Brandon Nance, a right-hander for La Jolla Country Day. / PHOTO BY ED PIPER, JR.
It really showed on center fielder Josh Howe’s walk-up music in the bottom of the first. “Pretty boy swag, pretty boy swag, pretty boy swag/Girls scream my name when I pretty boy swag.” The whole Country Day baseball team standing in the home dugout, many singing the lyrics, with special emphasis on the word “swag.”
Then it stuck its head up again loudly in the bottom of the next inning, players on the bench singing along to catcher Alex Steigerwald’s walk-up leading to his at-bat: “I’d love to change the world/But I don’t know what to do/So I’ll leave it up to you.”
As Jacob Frankel, one of eight seniors on the Torreys, said before the game: “We play loose. Sometimes we get too loose. Then the energy isn’t there in the dugout.”
But on this night, May 12, Frankel and his teammates bring the energy and shutout visiting Bishop’s 2-0 on a two-hitter by senior ace Brandon Nance, a sweep of Coach John Edman’s team’s three Coastal League games against the rival Knights.
Nance, a 6-foot-1-inch right-hander, combined his fastball with a wicked curve, often on the outside corner, for his first complete game victory of the season. The Fordham University commit struck out eight Bishop’s batters, whose team looked pretty overmatched by the Country Day roster.
The talented Torreys, sporting four other seniors with college letters of intent, carried a mediocre 14-10 record into this final week of the regular season before the CIF playoffs. But that can partly be explained by the Open Division and Division 1 opposition that Edman’s crew regularly faces: dropping games to Parker, St. Augustine, and Vista, all in the top 20 for the county, and Parker winning all three Coastal games between the two squads.
Loose but talented. That’s the word for Country Day. “We’re goofballs,” says senior David Wiley, who almost everyone agrees is the lead goofball. “We play around, but we also are ballplayers. We have our weird side, but we get serious when we need to.”
Wiley, a right-hander, will pitch at St. Mary’s College in Gonzaga next year. Ben Petty-Hull, a catcher/infielder, will go to Dixie State in Utah. A.J. Dhus, a pitcher/third baseman, has committed to Wheaton College in Illinois. And finally, Frankel, a pitcher/first baseman, will relocate to Southwestern University in Texas, near Austin.
“I was looking at our stats,” said Edman, in his 18th year coaching Country Day. “Our average win this year is by eight runs. Our average loss is by two runs.” His players, with a roster very similar to last year’s when the Torreys placed among the top eight teams in Division 1 and made it into the Open Division playoffs, agree that they haven’t yet clicked. “It’s been up-and-down this year,” says Wylie. “We’ve kind of been here-and-there,” says junior shortstop Carson Greene.
“Sometimes the bats aren’t there,” says Frankel, 18. There seems to be a fine line between focus, which can lead into suppressed performance, and looseness, which can unravel. But as far as the potential for things to gel in the upcoming playoffs, “We have the talent to be successful,” Frankel words it, sounding like a veteran attorney.
Assistant Robert Grasso, the third-base coach who tutors the outfielders, came in the same year as Edman, the head man, 18 years ago, though their simultaneous hirings “weren’t intentional,” says Grasso. Dan Padgett, the other assistant, would love to talk even more about his players. “Don’t tell Wiley, but I’m going to miss him,” says the bespectacled pitching coach. “He’s one of the best leaders we’ve had here in years. He’s very perceptive about other people. He figures out whether a teammate needs a hug or a kick in the butt. That’s invaluable.”
Wiley, who started this week with a 2.19 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .238 batting average, and Nance, owning a 4-1 record with a microscopic 1.28 ERA and .168 opposing batting average, are the two number-ones in Padgett’s stable of arms.
Regarding Nance, the pitching coach said before the shutout over Bishop’s, “Brandon, this year, has really settled in. He’s gotten control of himself over the years. He’s very self-aware and a mature individual, like Wiley. It’s very exciting.” You can almost feel the goosebumps on Padgett’s arm as he warms to his subjects.
Petty-Hull, who can be very intense in interviews, stands 5-foot-7-inches tall or so. He was dinged after being moved behind the plate in the fourth inning against Bishop’s by a foul tip that rattled his catcher’s mask. “I still hear some ringing in my ears,” he complained after the inning.
“Last year we clicked a lot earlier,” said Petty-Hull, who also played on the CIF champion football team. Asked why it’s important to keep it fun for his teammates, the Dixie State baseball commit responded, “That’s what helped our team play well last year. We’re not nervous, giving 100 percent, playing our best.” He then proceeded to virtually fill a book in commenting on each teammate he was asked to describe--a reporter’s dream.
Carson Greene, the junior shortstop, made a claim to be a goofball: “I like to keep it loose and dance in the locker room.” Asked if he is a good dancer, he asserted, “I like to think so.” His pregame intensity in an interview matches Petty-Hull’s.
The Torreys, ranked 19th on MaxPreps to start the week, would seem headed for placement in the Division 1 playoffs in CIF.
Most of Country Day’s players play year-round on club teams, some on Edman’s non-school team, some on other club teams.