By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
South Hills high school baseball coach Kevin Smith knew he was chasing a milestone on Tuesday, but it was hard to feel sentimental knowing this was a make-or-break week in the competitive Sierra League.
The Huskies didn’t let him down, Adrian De Horta pitching a complete game shutout in a 6-0 victory over Claremont to give Smith his 400th career win.
Afterward, Huskies players autographed the game ball for Smith, who has an impressive 400-162 overall record, which includes 11 league titles and a CIF championship in just the past 12 years. Smith has coached high school baseball for more than two decades.
“I have been very blessed,” Smith said. “(Football) coach Steve Bogan has a great line. He says, ‘you can’t win the derby riding a donkey.’ It’s so true, I have been blessed to have so many great players.
“To have the kids congratulate me afterward, that was really nice. I always have a hard time celebrating things like this because I think it’s really about the kids. But hey, I enjoyed it, it was a nice moment.”
Another coach who knows something about wins and longevity is Nogales coach John Romano.
Romano is the winningest coach in East San Gabriel Valley history with 566 wins and competed against Smith several years in the San Antonio league before South Hills moved to the Sierra and Nogales to the Valle Vista this year.
Romano plans on coaching for at least the next three years, and could win his 600th in 2013. After hearing that Smith won his 400th, Romano spoke highly of him.
“I couldn’t be happier for Kevin,” Romano said. “I think Kevin is what high school baseball is all about. He teaches baseball, he teaches life skills, and is just a great, great coach.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if he chooses to stick around, he will join the 500 club too.”
Now that his 400th is in the books, Smith can focus on what is clearly becoming his most challenging season ever.
The Huskies won eight straight league titles in the San Antonio League and never considered what it might feel like to not make the playoffs.
The Sierra League is much different.
The Huskies (6-3, 2-2) already have losses against Damien and Chino Hills, and were tied for fourth place before Tuesday’s win over Claremont.
The Huskies are still in fourth heading into today’s showdown at Charter Oak (6-2, 3-1) at 3:15 p.m. The Chargers are in a three-way tie for first with Damien (5-7, 3-1) and Chino Hills (8-3, 3-1), so Smith knows they can ill afford to lose if they’re serious about not only winning league, but staying in close playoff contention.
“Absolutely,” Smith said. “No disrespect to the old league (San Antonio), but every year it was just us and Nogales with Walnut in the mix once in a while.
“In the (Sierra) league you can get beat by anyone on any given day. You have a bad inning or make an error against one of these teams and it will cost you the game.
“I was telling our guys, if you really have league title aspirations, you have to win both games this week. We got the first, and now we have a real tough game against Charter Oak, who is playing well.
All in all, Smith says he likes the parity.
“I’ll be honest, I love winning,” Smith said. “But these battles game in and game out are great. You need challenges like this. There is so much balance and great coaching that a 10-5 record could win league.”