Although the JSerra Lions’ four games in this year’s Boras Classic were arguably the toughest test JSerra has faced so far this season, you wouldn’t know it from checking the box scores. After eliminating top-notch Granite Hills, Great Oak and Bishop Alemany by scores of 4-0, 10-1 and 5-0, JSerra captured the trophy by defeating fellow Boras Classic co-host Mater Dei in yet another definitive 5-0 shutout.
Currently the nation’s top-ranked team, JSerra already had the complete attention of the high school baseball world. But in a season already filled with outstanding performances, JSerra’s four-day domination of its Boras Classic competitors by a combined score of 24-1 was its most head-turning display yet. “I think we’re just solid at all three facets: hitting, pitching, and fielding,” says junior shortstop Chase Strumpf. “I think we’re just completely sound … we haven’t reached our highest point yet, but I’m seeing some really good things. I’m pumped about this season.” “We’re coming together as a team more this year,” adds sophomore third baseman Royce Lewis. “We’re getting a lot of the details and little things done. All of our bunts, a lot of our communication is on point. And we’re just having fun.”
According to JSerra manager Brett Kay, the fun his players are having on the field mirrors the enjoyment he derives from coaching them. “It’s the most fun I’ve had coaching,” says Kay — coincidentally a Mater Dei alum. “They expect to win, and expect to play at a high level … I kind of let them play and don’t try to control them too much, and completely trust them 100 percent.”
rnOld Jack Magic
Sophomore starting pitcher Jack Owen may just be learning how to drive a car, but his outings on the mound often see him sitting firmly in the driver’s seat. “He’s a special sophomore,” says Kay of Owen, who was named the defensive MVP of the title game. “In a big game, you could put Jack on the mound against anybody and he’ll compete and do well. And it gives us a chance to win every time.” Friday night, Owen earned his third complete game shutout of the season, a stellar display that included six strikeouts compared to just one walk, and only three allowed hits. “He pounds the strike zone,” says senior right fielder Jake Pries. “It’s what you gotta do to win. And he does it every single time.”
Owen believes his command of the strike zone early in Mater Dei’s at-bats Friday night was the biggest factor in his ability to mow down the Monarchs. “Throwing the first pitch strike is really helpful,” says Owen. “When you get ahead, it’s harder for hitters to … drive the ball. Of their three hits they had, two of them were on the first pitch. So when I got ahead, it was a lot harder for them to hit the ball.”
Great pitching performances are also often backed by a defensive gem or two, and Friday night was no exception. JSerra’s impeccable defensive effort was highlighted in the top of the sixth inning by a sensational diving catch in right field by Pries that incited the Lions fans to stand on their feet and roar with delight. No one was more delighted about the play than Owen. “I saw it [the line drivel, hit by Mater Dei senior shortstop Brandon Perez] go up and I was thinking ‘that’s a double. I gotta back up third,’” recalls Owen. “And Jake was like ten feet in the air and made that diving play. I was so excited.”
rnThe Fab Four
Owen was also excited about the tremendous run support he received. “With our offense, even if we don’t score in the first inning, you know it’s going to come around,” says Owen. “You’ve got Royce, Brady [Shockey], Chase and Jake all in our top four [spots in the batting order], and they’ve been so hot this year.” Going a combined 6-12 with a home run, two triples and three RBI, the top of JSerra’s lineup proved yet again Friday night why it is as formidable a foursome as a pitcher will face.
The Lions’ offense pounced from the get when Lewis smacked a leadoff triple to deep centerfield. “I was looking for a fastball inner half,” recalls Lewis. “And they [the Monarchs] started me off in inner half, but it was a couple of balls. And then he [Mater Dei senior starting pitcher Austin Reyes] threw outer half, which I expected. Trinity League is a lot of outer half. And then I just took it where it was pitched.” Lewis didn’t have to wait long to be brought home, as two batters later, Strumpf belted a home run over the left field wall. “Royce was on third, and I was just looking for a ball up. I got a fastball right down the plate, and luckily it got out of there. The wind was blowing out today, so I got enough of it to it over the fence and start us off early.”
“I think that the early run support calmed the Lions down, and then kind of heightened them [the Monarchs] a little bit,” adds Kay. “I think we punched first, and kept punching.” Indeed, the Lions had several jabs left in the tank, as two innings later, junior center fielder Shockey drilled a triple into right field to score Lewis, and then dashed home himself on a wild pitch. Senior left fielder Ryan Pena would add one more insurance run in the sixth inning, bringing home Strumpf, who was awarded the Offensive MVP of the game award, on a fielder’s choice ground ball.
rnUp Next: Mater Dei ...Three Straight Times!
Fans who enjoyed watching this matchup between two of the Trinity League’s best are in luck: they’ll get to see it three more times next week! Jserra will host Mater Dei again on the 13th, play them in Santa Ana on the 15th, and then host them once more on the 17th to kick off the second half of the Lions’ season, with all games against Trinity League opponents. “Winning the Boras Classic is great … but now we’ve gotta turn our efforts toward league play,” says Kay. “Now we have 15 games in league, and our league is no joke.”
Though Kay is cognizant of the stiff competition that Trinity League play entails, he’s also very aware that he’s entering the season’s home stretch with a truly special squad that’s more than ready for the challenge. “We’ve had some good teams in my nine years here,” says Kay. “This team’s different. Do they have a chance to be the most special? Absolutely.”