Justin Garza gets headlines, but Thomas Castro (left) and Tyler Heslop (right) are also a big reason Bonita is facing Alhambra for the Division 3 championship at Dodger Stadium on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
By Aram Tolegian, staff writer
LA VERNE – It’s easy to see pitcher Justin Garza’s gaudy stats and think the Bonita High School baseball team is a one-man show.
In fact, that’s exactly what most people do.
Sure, the Bearcats likely wouldn’t be playing in Dodger Stadium on Friday afternoon for the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 championship without Garza. But they also wouldn’t be there without players like Thomas Castro and Tyler Heslop, either.
“We’re not a one-man show,” Castro said. “We know that’s what everyone says, but we know that this is a team.”
No game could prove Castro right better than Tuesday’s semifinal, in which the Bearcats didn’t have Garza starting but still beat Gahr, 3-0, to reach the championship game.
Parker Merritt, a junior, got the start and the win. Garza preserved the victory by coming out of the bullpen. In between, the Bearcats did the little things needed to show yet again they’re formidable with or without their ace.
Fortunately for Bonita, Garza will get the start on Friday and that puts them in a good position to beat Alhambra. But it’s going to take more than another monster effort from Garza to come away with the hardware. It’s going to take more great play from Castro and Heslop, the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in the Bearcats’ lineup.
“Heslop and Castro have had tremendous years for us,” Bonita coach John Knott said.
“Castro is the only kid I can honestly say that can play eight positions at the varsity level or above. We don’t even pitch him and he probably throws a mid-80s fastball. He can play anywhere in the outfield. He can play anywhere in the field and could probably catch if we had him work at it.
“Heslop, just really stepped it up this year and has been so consistent driving in runs. He’s playing with a hurt leg right now and just willing himself through it. I’m just happy for both kids.”
Although Bonita has worn the label of a team with limited run-scoring potential this season, the numbers don’t quite agree. Castro is hitting .489 with 31 RBIs. Heslop is hitting .423 with 30 RBIs.
As good as Garza’s been, it’s safe to say that without Castro and Heslop in the middle of the order, Bonita doesn’t win 31 games. It should also be remembered that when Garza pitches, Bonita’s opponent is on its best behavior defensively because it knows that there’s no margin for error.
“I know we have guys around Garza that can play,” Knott said. “Justin’s not the first kid in the history of the San Gabriel Valley who’s going to get drafted. You need a whole team to make it to a CIF championship. You can’t do it with one guy.
“He’s been part of many great individual moments. The strength of our defense has been Justin, but we’ve made all the routine plays. It’s definitely a team effort. And I have to give Justin a lot of credit, he’s definitely self-promoting.”
Castro and Heslop grew up playing in La Verne Little League together and have enjoyed success all the way up the ladder. That’s part of the reason why the Bearcats are such a tight-knit group and there’s no egos to be found anywhere on the diamond.
“We play very good together,” Heslop said. “We’re just not that cocky of a team. We all know that each one of us has to contribute, so we have each other’s backs.”
If by early evening on Friday the Bearcats find themselves alone atop the mountain in Division 3, the fan perception as to who gets the credit and how much won’t mean a thing.
Garza will be counted on to be his usual solid self. The defense will be counted on to be its usual reliable self. Castro and Heslop will be counted on to do their usual routine of coming up with the key hit, big or small, to get the runs needed for a win.
And when the dust settles, a dogpile of players and coaches will tell everyone all they need to know as to whether the 2012 Bearcats were one man or one team.