Keppel is back in the news, but this time it doesn’t invovle a coach resigning or a new coach coming in to get his feet wet.
This time the news is more of excitement and renewed energy surrounding the Aztecs baseball team, a team that for the first time in about 20 years made the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. Keppel (8-17) gave its packed crowd more than just an appearance, the Aztecs gave them a 4-2 victory over Hawthorne on Tuesday in the wild card round and advance to Friday’s first round game at Elsinore.
Keppel coach Houston Hernandez said the school still is trying to figure out when exactly the Aztecs last made the playoffs.
“We’ve heard little less than two decades and a little over two decades,” Hernandez said. “But it’s been roughly 20 years.”
But there’s more.
“I just talked to one of the P.E. teachers and he said he thinks this is the first home playoff win since 1976 when we last won league.”
Hernandez proved to be exactly the right kind of coach Keppel needed when it hired him three years ago as a 25-year-old. The former St. Paul standout was the third coach in six years at Keppel, a school known to have programs with revolving doors. Hernandez was in charge of taking over a program that was 7-93 in the last five years prior to taking over, a program that had won 2 out of 75 league games as well.
But Hernandez, who had previously coached at Villa Park before taking over the Aztecs, had a plan.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix,” he said. “I told them I’d be committed to them if they were committed to me. I told them to give me at least three years. In that three years if we haven’t done anything to open anybody’s eyes then they could go with someone else because I wouldn’t deserve to be here.”
Looks like Hernandez is in the for the long term now.
Keppel was trailing 2-1 going into the sixth on Tuesday against Hawthorne. The Aztecs put together a two-out rally and scored three runs to all but seal the win.
Keppel finished tied for third in league with Schurr, but the Aztecs earned the automatic berth after winning the series, 2-1.
Keppel on Friday will make an all-day event out of going to Elsinore. Regardless of the outcome, the Aztecs return eight sophomores and three juniors, led by juniors Ruben Medina (.288, 13 RBIs) and Will Hatem (.338, 11 RBIs, one home run).
In short, the future looks bright.
“It’s good for them to experience this now,” Hernandez said. “They already know what to expect next year.”
But no future burns bright without the right man at the helm. No need to worry, Hernandez is staying put.
“I’ve had a couple offers to leave as far as last year to go to another place and be a head coach,” he said. “But when you’re building your team and you don’t want to leave until it’s accomplished as far as you can take a program, and we’re not there yet.
“So I’m here to stay.”