Boys varsity baseball team earns seed in playoffs, falls to McNeil in first round

It was a successful bounce-back season for the Chaps varsity baseball team. After finishing last season with a losing record in both District and regular season play, the Chaps finished this season ranked fourth in District, boasting a strong 10-6 record, good enough to make the playoffs and face number one seed McNeil in a one-game series for the Bi-District title.

“I thought we had a really impressive season,” outfielder junior Zach Brantley said. “Even though we lost to McNeil in the playoffs, we had a lot of improvement over last season. [Pitcher senior] Diego [Cruz] really stepped it up this season and got us a lot of good chances to win this season. I’m really proud of how far we came, and I’m excited to see how much we can improve going into next year.”

When the Chaps faced McNeil on May 6 at McNeil, they were able to keep the game a close one-run contest for most of the night. The Chaps had many chances to tie or take the lead, but they couldn’t muster enough to score and ended up losing 0-1.

“We played well despite not scoring a run,” pitcher junior Gunnar Groen said. “Diego pitched for the whole game, and the one run they did score was only able to reach base because of an error. We had a few chances to tie or even win the game, but the ball just wouldn’t bounce our way.”

The Chaps went through a coaching change before the season started, replacing head coach Jeff Montgomery with former junior varsity coach J.T. Blair.

“Coach Blair really brought a new kind of energy to the program when he came in,” Zach said. “You could really see a change in the mindset of all of the players when he came in. There was a lot of excitement — people were running around, wanting to play, it’s like we all took a step back and said to ourselves, ‘Let’s just go play baseball.’”

The Chaps are looking forward to next season as several varsity starters are returning for 2017. The Chaps return the entire starting middle infield with juniors Eli Knaupe and Daniel Hernandez. They also return their third baseman junior Jared Fong, and they return one of their starting outfielders in junior Joe Palmo.

“I think we’re really going to be stacked next year,” Zach said. “We are returning most of our key players, and we have built up a lot of momentum for next season. I think the summer will give all of us the opportunity to grow our games individually, and this fall I think we will be able to really grow as a team.”