The bats have seemingly gone silent, the pitching is suspect and errors come at inopportune moments.
There are glaring concerns for the Monrovia High School baseball team. The Wildcats (8-12, 4-4) are on a seven-game losing streak and are in danger of being dethroned as the five-time defending Rio Hondo League champions.
In 20 seasons at the helm, co-head coaches Brad Blackmore and Dave Moore have endured only one losing season. With four games remaining in the season, the Wildcats hope to avoid becoming the second team in Blackmore/Moore history to accomplish an infamous feat.
There’s still a chance Monrovia could extend its reign in league, though chances are slim to none. The Wildcats would have to win outright and hope Temple City (14-6, 8-1) loses its three remaining league games.
Monrovia visits South Pasadena (11-11, 6-3) on Wednesday, and before it can even think about a sixth straight league title the Wildcats have to set modest expectations. In short, the Wildcats are shooting for a second-place finish, for now.
“Now you’re down to four games,” Blackmore said. “If you win out you’ll be a second-place team for sure. I don’t think anybody saw it coming.”
Monrovia started the season as the Star-News’ No. 1 preseason team. Blackmore was confident three returning starters coupled with young talent and pitching depth would give the Wildcats a chance to prove they’re still the team to beat in league.
That hasn’t been the case.
“We have no margin for error offensively,” Blackmore said. “You’re going to be in close games if you don’t make plays, and you’re not going to make yourself any luck when you’re striking out eight or 10 times a game and hitting 10 fly balls.”
Worse, the Wildcats have had a hard time putting themselves in a position to make the kind of plays Monrovia is known for, such as running the base paths aggressively.
Last year, Monrovia had 108 steal base attempts and was successful 97 times. So far this season, the Wildcats have made 58 steal base attempts.
“I’m very aggressive offensively,” Blackmore said. “I like to run, we like to bunt. It’s no secret.”
Nearly every offensive category is down this season, except for strikeouts.
Last year: .351 batting average, .444 on-base percentage, .478 slugging percentage.
This season: .259 batting average, .329 on-base percentage, .329 slugging percentage.
“We’re not making adjustments at the plate,” Blackmore said. “Offensively we’ve dug ourselves too big a hole. There’s good pitching in this league, especially at Temple City. You can’t win with four or five hits a game. We don’t walk a lot, we don’t steal bases as we usually do, and that’s a product of not getting on base.”
Nick Bueno, Adrian Velasco and Jairo Jiorge are the lone returning starters. Their impact also has been limited with little support behind them in the lineup.
“The learning curve with our sophomore and junior hitters has been a lot slower than I would have imagined,” Blackmore said. “It puts Jairo and Adrian in a tough spot because they’re batting in the middle and they’re getting the pitcher’s best stuff, because there are no trusted hitters behind them.
“I looked through our lineup, and especially with the underclassman, you get one good at-bat a game out of each of them. I think we’re going to be very, very good soon, but right now you got three legit hitters and you try to plug around them.”
Consistency has been an issue, and there’s a noted difference when there’s no senior-rich pitching staff. Chris Burkholder has shown flashes of brilliance on the mound. But it’s evident the sophomore still is adjusting from pitching 12 innings last year to 43 thus far this season.
“I’m not going to blame it all on youth,” Blackmore said. “This is our ship. When we’re not getting it done it’s on everybody. I can see the progress in the pitchers, but it’s not consistent.
“Burkholder has a chance to be really good, but we all forget how big a jump it is to throw 70 pitches the following year. Does that diminish his effort, losing against Temple City because we missed a key hit here and there? Not at all.”
It’s not all as bad as some might think, though.
“We’re not as frustrated as everybody thinks we are,” Blackmore said. “I know a losing streak for Monrovia is a big deal, especially in league.
“It’s time for us to step back and meet the challenge.”