St. MONICA — A return to the Camino Real League was supposed to make the Mariners more competitive.

Having played in the ultra competitive Del Rey League for the past four years, St. Monica Catholic High School’s baseball team was coming off a 4-17 record, prompting the return to the Camino Real League.

The team appeared to be ready, returning all but one player from last season’s team. But, as Head Coach Jack White said, “things happen.”

One player decided to play volleyball this season, another became academically ineligible. One player even wanted to forgo his senior season to work on his grades.

“We’ve lost a couple of players,” White said. “Guys that I was counting on.”

Even with those losses, the team began the season 3-1 and appeared to be no worse for wear. To improve the team’s depth, White decided to tap the junior varsity ranks.

He brought up a few players to help populate his bench and everything appeared to be set.

A three-game losing streak later and — again — the team is examining itself and looking for answers.

“I think we’re just not playing all seven innings,” senior shortstop Jose Munoz said during a break in classes on Wednesday. “We’ve just been giving up too many runs [during the losing streak].”

The games were close, with St. Monica losing by a combined five runs.

The crafty infielder said that the team’s top starting pitchers will have to play a major role in ending the streak. Munoz said that lefty junior Andy Loef will have to continue his effective pitching if the team is to right the ship and head into the postseason with momentum.

White agrees that Loef is the key to solidifying the starting rotation, but added that he has a couple of other hurlers who he feels are capable of shutting down opposing hitters.

He said that senior lefty Hector Santiesteban has the stuff to complement Loef as the second starter in the rotation.

“He doesn’t throw the ball as hard as Loef, but he’s crafty,” White said of his second starter. “He mixes it up, hits his spots.

“They are a good duo.”

Catcher Anthony Yoshinaga will get an audition for the third spot in the rotation today against league rival Grace Brethren on the road.

White believes that he has the moxie to fill the role of a starter and has the added benefit of calling games behind the plate, which Yoshinaga said is his favorite part of playing ball.

As far as the closer role goes, White said that it varies game to game. Loef, who is 2-1 as a starter, has been called on to close a game. Danny White, the coach’s son, is another player who may be called upon to shut down opponents late in games.

White added that he expected his team to pitch and field well this season, but has been impressed with his team’s offensive prowess.

Munoz has paced the team with a stellar .619 batting average and has proven to be the team’s most valuable offensive threat.

“I don’t know how he could do any more than he’s already doing,” White said. “He’s been a real team leader.”

Mike Redondo, a sophomore second baseman, is the team’s second best hitter this year, White said. His .400 average and two home runs have played a major part on offense.

White concluded that if his players can continue to play they way they have during the young season, he holds fast to the belief that the Mariners can make the playoffs.

But, it won’t be without a fight from fellow league teams.

“I think it is going to be really even,” White said. “All the teams are going to be pretty competitive.”

Of course, leave it to a player to have even greater aspirations.

“I hope we can go all the way to a [California Interscholastic Federation] championship,” Yoshinaga said. “It’s on us to come through, we have the best team in the league.”

daniela@smdp.com