Through A Pandemic, Odd Schedules And Unknowns, Valley Christian Baseball Stuck To What It Does Best — Winning Games When They Matter Most •
The symmetry seems so perfect — San Jose’s Valley Christian High winning its 10th Central Coast Section baseball championship, matching the number and the nickname of coach John Diatte.
But the longtime coach actually wanted a different number way back when.
“When I was 9 years old, the coach handed me No. 10,” Diatte said. “I believe I wanted No. 9 because Reggie Jackson wore it for the A’s. I got 10 because 9 wasn’t available.”
We know, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
In fact, the Warriors did win title No. 10 on June 19, holding on for a 6-5 win over host Archbishop Mitty-San Jose. That’s four in five years and four consecutive crowns in terms of championships awarded — the 2020 playoffs, of course, having been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diatte said that his squad worked hard to make the most of whatever season it had. The players took that to heart.
“Everyone was a leader,” senior pitcher Jonathan Cymrot said. “There was no single leader. Everyone played their part; they knew their role. Everyone had one goal in mind and we pushed toward that goal.”
Cymrot continued, “A normal high school season is 18 weeks, but this year we played 25 weeks including our preseason scrimmages.
“We hit at each other’s houses. We didn’t know if there would be a season, so we just scrimmaged each other. You face some of the best pitchers you’re going to face. Facing a team with several (Division I) commits really improves competition. You’re not getting away with anything. If you leave a pitch over the middle, it’s going far.”
A side effect of the impacted schedule this spring was that Valley Christian and Archbishop Mitty ended up playing eight times. Each team won four times with the Warriors taking the most important one.
“You get to know the players,” Cymrot said. “You have an idea how their pitchers are throwing you. They are doing the same thing.”
In the final, Valley Christian took the lead in a three-run fifth inning, with Easton Kreshel delivering the big blow, a two-run home run. Kreshel hit a home run in each of the Warriors playoff games.
“A huge hit,” senior pitcher Trevor Haskins said. “Easton is a baller, he’s a grinder. He’s a hard worker. He started heating up during playoffs just when we needed him to. He was working on his swing. When he hit that, I just sat there with my jaw open and thought, ‘Oh my god!’”
The three-run inning put the Warriors up 5-2. Then a familiar pattern returned.
“Every one of the last ones we have won, we’ve taken leads and those leads have been pressured,” Diatte said. “Serra (in 2017), runners on, we get a comebacker. Against Los Gatos (in 2018), bases loaded, they tie it and we get a run in the bottom of the seventh to win.”
In 2019, it was a 2-0 Warrior win over Archbishop Mitty – tight all the way through.
“None of them seem to be easy,” Diatte said. “I don’t know why I thought this time we’d be able to hold a lead. They got my heart rate up.”
After the Warriors scored another run in the sixth, the Monarchs got one in the bottom of the inning and two more in the seventh to cut it to 6-5. Diatte summoned sophomore Alec Belardes to finish it off.
“We knew we were going to have to staff that last game,” Diatte said. “Guys being able to get the number of outs they can get.”
Diatte then dropped an old favorite – the pitcher was going to be, “Johnny Wholestaff.”
Belardes hadn’t pitched in almost a month. But his teammates said they weren’t worried at all.
“I believe it was nine games since he pitched his last game and he came in and shut the door in one of the most pressure situations,” Cymrot said. “All of a sudden, he’s called in to beat one of the best teams in california. The thing about Valley Christian, we did have a deep pitching staff this year.
“We can trust Alec in any situation. Being able to step up into that moment meant everything to our team and everything to our seniors.”
Belardes got Jarren Advincula swinging to finish off the victory.
“It was getting a little stressful but we worked on different game situations all year,” Haskins said. “Alec’s a grinder. He’ll be a dog for you.”
The Warriors finished off a 24-9 season — good enough to finish No. 1 in SportStars’ final NorCal Baseball Rankings — and true to the work ethic of the team, Haskins and Cymrot barely took time to celebrate.
Both headed off to play summer ball, with Cymrot jumping on the road to Nebraska. They’ll both be busy in the fall. Haskins will play at Stanford and Cymrot at Kansas.
And Diatte will start getting ready for season No. 33 and a chance to win an 11th CCS championship. His teams won three in a row from 2000-02 at the Division II and III level, then took back-to-back titles at Division I in 2007-08. The Warriors won Division I again in 2012 and took the Open Division 2017-19. This year, there was no Open Division, so it was back to Division I.
“The great thing about high school baseball, you have a new group of kids that come in every year,” Diatte said. “The clubhouse is never the same. The leaders move on. You have new leaders come in. That’s the fun part about it. I get to be around young people and try to develop them. That’s the fun thing. To try to develop a team each year and try to get to know the kids.”
Said Cymrot, “He has established such a great program. I cannot say enough things. Work ethic, knowing when to pull strings on the field. It’s clear he has found his life’s passion. He has really stuck with it. I’m just so appreciative of what he has done and all the alumni before me that put me in the position to get the job done.”
And the circle of success starts again with new faces next spring.