The drill wasn’t simple. Multiple balls whizzing across the mound, numbers being called out to indicate the direction of the next throw.
You might forgive the Maria Carrillo High School baseball team for the couple of dropped balls that ensued. Monday practice had just started and they were just warming up, after all.
But coach Derek DeBenedetti didn’t like what he saw. He whistled the Pumas in. Brief words. He sent them back out.
After that you could have rocked a baby safely to sleep on the infield. Balls zipped from bag to bag, prompting the pop of the glove and the shout of a number. But one thing was different — no throws were off target. No dropped balls.
“Where we got into trouble, earlier in the season, was defensively, just taking care of the ball,” DeBenedetti said. “I think we lost a few games earlier in the season because we didn’t, defensively, take care of the ball. That has sharpened.”
Monday’s practice was proof positive of that.
The Pumas, loaded with 10 seniors, roared to a 12-2 record in the North Bay League, wrapping up the title and sowing confidence for a North Coast Section playoff run where they will compete in Division 2.
They begin their postseason quest today, hosting No. 4 seed Montgomery in the NBL tournament.
“The talent level we have this year is through the roof. We have a lot of guys with D1 abilities and ability to play at a high level,” said junior leadoff hitter Patrick Gavin. “We are working hard more than anything else and we have just got talent and have got the motivation to win.”
On the senior-laden roster, Gavin has stood out for his offensive prowess.
“Patrick Gavin has probably had the best offensive season of anyone in the NBL,” DeBenedetti said. “He is hitting over .500, has 25 hits in 14 games, 14 RBIs and 17 runs scored. We put him at the top of the lineup halfway through the season and he has been the catalyst and the spark plug.”
Another factor? Andrew Vaughn.
The Cal-bound senior is clearly a baseball talent, but before this season he was rarely used as a pitcher. Not because he didn’t have the goods, but because the Pumas had a sufficient number of hurlers and Vaughn, a varsity player since his freshman year, was needed elsewhere.
Where he’s been needed this year is on the mound.
“He was pretty phenomenal,” DeBenedetti said of Vaughn’s 6-0 record and 0.67 ERA in league.
“We knew he was going to have to shoulder the load,” DeBenedetti said. “We just didn’t know what it would look like but we knew he was capable.”
So did Vaughn.
Turns out the guy who prides himself on being versatile, on being a player his coach can insert anywhere, really wanted to pitch. He even worked out with pitchers — even when he was playing shortstop last season.
“I always considered myself a pitcher,” he said. “I don’t even think I pitched a handful of games until this year. I feel most competitive when I’m on the mound because it’s me versus the guy, just like in hitting.”