With Eight Wins In Its First 11 Games, Dougherty Valley Baseball Has Already Matched Its 2017 Total — And It’s Not Looking Back •
Story by MIKE WOOD | Photos by CHACE BRYSON
The Dougherty Valley High-San Ramon baseball team had just completed a loss to Monte Vista-Danville, one of its few this young season. The 11-4 defeat was easily its worst in what’s mainly been a season of promise.
The Wildcats didn’t sulk, walk around dejectedly or go straight into a team meeting to dissect the game. That would come later. Instead, they went right to work on their next task. Working and grooming their home field.
“We gotta take care of our own field,” said Brian Nichols, in his second year as Dougherty Valley’s coach. “Gotta make sure it’s ready for practice tomorrow. Lot of stuff to work on. Every day is another opportunity to get better.”
It’s an example of how single-minded and focused the team has become under the direction of Nichols, who has been coaching for over two decades, including a long stint at El Cerrito High.
One task — the game — is done. On to the next one — the field.
Dougherty Valley (8-3 through April 3) has cultivated some impressive wins this year as the program is trending toward a big turnaround.
The messages and lessons from Nichols and assistant Jim Giblin — a longtime coach at Albany High — are clear and concise.
“I teach baseball a little bit different than most guys,” Nichols said. “We do a lot of small-ball things. We’re getting better at that. My whole philosophy is throw strikes and play defense.”
The school has been open just over a decade, but the baseball program saw some success in its short existence, with the high mark being a 21-7 record in 2012 that saw the Wildcats reach the NCS Division II championship game. Wins eventually became quite elusive: five in 2015, three in 2016 and eight in Nichols’ first year at the school, 2017.
“The guys who are seniors are used to getting beat up a little bit,” Nichols said. “But all of the seniors are doing a great job. They understand that we are doing the things necessary to compete at a high level.”
Nichols knows about the high level, having played at USC and then the Cincinnati Reds organization. Meanwhile, Giblin carries an extensive baseball résumé as well.
“They have a lot of knowledge, and they are really strict on right and wrong things to do,” said senior outfielder Ryan Grove, who is batting .375 with six RBI. “They will just nail us, all the little things we need to do correctly. (Nichols) is constantly getting on us about making mistakes, making sure we don’t make the same mistake twice.”
That Nichols’ know-how is fostering pride and determination in his players. “He is also pretty confident in himself, so that definitely rubs off on us a lot,” senior infielder Will Brega said. Brega is hitting at a .389 clip and leads the team in RBI with 11.
The transformation hasn’t been overnight. In addition to a new coaching staff last season, the Wildcats were also making the leap from the old Diablo Foothill Athletic League to the East Bay Athletic League.
“A lot better pitchers, better hitters. We had to step up for ourselves,” Brega said.
It all was a lot to absorb. Things are settling into place in Year 2.
“Last year with the new coach, everyone was still a little unsure,” senior infielder Matt Jew said. “And this year people have bought in a little bit more. Obviously it’s been paying off. Winning the first couple games has given us a lot more confidence and have allowed us to believe in ourselves. … We can do this.”
Jew has shown that himself, leading every-day starters with a .458 batting average and four doubles.
This season opened with a 2-1 win over Clayton Valley Charter-Concord, which had put together an impressive 23-3 record in 2017. The league campaign began with a 7-0 win over California-San Ramon, followed by back-to-back losses to Monte Vista and then San Ramon Valley-Danville which served as a reminder how tough life is in the EBAL.
Even with the one-sided final score against Monte Vista, Nichols was able to point out what his team has been doing well. That begins with defense.
“We didn’t make any errors today; they just won with the bat,” he said. “Defensively, we’re fantastic. We usually throw strikes, though we didn’t do a good job of doing that today. We’ve been really disciplined at the plate. Those combinations will make us be in every game.”
A penchant for walks against Monte Vista took them out of that equation, but there will be more opportunities.
“Usually pitching is our biggest key. If we are throwing strikes, it gives ourselves a chance, because we can score runs,” Grove said.
That’s where the small ball approach comes in.
“We also have to know who we are,” said Jew, who had his team’s lone home run through the end of March. “We’re not one of those teams with a lot of big hitters who are going to put balls over the fence. We just have got to play our game.”