There’s No Off Day In The East Bay Athletic League — And Foothill Baseball Is Just Fine With That •
Story By Mike Wood | Photos By Berry Evans III
When Foothill High School-Pleasanton wrapped up a strenuous, dramatic win over Monte Vista-Danville, Falcons players rushed the field in joyous celebration.
Part of the catalyst for the celebration was the nature of the win, an important one in the highly combative East Bay Athletic League. It was a nine-inning struggle that featured few scoring opportunities and zero runs until the finish. The concluding celebration was prompted when Jeremy Lea hit a one-out sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth, scoring Sam Novitske, who had doubled and stolen third base.
A demonstration of pure joy ensued.
“You know what, we all love each other here so much … it’s like we’re a band of brothers,” said Falcons star pitcher/first baseman Brett Hansen, who is committed to Stanford. “It’s a special thing to be a part of. We all love each other. We all compete like crazy, but we all have each other’s backs when it comes down to it.”
Their 1-0 win over Monte Vista on April 21 was just one of many opportunities to celebrate a victory. Foothill did not taste defeat until the end of April. An early season 3-3 tie with Heritage, called due to darkness, was the only time the Falcons had not won this season in 17 games, with a loss finally coming when De La Salle beat the Falcons 3-1 on April 26, followed by an 8-inning lost to Dublin on April 28.
Still, Foothill’s résumé is outstanding. The same week of the win over the Mustangs also saw a hard-fought 2-1 victory over San Ramon Valley-Danville. The Falcons have proved to be a force in the EBAL and could well contend to win the program’s first North Coast Section championship.
“It’s special just because of the group of kids we have,” said longtime Falcons coach Angelo Scavone. “It’s fun. It’s fun to come out every day for practice. They are the ultimate grinders. They just grind and they go and they go and they go.”
The Monte Vista game played out like a tense chess match, with starters Anthony Steller Harter of Foothill and Will Blackburn of the Mustangs not allowing much in the way of base-runners or legitimate scoring threats. The Falcons kept focus and the enthusiasm level until the dramatic rally unfolded.
“It was just a hit here and a mistake there, and no one made a mistake,” Scavone said. “And we happened to hit a double and steal a bag and get him in on a sac fly.”
The Falcons’ dugout area is adorned with the numbers of two fabled former players: Giants star shortstop Brandon Crawford and former Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Bergesen. This season’s Foothill squad is quickly building a legacy of its own, with tight bonds among the players.
“We’re all friends; we have great chemistry,” said Novitske, the team’s shortstop who is headed to Oregon. Hitting that double against Monte Vista was par for the course for Novitske, who led the team in batting average at .400 thru April. “We all have a passion for the game and we all want to win. We always make sacrifices for each other and just want the best for each other.”
Novitske and Hansen are among a slew of players who have caught college coaches’ attention. Left fielder Adam Jue is headed to Trinity (Texas). Among an array of talented juniors, catcher Lea (.396 through April) and center fielder Justin Lavell are both Division I prospects, Scavone said. “Justin is 6-2 and can run it down in the gaps and can flat out fly. Jeremy defensively plays the game as well as any catcher we’ve ever had here, and in regards to his arm, there’s no comparison — he’s the best we’ve had in my 22 years at Foothill.”
Part of the success lends itself to the Falcons being at full strength this year. Third baseman Griffin Chinn, the third of three brothers to play at Foothill, and Hansen are healthy after Chinn was sidelined with an ACL injury and Hansen with a fractured kneecap for much of last season, one in which the Falcons finished 8-16.
Their leadership is a key component of the 2017 success.
Hansen was 6-1 in his first 10 appearances with a 0.93 earned run average. The Falcons boasted a 1.14 team ERA, with Stellar Harter at 4-0 in nine appearances, and Logan Caton, who got the win in relief against Monte Vista, logging 16 appearances in 18 games. Hansen also leads the team in RBIs with 19. Chinn completes a steady infield.
“To have Griffin back, just as a leadership role, it’s big for the team to have his presence on the field,” Lea said. “Then Brett, his attitude and the way he carries himself just makes everyone around him better. To have him on the mound is big for us; every Wednesday to have him throwing. To have him and Griffin back is big for the team.”
It’s the core up the middle — Lea, shortstop Novitske and second baseman Jake Simons and Justin Lavell — that Scavone points to as integral to the defense’s success.
“Up the middle we’ve got Jeremy, Sam, Jake and Lavell,” Scavone said. “They are all juniors and they grind, they will work and work and work until their hands bleed, and they love it. And they are great guys. That’s kind of the key to our success.”
Heading into May, the Falcons lead the EBAL’s Valley Division. No matter what their record is, they go back to work focused on the task at hand.
“We still have a long way to go,” Lea said. “We’ve put in so much work, we go into each game, we don’t think about the record. After this game we move on to the next game. We go out there and play as hard as we can for that day.”