Baseball season cut short

Baseball season cut short

By Tony Ciniglio

Sierra Canyon ace pitcher Jaden Noot fired 94 mph smoke. Grace Brethren ace Josh Swales blistered the radar gun with 96 mph strikes.

Every pitch seemed to be magnified in front of approximately 18-20 scouts who converged on Sierra Canyon’s picturesque baseball field to watch this heated pitching matchup.

Sierra Canyon prevailed 3-2 in a matchup that lived up to the billing, the highlight of Sierra Canyon’s 7-1 start and the pinnacle to Coach Jerry Royster’s promising first season that was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That was special,” Royster said. “It was fun to watch. Their team said the same thing. To watch our guys compete against a pitcher like that … they got to see what a polished draft pick looks like.”

Sierra Canyon finished No. 7 in the final CIF Southern Section Division 2 poll.

Sierra Canyon recorded victories over St. Bonaventure, Dos Pueblos and Cleveland and even snuck in Gold Coast League victories over Campbell Hall (twice) and Viewpoint. 

Its lone loss came to Marmonte League power Thousand Oaks.

Royster, a 12-year Major League veteran who also has Major League managerial experience, said he had one major goal when he joined the Sierra Canyon program as an assistant coach three years ago: produce next-level athletes.

Royster said Sierra Canyon has a strong class of seniors who will play college baseball next year.

“The program has always had success here, but we were not producing a lot of frontline baseball players,” said Royster, who began his career with the Dodgers. “Our goal was to get them off to college baseball. Going through this process with these families was amazing. I wanted to cry, but obviously not in front of the players.”

Center fielder Max Nahmias will play for Northern Colorado. Third baseman Anthony Ciccarelli will play at Cal Lutheran. Shortstop Bleu Ellis will play for George Fox University in Oregon. First baseman and pitcher Luca Rubin will play at Babson University in Boston.

Royster said outfielder Zach Freeman and second baseman Aaron Gutierrez are weighing offers. Freeman is perhaps the best prospect of the seniors.

“These seniors really accomplished something special,” Royster said. “I feel bad for the seniors who won’t be able to finish off their season and display their skills on a team that was destined to be one of the best in school history.

“I’m hoping that we will be able to get together at some point, celebrate their accomplishments and have one final day together again.”

Sierra Canyon boasted a star-heavy pitching staff.

Noot, a sophomore, is an University of Oregon recruit who went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 19 strikeouts and six walks in 17 innings.

Kassius Thomas, a sophomore, is a Duke recruit who went 1-1 with 10 strikeouts and six walks in 7 1-3 innings. Junior Bryce Bond also provided Sierra Canyon with a high caliber arm.

“Our pitching definitely carried us,” Royster said.

Freeman sizzled to a hot start, batting .556 with a homer, five RBIs and seven runs scored. Max Martin hit .545 with eight RBIs. Gutierrez batted .444 with a homer and seven runs scored.

Royster also praised catchers Ryan Mittleman and Shane McClendon.

“All of these guys played so well – I was so proud of how they all were getting after it,” Royster said.

Royster said Sierra Canyon also benefited from bringing in iconic Chatsworth High coach Tom Meusborn onto the staff as an associate head coach.

Muesborn turned Chatsworth into a national power and helped develop future Major Leaguers Mike Moustakas, Matt Dominguez, Bryan Petersen and Josh Ravin.

“He added a lot to our program, and we learned a lot about preparation from him,” Royster said. “All the kids were locking into practice. It was a lot of fun to go to the field and watch these kids get better every day.”