About a month ago, the Serra baseball team was essentially treading water at 10-10 overall and 4-6 in West Catholic Athletic League play.
Now, there might be no team hotter than the Padres. Serra closed the regular season with a 7-4 win over St. Ignatius Friday, its sixth win in a row and fourth straight in WCAL play to finish the regular season 8-6 in the WCAL and 16-10 overall. Serra is definitely a team no one wants to play right now.
How hot is Serra? The Padres have shut out three of their last four WCAL opponents and have posted a 1.00 ERA over that span. Offensively, the Padres are swinging it, posting a .383 batting average over the last six games.
“I think this group is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Serra manager Craig Gianinno, who recently eclipsed the 100-win mark as the Padres’ head man.
But with a team batting average of .319 and a pitching staff ERA of 2.37, why did the Padres struggle during the first two-thirds of the season? One reason has been caliber of competition.
“As always, we put together a tough schedule,” Gianinno said.
The other reason, however, is just due to the vagaries of the game.
“It’s a tough game,” Gianinno said.
He pointed to Serra’s 1-0, eight-inning loss to St. Francis during which pitcher Matt Blais pitched into the eighth inning, allowing one run on just two hits and was saddled with the loss.
“We had four opportunities in that game to get it done (and we didn’t),” Gianinno said. “St. Francis had one opportunity and they got it done. It’s just the nature of the game, the cruelty of it. It’s trying to remind [the team] it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We’re, hopefully, starting to peak and get hot at the right time.”
Earlier in the season, the Padres had a tough time getting every aspect of the game firing on all cylinders. One game the pitching would be on and the hitting off. The next game it would be vice versa. At other times, the defense failed both the pitching and the offense.
“We’ve lost quite a few close games,” Gianinno said. “We’ve been a hit away or a bounce or a quality at-bat away (from pulling out those games.)”
Gianinno believes a big part of his team’s surge in the latter stages of the regular season is simply the result of the players trusting in one another as well as themselves individually. Gianinno has incorporated a number of newcomers to the varsity squad — including eight first-year juniors, three sophomores and a freshman. Gianinno said it’s taken some time for everyone to mesh together.
“Any time you’re starting a varsity level with a lot of new players, I think there is a transitional threshold they have to go through. … For each individual it’s a different growing process. I think the thing is making guys feel comfortable when they are uncomfortable going through the changes,” Gianinno said. “Early on, guys were looking around for other guys to take the baton and get it done. … The team has (now) developed a good attitude. Guys are selling out for each other.”
The Padres will look to continue their winning streak in the postseason. Up first is the WCAL tournament beginning Tuesday and running through Friday. The Padres, the No. 5 seed, will open on the road 4 p.m. at No. 4 Bellarmine, a team they beat 2-0 May 6. After that is the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Gianinno, however, is not looking for anything extra. If his team simply plays the way they have been playing the last few weeks, the results will take care of themselves.
“We have to play our game and we have to execute when we have the opportunity, and we have to capitalize when the other team makes a mistake,” Gianinno said. “Will that guarantee a win? Absolutely not, but it certainly gives you more of a chance to win a baseball game.”
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.