94 mph.

Junior third baseman Zach
Wilson (.379-3-33) has already verbally committed to Arizona State, and
Albright (.346-1-24) is headed to Harvard to play in the Ivy League
next year.

Glynn is also bound for the East Coast, and says he
has no plans to sign with the Devil Rays, who drafted him in the 46th
round, opting instead to pitch and play outfield for Connecticut.

As
news spread about Wilson’s national ranking, the buzz in the community
heightened. Each of Wilson’s playoff games were packed with hundreds of
fans, and eventually the team brought home Wilson’s fourth CIF
sectional title, the first since 1957. Four times in the last nine
years, Wilson played for the section title, but came away empty each
time.

But this year’s edition would not be deterred from the
task at hand, and can now make up for celebration time lost along the
way.

AROUND THE NATION


The preseason No. 1 team, Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.), held the
top spot in the poll until stumbling in a mid-May game against Roxbury
High (Succasunna, N.J.), and the loss proved to be costly. Behind the
powerful right arm of Rick Porcello, the Pirates won their third
consecutive Non-Public Class A state championship and finished the
season with a 32-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking.

Seton
Hall Prep defeated St. Joseph’s High (Metuchen) 10-1 behind Porcello’s
complete-game five-hitter, just two days after he was drafted in the
first round by the Tigers.

The Gatorade national player of the
year, Porcello finished his senior season 10-0, 1.18 with 112
strikeouts and 15 walks in 71 innings. No. 2 starter Evan Danieli went
11-0, 0.45, tying the school record for wins in a season. The Pirates
had a 1.53 team ERA and a .353 team average.

• A pair of
precocious juniors led their teams to state titles in the topsy-turvy
Texas playoffs. Rogers High junior righthander Taylor Jungmann tossed
six innings of one-hit, shutout ball in the 2-A semifinals in a 9-2
victory against Blanco High in 95-degree temperatures at Dell Diamond
in Round Rock. Jungmann improved his record to 13-0, 0.40 on the
season, including a perfect 5-0 mark in the playoffs.

Because of
an ankle injury to Rogers’ No. 2 pitcher Alan Valenzuela, Rogers was
forced to go to its bullpen, trailing 4-1 in the title tilt against
Hooks High. State tournament MVP Ricky Brenek answered the call by
throwing five shutout innings of relief and Rogers came from behind for
an 8-4 victory to claim the state title.

“We know we’re going to
win when (Jungmann) pitches, but we didn’t always use him every chance
we could throughout the season,” Rogers coach Craig Coheley said.
“Having sat Taylor out during the year and using the other kids paid
big dividends, because those guys were ready. It saved us.”

With
an enrollment of about 225 students, Rogers (36-2) is one of the
state’s smallest 2-A schools, yet it has racked up 109 wins in the past
four years.

• With junior outfielder Robbie Grossman setting the
table and a trio of pitchers carrying the workload on the mound,
Cy-Fair High (Cypress, Texas) won its final 27 games of the season,
culminating with a 6-1 victory against South High (Harlingen) in the
Texas 5-A championship game. The state title was the first in the
school’s history, snapping a 27-year dry spell for Cy-Fair coach Woody
Champagne
and earning the Bobcats a No. 13 ranking in the BA/NHSBCA Top
50 poll.

John Lowery
has coached the Jefferson High (Shenandoah Junction, W.Va.) Cougars to
each of the program’s 998 wins since it began in 1973. Over the years,
it’d be understandable if his nine state titles started running
together, but the veteran coach was savoring his latest one in 2007
just as much as the previous eight. “They all have their own things you
remember,” Lowery said. “The first one (in 1979) always stands out, and
the one in ‘™88 because my sons were on the team.”

After losing
five starters off last year’s state quarterfinalist squad, this season didn’t
figure to mark another title run. But the new-look lineup featured
senior third baseman Drew Stevens, and developed quicker than Lowery anticipated.

Stevens
doubled and homered, driving in six runs to spark a nine-run first
inning that paced the Cougars’ 11-4 win over Wilson High (Beckley,
W.Va.) in the 3-A title game.

Lowery credits the community and
tradition to the continued success of the program. “It’™s an environment
thing,” he said. “These kids grow up in the community where baseball is
important. They have seen the tradition that is before them and they
want to uphold that tradition.”

Lowery’™s 998 wins rank him sixth among active coaches and 10th all-time. His career record is 998-262-3.

• A three-run homer from junior outfielder Seth Baldwin
proved to be plenty to lead East Rutherford High (Forest City, N.C.) to
North Carolina’s 2-A title and a final No. 15 ranking in the BA/NHSBCA
Top 50. The Cavaliers (31-2) defeated two-time defending 2-A champion
North Lenoir High (La Grange, N.C.) 8-1 in the decisive game of the
best-of-three championship series.

• Utah’™s second-largest classification championship turned out to be a fitting
end to the prolific high school career of well-decorated senior lefthander Tanner Robles.
Robles put a wrap on his perfect high school career when he scored the
game-winning run in Cottonwood High’™s (Salt Lake City) 8-7 win in the
4-A championship game. The title is the third straight for coach John Hoover‘™s Colts.

Robles
closed out his stellar prep career on the mound with a complete-game
7-3 victory against Mountain Crest High (East Hyrum) in the semifinals,
capping his career with a 33-0 record in four varsity seasons.

 “Aside
from all of his records and physical talent, what makes him really
stand out is his extreme competitiveness,” Hoover said of Robles, who
has committed to Oregon State. “His work ethic is second to none and
when it comes time to make that big pitch in a clutch situation, he
comes through.”

• After a lengthy career as a head high school coach in Georgia, Allan Dyer has
quickly constructed a state power in Colorado. Cherokee Trail High
(Aurora) defeated Denver’s Jefferson High 10-4 to capture the state 4-A
title in just the school’s third varsity season. The Cougars (24-3)
battled back after falling to West High (Greeley) 7-4 in the second
round of the double elimination state tournament.

• Georgia
upstart Dunwoody High (34-4) swept traditional power Columbus High 7-5,
6-0 in the best-of-three Class 3-A championship series, securing the
suburban-Atlanta school’s highest ranking, at No. 30.

Contributing: Nathan Rode and Travis Young.

High School | #2007 #High Heat

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