By Steve Breazeale
The Dana Hills baseball team is not fazed by the idea of traveling across the country next week to compete in the prestigious National High School Invitational tournament in North Carolina, where they will be under the microscope of the entire high school baseball world.
They’re not treating it as anything other than a long road trip, and what butterflies one would expect to be there are missing entirely.
That’s because the Dolphins are too focused on taking care of business at home.
Dana Hills is on a hot streak, winning five of their last six games after starting the season off with four straight losses to tough opponents. They have vaulted into first place in the league standings, so looking past what is right in front of them, like competitive Sea View League opponents, is not what they want to do just yet.
“It’s kind of been our deal the whole year. I kept telling them these (nonleague) games don’t mean anything,” coach Tom Faris said. “I don’t care about rankings … what matters is what we do in league and what we do in the playoffs and they’re kind of catching on to that.”
Dana Hills (5-5) improved to a perfect 3-0 in league play on March 22 after defeating visiting Tesoro 4-1. Standout senior pitcher Hans Crouse tossed six innings of shutout ball and the Dolphins executed solid defense to pick up the win. The previous sentence could be used to describe the entirety of the Dolphins’ season to this point.
The Dolphins’ are struggling to find hits at the plate, and the team was batting a combined .237 through 10 games. But Dana Hills has relied on its strong starting rotation, which includes junior Jack Sterner, and its slick defense to get wins.
Over his last two starts Sterner has pitched 11 innings, allowed two earned runs, walked two and struck out 15. He pitched a complete game shutout against San Juan Hills on March 17 and holds an ERA of 2.10. Crouse, who lowered his ERA to 1.62 Wednesday, has tossed 12 1/3 innings over his last two starts, allowing a combined seven hits, no runs and four walks while piling up 19 strikeouts.
Heading into Wednesday’s tilt with Tesoro, Dana Hills had not allowed a run in Sea View League play. An uncharacteristic error in the seventh inning allowed the Titans to plate their lone run and snap the streak.
The quality of the Dolphins’ starters helps jump-start the players in the field.
“Our pitching has been super key. (The pitchers) are carrying the team and doing their jobs,” said senior first baseman Joe DeBaca, who has yet to make an error this season. “When Hans or Jack come in, or any of the other guys, we’re always super hyped to get behind them and play some defense.”
There’s no doubt all eyes will be on Crouse when the Dolphins open play at the NHSI tournament on March 29 against Cullman High School out of Alabama. Crouse is regarded as one of the top high school pitchers in the country, and he will be a marquee name at the event.
Dana Hills will join defending tournament champion Huntington Beach, Orange Lutheran and South Hills as the California representatives in the elite 16-team field.
Before they head out east, however, Dana Hills will travel to play games against Laguna Hills and Los Alamitos on March 24 and March 25, respectively. You can bet those are the games they are focused on anyways.