No. 5 Saint Francis Lancers (Mountain View, Calif.)
State Association/League: California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Central Coast Section Division 1/West Catholic Baseball League
Head Coach: Mike Oakland (8th season as head coach)
2013 Results: 29-4 overall record; West Catholic Baseball League co-Champion; CIF Central Coast Section Division 1 Champion
Key Losses: SS/RHP Michael Strem (Boston College); OF Hunter Simmons (Utah); INF Chris Baker (Washington); OF Austin Guiber (Fresno State); OF Kort Peterson (UCLA); OF Eric Peterson (Cal Berkeley)
Top Returning Players: Sr. LHP John Gavin (Cal State Fullerton); Sr. C Tim Susnara (Oregon); Sr. OF Ryan McSwain (Arkansas-Little Rock); Sr. 1B/RHP Blake Billinger (Florida International); Sr. RHP Richard Boe (Arizona State); Sr. RHP/3B Tyler Deason
Notable Matchups: May 14-17 vs. Boros Baseball Classic at Sacramento; April 22-24 vs. Elite 8 Tournament at Mountain View, Calif.; April 29 vs. Bellarmine College Prep; May 2 at Valley Christian; May 6 at Archbishop Riordan; May 9 vs. Archbishop Mitty
THE BASEBALL PROGRAM AT SAINT FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL in Northern California’s famed Silicon Valley has taken the “next man in” concept to a new level. When head coach Mike Oakland’s championship caliber program produced six 2013 graduates that moved on to play at prestigious NCAA Division I universities this season, five more D-I commits are on hand to try to replace them.
The word “try” is operative in this instance. As indicated in the “Key Losses” listed above, the 2013 Saint Francis alumni have departed for such premier college baseball programs as Boston College, Utah, Washington, Fresno State, UCLA and the University of California at Berkeley.
And the departed are the guys that experienced more than just a taste of success in 2013. They led the Lancers to a third straight West Catholic Baseball League championship and their first CIF Central Coast Section Division 1 championship in 12 years. Today, the Lancers enter the 2014 Perfect Game Preseason National High School Rankings in the No. 5 position.
“You’re talking about replacing some really quality players that did a lot for us last year,” Oakland told Perfect Game last week. “It’s not easy, and you just hope that you have some guys that are going to step up and fill their shoes the best they can. I don’t think there’s any secret ingredient. You just hope that guys continue to develop and get better and are able to do some of the things that the guys that left ahead of them were able to do.
“Maybe by watching last year and playing behind them they got a better feel for what it is they need to do in order to reach that level.”
2013 was indeed a memorable season for the Lancers. They won their first 12 games and 24 of their first 25 before losing three out of their last four regular season games, and limped into the postseason.
They regrouped in the CSS Division 1 playoffs and won four straight by a combined score of 23-3, including a 10-0, five-inning rout of league rival Junipero Serra High School in the championship game. It is now up to this 2014 group to build on that momentum and produce a second straight championship season.
“I think the mindset is that we want to compete for our (CIF) Section championship; that’s the ultimate goal every year,” Oakland said. “I think that’s the goal of the majority of the teams in our league. It’s definitely something we talk about at the beginning of the year and it’s pretty much the same every year – we’re always striving to be in a position to win our Section championship.”
The Lancers hit .346 and blasted 13 home runs as a team in 2013 but graduated their seven top hitters for average and 11 of those home runs. They also compiled a 1.57 team ERA with 226 strikeouts in 231 1/3 innings.
Saint Francis graduated Michael Strem, a shortstop and right-handed pitcher who hit .417 with 13 doubles and 22 RBI at the plate, and was 11-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings on the mound.
Strem, named the San Jose Mercury’s Player of the Year, is now at Boston College. Also gone is slugger Kort Peterson (UCLA), an outfielder who hit .367 with five home runs, three doubles and two triples while driving in 22 runs and scoring a team-high 42.
But the Lancers do return senior John Gavin, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefty who also finished 11-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings last season.
Gavin, a Cal State Fullerton recruit, has been to seven Perfect Game events – including last summer’s PG National Showcase –and is ranked 266th nationally in the class of 2014. He threw a complete-game one-hitter in the Lancers’ CSS championship win over Serra.
“With Gavin, the left-hander that’s going to Fullerton, he threw a lot of high-pressure innings for us last year,” Oakland said.
Other top arms returning include 6-foot-6, 225-pound senior right-hander Richard Boe, and Arizona State recruit ranked 474th and PG National Showcase alumnus; 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior right-hander and first baseman Blake Billinger, another PG National alumnus who is the No. 1-ranked first prospect in California and a Florida International recruit who is coming off Tommy John surgery; and 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior righty and third baseman Tyler Deason, who is the Lancers’ top returning hitter (.315, 1 home run, 14 RBI).
Deason and Boe combined to pitch 38 1/3 innings last season, and gave up 10 earned runs (2.10 ERA) on 17 hits while striking out 29 and walking 27.
Their top returning prospect is senior catcher Tim Susnara, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder who also attended last summer’s PG National Showcase and is ranked 110th nationally. The Oregon recruit is coming off a junior season in which he hit .310 (27-for-87) with a home run, four doubles and 27 RBI. Oakland is also looking for some contribution from senior Ryan McSwain, an Arkansas-Little Rock recruit that played in only 15 games last year.
“We’re going to have to stay healthy and the guys are going to have to peak at the right time,” Oakland said. “Some guys are going to have to really step up and play to their capabilities and maybe even beyond and we’re going to need contributions from one or two guys that we weren’t really counting on. There always seems to be a guy or two that at the beginning of the season you weren’t really sure if you were going to get much out of them and they end up having a really good year for you.
“We’re going to have to have some young guys at the sophomore level make the jump from freshman ball to varsity and be able to contribute at a high level in order for us to be successful.”
Oakland has once again put together a challenging regular season schedule that not only includes home-and-away dates with the other seven members of the West Catholic Baseball League but several top-end games against non-league opponents.
The Lancers will also play at the 2nd annual Boros Baseball Classic, an elite tournament in mid-April that includes 32 of the top teams from both northern and southern California.
“What I try to do with our schedule is to try to find the teams that I know are the most competitive from out area and try to schedule them because I think in the end it’s going to make us better,” Oakland said. “… Our league is really tough, there’s no question about it, but there are also some really good teams out there outside of our league that we like to play to help us get better.”
The goal, as previously stated, is to win a second straight CIF Section championship. Oakland believes the student-athletes that are drawn to the culture that defines Saint Francis will enable him to continue to put a product on the field that has that capability.
“The reputation of the school itself as an athletic and academic institution really helps a lot,” he said. “You get a good group of kids coming in every year that can really play, and I think we benefit from the other sports like football, as well. Some of my best players are football players and we have a really good football program with a great tradition. That accompanied with a really good academic piece of the puzzle makes it an attractive school to a lot of kids.”
Note: Saint Francis earned another distinction when the 2013 World Series paired the St. Louis Cardinals against the Boston Red Sox in late October. Alumni Daniel Descalso (class of 2004) played in four games for the Cardinals during the Series and his Saint Francis classmate, Daniel Nava (also class of 2004) got into five games for the victorious Red Sox. Saint Francis was the only high school in the country that had two alumni on 2013 World Series rosters.