Damien takes on Chino Hills earlier this year.
Things weren’t looking good for the Damien baseball team early in the season. The Spartans lost 11 of their first 14 games and had three top line pitchers derailed by season-ending injuries.
But first-year head coach Andy Nieto rallied his troop. At the end of the season the Spartans (10-14, 8-7) found themselves still in the hunt for a playoff berth, something they secured with a doubleheader sweep of Rancho Cucamonga earlier in the week.
“You really have to keep playing,” Nieto said, of his team’s early obstacles. “I told them this will represent who they are. It’s part of our code and what we stress here. You fight to the end.”
The final drama played out on Wednesday with the six Baseline League teams involved in three doubleheaders. Damien had the best of the draw because it was facing last-place Rancho Cucamonga. That doubleheader finished ahead of the other two so the Spartans fate wasn’t completely determined until later in the day.
Nieto insists he was not focused on the finishes of the other games, mainly because his team had the head-to-head with four of the five teams in the league. He looked at the last week as pivotal.
“We looked at the last four games like it was a double elimination tournament and we ended up winning three of those four,” he said.
Nieto credited junior pitcher Nick Lodolo who has three straight complete games and a streak of 20 straight shutout innings. Among the other pitchers stepping up are sophomore Isaiah Paige, senior Joe Kelly and junior Sean Davis.
Among the position players who have stepped up are senior catcher Andrew Garcia, junior outfielder Daniel Benedict and senior first baseman Grant Woodward. Johnathan Olson, one of the injured pitchers who has signed with UCLA, has been playing the outfield.
“He was willing to do whatever we needed to help the team,” Nieto said of Olson. “That goes to show the character of the players and students we have here. “