By Stephen Ramirez
@SteveRRamirez on Twitter
WEST COVINA — South Hills High School’s Gavin Velasquez was an after thought coming into the baseball season.
The junior pitcher had a limited role for the Huskies last season, and not many outside the program figured much more from him this season.
Everyone, but Velasquez, who has become one of the dominant players in the Valley, ranking among area leaders in wins, earned run average and strikeouts. He has filled in nicely replacing the gap left by 2013 Area Player of the Year Adrian De Horta, now playing minor league baseball for the San Diego Padres’ affiliate in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Velasquez’s transformation was even a surprise to new coach Darren Murphy, who has been pleasantly impressed with his new ace.
“Yes, it was (a surprise), but mainly because he was unknown,” Murphy said. “He had a great summer and a great fall and I had heard that coming in that he had really improved. But sometimes in a program like this, there are stars waiting to happen. They are kind of under wraps until they get their shot and he probably was in Adrian’s shadow a bit last year. But talking about a guy taking off when he’s given the opportunity, that’s Gavin.
“What makes Gavin special is the tougher the situation, the better he gets.”
Velasquez, who will be on the hill when South Hills visits Claremont at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, has flourished. He’s 5-1 with a 0.61 ERA while striking out 41 in 46 innings. The junior credits his effort to the preseason work he put in, knowing someone had to fill in on the mound for De Horta, His take was why not him?
“I didn’t get to pitch that much last year. I think I threw three innings the whole year,” Velasquez said. “But I got to learn a lot; the mental (aspect) was very big. When Adrian left that’s when everyone started doubting whether we would have (good) pitching this year.
“I took it among myself. (Teammate and starting pitcher Erik Martinez) and I talked a lot this year about how we needed to step it up this year. The big thing for us is not to panic, but to stay calm and play South Hills baseball.”
Velasquez has been the rock the Huskies have needed on the mound and a key to South Hills going 15-3-1 and sharing the first place with Damien and Chino Hills. The Huskies also won the Mingo Bay Classic in South Carolina in March and have been ranked in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 Top 10 all season.
The junior has lived up his role, including throwing two shut outs, while limiting the opposition to a .199 batting average in his seven starts. He’s has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 41-6 and has giving up just four earned runs. In two outings against Sierra League preseason favorite Chino Hills, Velasquez has yielded just one earned run, including a 5-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory over Chino Hills last week.
“I just try to handle it mentally,” said Velasquez, who committed to Cal State Fullerton in December. “I just try to keep throwing strikes; (a) first-pitch strike for me is big. If I don’t get a first-pitch strike, I just try to keep throwing strikes, because I try to limit my walks. Walks can turn into runs, so if you don’t throw strikes, you can’t win ball games.”
And with Velasquez on the mound, the Huskies are good position to continue their winning ways.
By Stephen Ramirez