By Fred J. Robledo
As expected, Damien High School hired former Bishop Amat coach Andy Nieto to take over its baseball program on Thursday.
Nieto, one of the winningest coaches in Southern California over the last decade, resigned less than a week after earning his fourth championship in eight years at Bishop Amat.
The Lancers ended the season with ten straight victories culminating with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over top-seed Palm Desert for the CIF-SS Division 3 title at Dodger Stadium in June.
Nieto said he was leaving to pursue other opportunities, and soon after he announced he was leaving, Damien fired coach Al Leyva, prompting speculation that Damien would target Nieto.
Damien’s principal Merritt Hemenway was the principal at Bishop Amat when it hired Nieto, and the two remained close.
“I think it’s probably easier to say third time’s the charm,” Nieto said. “He (Hemenway) hired me at Cantwell (Sacred Heart) many moons ago when I was finishing my degree at USC. It’s a great relationship that we built and I owe the start of my teaching career to him and I owe a lot to him helping me establish my career as a coach and teacher.”
Leyva was 107-61 in six seasons at Damien, but never won a league championship. His best year was his first in 2009 when Damien finished 21-9 and advanced to the CIF-SS Division 2 semifinals. Damien was 17-10 this past season, finished in a tie for third in the Sierra League and was ousted in the first round of the playoffs.
Nieto thinks he can take Damien to the next level.
“I have always had the utmost respect for Damien, they never lacked talent or ability,” Nieto said. “For me this place has endless possibilities. When you combine the athletic facilities and resources, Damien is a sleeping giant.
“This program, there’s no fixing here, it’s on solid ground. For whatever the reason, they’ve always played well and they’ve knocked on the door of a championship. They’ve been knocking on the door for many years, lets figure out how to go through it and win this thing.”
Nieto won back-to-back titles when he first arrived at Bishop Amat in 2007 and ‘08, and added another banner in 2011 to go with seven consecutive Del Rey League championships.
Nieto finishes with a career record of 196-55-1 at Bishop Amat and in 2011 the Lancers finished the season ranked sixth nationally and won the prestigious National Classic.
Nieto arrived at Bishop Amat with huge expectations after previously serving as an assistant coach at USC from 1997-2006.
Nieto won a national championship with the Trojans in 1998 and went to the NCAA college World Series in Omaha three times with the Trojans in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
Nieto also served as an assistant baseball coach at Glendale community college in 1996 and was a recruiting coordinator for East Los Angeles College in 1995.
Bishop Amat was Nieto’s second high school head coaching job, having coached at Cantwell Sacred Heart from 1991-94 where he led the Cardinals to three league titles with a 62-35 overall record.
Nieto earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from USC in 1991 and master’s degree from Azusa Pacific and is a 1982 graduate of Schurr High.
By Fred J. Robledo