By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
When Bishop Amat High School’s baseball program graduated the pitching duo of Paul Paez and Brandon McNitt from last year’s team, there were quite a few fans who figured the Lancers might be in big trouble heading into this season. Most thought the Lancers would have to score a load of runs every time out to have a chance to win. The term Johnny Wholestaff was even bandied about in reference to how Amat would make up for the fact that it didn’t have the one or two aces that fans had grown used to over the years.
So much for that.
Thanks to starting pitcher Daniel Zamora and the cast of other arms on head coach Andy Nieto’s staff, the Lancers are on the verge of completing one of the best seasons in school history Friday against Palm Desert at Dodger Stadium in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship game.
“I always wanted to be on a major-league field, and this will probably be one of my only times to do this, so I’m pretty excited for it,” Zamora said.
Zamora has been Amat’s most consistent starter, going 8-1 with a 1.62 ERA. His 56 innings pitched are the most on the staff, and he’s got plenty of help from the talented arms of David Berg, Jordan McCraney, Ryan Serrato, Eddie Munoz, Jacob Dominguez and even star slugger Rio Ruiz.
Although the term Johnny Wholestaff does seem to apply, the numbers clearly say the situation isn’t as dire as some had feared. Zamora’s steady performance is a major reason for that.
“We’ve had to replace good pitching every year,” Nieto said. “Daniel has obviously taken the bull by the horns in terms of wanting to help the team. I think that every pitcher has that mentality. When their number is called, they have an obligation or responsibility to defend their team and perform.”
Zamora says his strength is his low fastball. Nieto says it’s his ability to throw strikes. The most earned runs Zamora has allowed in a game is four, and he’s been especially stingy in the postseason, allowing just two runs in 9 1/3 innings, a performance that’s earned him two wins.
“For Daniel, it’s not about velocity, it’s about strikes,” Nieto said. “If he’s throwing strikes, he’s going to make it difficult on hitters because he’s got that crazy, wiffle-ball-like movement.
“I’m not surprised by how well he’s done for us this year, because he displayed that last year. The year he’s having this year is somewhat close to the innings he threw for us last year.”
But last year, Zamora was behind Paez, who had a sub-1.00 ERA, and McNitt, who struck out a batter per inning.
No matter what happens Friday evening at Dodger Stadium, Amat fans can at least take solace in knowing that next year’s ace is already established, since Zamora is still only a junior, but before anybody looks that far ahead, winning a championship takes precedence, and that’s something Zamora is ready to help his team do.
“When coach said I was going to get the start (Friday), I was really excited,” Zamora said. “I’m actually already having trouble sleeping. I’m ready to go. It’s an honor to be able to pitch this game.”