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Diamond time: La Jolla’s high school baseball teams return to the field

The La Jolla High School Vikings gather after their victory in the 70th annual Lions Tournament over Easter weekend.
The La Jolla High School Vikings gather after their victory in the 70th annual Lions Tournament over Easter weekend.
(Courtesy)

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools just over a year ago, the La Jolla High School baseball team was about a quarter of the way through its season. And like many of us, the Vikings thought the break would be brief — a few weeks at most.

But 345 days later, they were given clearance to take the field again, and they’ve made the most of every minute. With 12 seniors graduating last year, coach Gary Frank said players who would rotate in on occasion are now stepping into larger roles.

Thus far in 2021, the Vikings are 6-1, including 4-0 en route to their first win in the Lions Tournament since 2000 (the third in the school’s history), over Easter weekend.

“Everyone is rising to the challenge and getting better,” Frank said. “But it’s a brand-new team on the field. There is a lot more opportunity for less-experienced players to gain experience as they go, whereas last year the guys were mixed in here and there. This year it’s sink or swim. So far they are all swimming.”

The team mentality is to use one player’s success to start a chain reaction, he said. “Our pitching is really strong and our hitters have been doing really well. With this team, once someone does well, every player starts to believe in themselves and get the job done. It’s been fun to see the team materialize and start to perform.”

Standouts thus far include pitcher Gavin Graff and shortstop Jake Klimkiewicz, both four-year starters. Luke Roberts, “one of the guys who was on the bench last year,” has emerged as a top hitter, Frank said.

During the 70th annual Lions Tournament, which typically draws 130 teams to San Diego County from all over the country but was reduced this year due to the pandemic, Graff pitched a complete-game shutout in the opener, beating Shadow Hills High School of Indio while scattering seven hits and striking out nine batters.

Facing a pitching challenge with four games in four days, the Vikings used eight different pitchers, with Frank calling on Declan Kelly in their
5A4A Division championship game. The freshman delivered, allowing two runs in four innings, striking out seven and earning his first high school victory in the Vikings’ title-clinching 8-6 win over Maranatha Christian School of San Diego.

Graff went 6-for-12 at the plate during the tournament, with seven runs batted in and five stolen bases on his way to the Most Valuable Player award.

La Jolla Country Day

At La Jolla Country Day School, the Torreys committed to doing everything they could to stay in playing shape during the longer-than-usual offseason.

“When last year ended, we didn’t have any sense that it was actually over,” said coach John Edmond. “They kept training on their own, and that went into the summer. … They found ways to get their weight training in, and when they were allowed to travel, they did.”

Though they are “behind where we would normally be because we couldn’t do what we normally would” with collective baseball training, Edmond said the plan is to peak in midseason, when other teams start to tire.

“We have to be patient because we are not going to be perfect,” Edmond said. “What matters is where we are at the end of May.”

The Torreys’ strengths lie in defense and pitching, he said. “The question is, who is going to emerge as those who can win big games? I have no doubt we have that guy, we just don’t know who he is yet.”

Edmond suspects it will be one of his seniors: Ben Pajak or Payton Wallace, both of whom have committed to playing in college.

“We preach to not give anything away for free — no wild pitches, no stolen bases, no hit batters,” Edmond said. “To me, defense wins; that is what we are shooting for. If another team beats us, it’s because they earned it.”

Coaches from The Bishop’s School in La Jolla did not respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment.

April schedules

THE BISHOP’S SCHOOL
Home games at 7607 La Jolla Blvd.

April 8: Away against Canyon Crest Academy, 4 p.m.

April 10: Away against Mount Carmel High School, 1:30 p.m.

April 13: Home against Kearny High School, 4 p.m.

April 15: Away against Crawford High School, 4 p.m.

April 17: Home against Lincoln High School, 4 p.m.

April 20: Away against Hoover High School, 4 p.m.

April 22: Home against High Tech High, 4 p.m.

April 28: Away against Scripps Ranch High School, 4 p.m.

LA JOLLA HIGH SCHOOL
Home games at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St.

April 8: Home against Maranatha Christian, 3:30 p.m.

April 12: Away against Montgomery High School, 4 p.m.

April 14: Home against Southwest High School, 4 p.m.

April 16: Away against Mater Dei Catholic High School, 4 p.m.

April 19: Home against Olympian High School, 4 p.m.

April 21: Away against Hilltop High School, 4 p.m.

April 27: Home against La Jolla Country Day School, 4 p.m.

April 29: Away against Hoover High School, 4 p.m.

LA JOLLA COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL
Home games at 9490 Genesee Ave.

April 9: Away against Torrey Pines High School, 4 p.m.

April 12: Away against Clairemont High School, 4 p.m.

April 14: Home against St. Augustine High School, 6 p.m.

April 16: Away against University City High School, 4 p.m.

April 19: Home against Patrick Henry High School, 6 p.m.

April 21: Away against Coronado High School, 4 p.m.

April 27: Away against La Jolla High School, 4 p.m.

April 29: Away against Santa Fe Christian School, 3:15 p.m. ◆