Many don’t go to Las Vegas expecting to come back a winner. And those who do are usually disappointed.
But Las Vegas has been the place where, the past couple of years, the Birmingham Community Charter High baseball team has found — or rediscovered — its collective mojo.
Last year the Patriots won the highly regarded Durango Blazer Spring Bash Tournament during their Easter break en route to winning the 2017 City Section Division I championship, its second such title in the past four years.
Last week the Patriots won the 2018 Durango Tournament with a 10-3 victory over Poly High in the championship game. And they’re hoping for the same springboard effect on their baseball fortunes.
“Last year it was [winning] the Vegas trip that started everything for us,” noted Patriots pitcher and first baseman Albert Garcia. “And we won it again this year. It’s a good luck charm for us.”
After losing three straight games March 15-17, the Patriots entered this week having rolled a seven, as in seven straight victories to lift their overall record to 13-5.
And if there were any questions among the players and coaches regarding their level of confidence, they got the answers they were looking for.
“We are [back] in a place where we like to be at this time of the season, getting to that point where we are starting to click a little bit,” Birmingham Coach Matt Mowry said. “We want to be clicking through the league season, and be dialed in at playoff time.”
He pointed out how the team’s pitchers, including Garcia, D.J. Vergini, and Armando Yanez, carried the Patriots until the offense and defense caught up.
“Our pitching has been pretty good all year,” the coach said. “D.J. has a sub-1 earned run average, and so has Albert. Armando Yanez is below ‘three’ on his ERA. Rene Salazar has been pitching lights out.
“Now the defense and offense are coming around. That is typical. We start slowly and build throughout the year.”
Catcher Johnny Tincher, 16, a junior, said there was no mystery why the pitchers were doing well.
“It’s ‘location,’” he said, referring to the ability to throw the ball where you want. “It is a priority here. And they’re good at throwing strikes.”
According to shortstop Alex Ballesteros, the Patriots might have been a little too confident at the beginning of the year, and needed to be knocked down a peg.
“There might have been a little [championship] hangover in the beginning,” said Ballesteros, 16, a junior. “We felt we were good, and forgot we needed to practice to be good. A couple of those early losses were a wakeup call. Now…we’re looking for that next step (after Las Vegas). Now we can compete against good teams.”
Morwy said the team finally remembered and reverted to the formula that has proven successful for Birmingham in past years.
“We stress year round that it is more important to be productive for the team than for yourself,” he said “There is that ‘I have to do this or that to get on the field.’ But [the coaches also] take note of what we call ‘team at-bats.’
“A guy might be hitting .230 but he might also be high in sacrifices, being able to move runners also with less than two outs. That might be more important at the time than a guy who is hitting .300. If you are doing your part to help us out, that is what matters.”
The Patriots have a couple of other tournament obligations — road games against Upland High on Wednesday, April 4 (results were unavailable at press time), and Saturday, April 7, at Carson High, depending on the weather — before engaging the rest of the West Valley in league play.
Birmingham was fourth in the league last year but got hot in the playoffs and won the Division I championship. The aim is higher this season, especially with City Section officials creating an Open Division in part to prepare for the state playoff system that begins in 2019.
“We do have a target on our backs,” Tincher said. “But we’re not playing scared, we’re playing confident. We just need to keep doing what we need to do, offensively and defensively.”
“We’re in a good place right now,” he said. “To get back to Dodger Stadium, we have to take it one game at a time. Worry about just one game at a time. And hopefully, we can keep it going.”