SAMOHI — For a team that went undefeated in league play last season, the Vikings would seemingly be a lock to repeat as Ocean League champs.
But, inside the numbers, the Santa Monica High School baseball team amassed the impressive 10-0 record in league play under serious duress. The Vikings may have beat every rival Ocean League team twice, but many of those ball games were decided by two runs or fewer. A total of four games were close going down to the wire with the final regular season game against Culver City tied 0-0 at the end of seven innings before being decided in the 10th.
“We’re going to be a lot like last year,” Head Coach Rob Duron said. “We’re hoping our pitching and defense can carry us.”
Luckily for the Vikings, defense and pitching are stout for a team that opens its preseason today at home against nearby University High School.
While the team is light on home run hitters, Duron said he wouldn’t be sure what to expect from his offense until the team plays a few games.
“We’ll be OK,” Duron said. “We have guys who can put the ball into play.”
Duron will look to outfielder/third baseman Logan Whitchurch to help lead the offense with three-year varsity outfielder Vince Lawrence providing speed on the base paths. Together with Ricky Gomez, who moved from shortstop to second base this off-season, those three will be relied upon to generate offense and manufacture runs.
Thankfully for the Vikings, the team is anchored by Tyler Skaggs, a standout left-handed starting pitcher who is being heavily sought after by pro scouts. The lanky hurler has committed to Cal State Fullerton.
Unfortunately for Samohi, Skaggs can’t start every game. Duron is using the first couple of preseason contests to figure out who will be the no. 2 starter behind Skaggs. Alonzo Gonzalez will be the first to audition for the spot today against University.
“We’re trying to make it about competition,” Duron said. “Guys are competing for second, the outfield. We’re going to find out pretty soon [who will be the no. 2 starter].”
The added pressure on Skaggs is nothing new for the senior. He took the mound two seasons ago at Dodger Stadium with a California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section title on the line. The Vikings lost that game, but it gave Skaggs a world of experience that he parlayed into a dominant season last year.
“I’ve dealt with (pressure) before,” Skaggs said during practice on Thursday. “I’m pretty used to it by now.”
He said he doesn’t mind being called upon to lead the team and even looks forward to it.
“For sure, our strength is pitching and defense,” Skaggs said. “We just have to play small ball, move people over.
“We have to concentrate on scoring runs that are easy.”
Coach Duron agrees with that assessment and added that his team “can’t rely on the three-run home run” to win games. While not completely happy with his offensive fire power, he believes that his guys will be able to do the little things to rack-up W’s.
Although his Vikings may very well be the class of the Ocean League, Duron is reluctant to consider it a done deal.
“I’m too old to think everything is going to be rosy,” Duron said.