By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
A life-changing decision likely awaits for Diamond Ranch High School baseball slugger Rouric Bridgewater in two months, but for now he wants to concentrate on two things – beating Hacienda League rivals Bonita and Diamond Bar. “I just want to beat Diamond Bar and Bonita just once,” he said. “I want to beat both of those schools more than anything else.” That means all thoughts about the Major League Baseball draft in June and the subsequent decision whether to attend Arizona State, where Bridgewater has been committed to since last summer, or start a pro career are on the back burner for now.
Bridgewater’s desire to beat Diamond Bar and Bonita is understandable, considering those teams are favorites in the newly formed Hacienda League, which is showing its appeal runs far deeper than amazing showdowns in the fall between some of the top football programs in the area.
Few leagues can boast the type of talent the Hacienda does, with star pitchers like Diamond Bar’s Kenny Mathews and Bonita’s Adam McCreery. But when it comes to hitting, the league’s showstopper is Bridgewater, who is one of the top sluggers in the nation and patiently waiting for somebody to give him a good pitch to hit.
“It’s semi-frustrating,” Bridgewater said of the fact he’s often pitched around or simply walked. “It definitely shows that they respect the fact that I did hit what I hit last year.
“I get frustrated sometimes, but I just have to keep my head in there because eventually they’re going to have to pitch to me, whether it’s the first inning or the seventh.
“Hopefully, it’s the seventh.”
Heading into this week’s action, Diamond Ranch had scored the second-most runs in the league, 66. But the Panthers entered the week tied with Los Altos for third place at 2-1. Bonita leads the way at 3-0 and Diamond Bar is right behind at 4-1.
But unlike the team they’re tied with or the two teams above them, the Panthers are viewed as a one-man show. That one man is Bridgewater, and if you get him out or simply don’t allow him to beat you the opposition has to feel good about its chances.
Bridgewater entered the week hitting .524 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. He’s not likely to equal the 10 homers and 41 RBIs he piled up last season, but the area knows what would happen if he got more pitches to hit.
But it’s going to take a lot more than Bridgewater’s bat for Diamond Ranch to keep up with the likes of Diamond Bar or Bonita. The Panthers lost their first crack at the Brahmas, 6-1.
In that game, Henry Omana, the other half of Diamond Bar’s 1-2 punch rotation, put the clamps on Diamond Ranch’s offense for four innings while his own offense built a sizable lead. Bridgewater managed a hit in three at-bats and struck out once.
Bridgewater will get another shot at the Brahmas on April 22, two days after seeing Bonita for the first time.
In the second game against Diamond Bar, Bridgewater may face Mathews in a treat for local fans that will leave some wondering what might have been if the two players from two neighboring schools somehow played on the same team.
It’s a fantasy Bridgewater and Mathews thought about in the offseason when they were teammates during a Major League showcase in Compton.
“We talked about it and we really wished we would have known each other a little better and planned it out a little bit,” Bridgewater said. “If we would have been on the same team, we would have done a little more damage than both of us have. It would have been something. Nothing I can do now, but I don’t regret it.”
Being a major-league prospect was probably the last thing on Bridgewater’s mind when he first started playing baseball at age 8. Back then, hitting was an uphill battle and nobody could foresee a slugger would be born in the coming years.
“I was definitely not gifted,” Bridgewater said while flashing back to his initial Little League days. “I had to work at it a lot. My first year I want to say I got one hit, and it was off the coach. I do not know why, but I fell in love with it.”
As the twilight sets on his prep career, Bridgewater is hoping there are enough opportunities ahead to let his bat put Diamond Ranch in the thick of the area’s most prolific league race.
After the season, the draft awaits and so will the decision that could change his life. But for now, Bridgewater has one eye on the ball and the other on Diamond Bar and Bonita.
“I’m not trying to think about the future too much,” Bridgewater said. “I’ve got college situated and I’m just trying to go out there and have fun my senior year.
“When it happens, I will decide if it’s right for me. I’m going to have to sit down with my family and decide if it (signing) would be right for me or if going to college would be the right decision.”