By Fred J. Robledo
Beyond the unbelievable stats and the circus atmosphere of scouts that follow Bonita High School pitcher Justin Garza is what coach John Knott’s Cal State Fullerton-bound senior does when nobody is watching.
Garza, already 2-0 this season after back-to-back wins in the Dick’s Sporting Goods tournament, is coming off a year in which he went 13-0 with a 0.51 ERA in 83 innings, striking out 75 and allowing just 10 earned runs.
“This guy warrants so much credit for his focus, discipline and work ethic that even as a coach sometimes you take it for granted,” Knott said. “He wakes up at five in the morning to run five miles throughout the week.
“He lifts (weights) on his own. He’s not a freakish player because he has freakish talent. He’s a freakish player because of his work ethic and dedication. I don’t have enough words for it.”
In the season opener against Damien’s powerful bats, Garza threw six shutout innings and allowed just four hits in a 6-0 win.
He was even more impressive on Saturday when he fired a one-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over Covina to help the Bearcats improve to 3-0 and advance to Wednesday’s semifinals of the Dick’s Sporting Goods tournament, where the Bearcats will host La Puente (2-1) at 3:15 p.m.
In the second semifinal at Bonita, South Hills (3-0) will take on crosstown rival West Covina (2-1) at 7p.m., with the winners advancing to Saturday’s championship game at Bonita High at 7 p.m.
If Bonita defeats La Puente, Garza, who has been clocked with a 94 mph fastball, will make his third start of the season in the title game with an 18-game winning streak dating back to his sophomore year.
To put that in context, Garza’s 18 straight victories tie him with four others at 19th on the CIF-Southern Section’s all-time consecutive wins list.
Edgewood High School’s Mike Pill (1974-77) and Linfield’s Richard Hunter (1990-93) share the CIF-SS record with 33 straight wins, but if Garza keeps winning, he has an opportunity to climb to third all time.
El Segundo’s Scott McGregor (1971-72) and Cornerstone Christian’s Aaron Roth (2009-10) are tied for second in consecutive victories with 25, leaving Garza seven shy of matching them.
“What Pill did will never be matched,” Knott said. “He had some unbelievable players on his team.
“I hope I’m not jinxing Justin for wanting to get it out there how special this kid is, but he deserves it. He’s a kid who never boasts about himself or gets overly excited. He stays mentally prepared, focused and has the same rhythm and tempo every inning. That’s how you go on the type of streak he’s on, it’s incredible.”
Even more remarkable is that Garza’s won 15 straight starts. Every time he takes the hill, he wins.
“Some of the wins going back to last year he had to throw shutouts or won one-run games,” Knott said. “Against Covina it was 0-0 and we push across a run in the sixth to take the lead and he comes out in the seventh and gets it done.
“You know, I might get a player as talented as him someday, but I don’t know if I will ever get the whole package.”
If Bonita advances to the championship game on Saturday to face either West Covina or South Hills, Knott said he expects a madhouse at Bonita to watch the battle with Garza on the hill.
“I don’t even want to think that far because that would be disrespectful to La Puente, who has a very good team,” Knott said. “But it’s hard not to think it.”
626-962-8811, ext. 2161