Entering the CIF playoffs for the first time in six years the Mesa Grande Academy baseball team knew it had nothing to lose going against the No. 2 ranked team in Division 7. Traveling to Victorville on Thursday to face University Prep and its 2018 All-CIF pitcher Rudy Mejia plus a lineup filled with returning starters that won two playoff games last season it would have been a huge upset if MGA could pull it off. That did not happen as University defeated the less experienced Cardinals 22-4 to finish the regular season 12-4. It placed third in Victory League at 9-3.
Speaking before the game MGA coach Travis Johnson thought, “If we can take them deep into the game it will give us a chance.” Johnson said his team usually plays better on the road. Win or lose, his players quickly transition onto other endeavors. “The day after the playoff game most of the team will be going up north to perform as members of the school’s Handbells Choir and Chorale. Our players are a different type of student who have broad interests away from sports. Many are into music.” Johnson called infielder Ryan Wolf a world class violinist.
Johnson said he felt confident starting Tyler Soren against University Prep. Despite being a freshman, Johnson felt good about Soren, owner of a 6-1 record and years of travel ball experience. If needed Johnson could get relief from his son, Walker, a big right hander who can also deliver a mid-80’s fastball. Walker Johnson also leads the team with a legitimate .635 batting average.
Team captain Joe Herling has been slowed by injuries but Johnson said his senior has healed and been making a late season push on the mound and at the plate. Herling and teammate Chace Nelson both homered on Senior Night in a win over Joshua Springs. It was Herling's second home run in recent games and the first ever for Nelson. Both could be called the heart and soul of MGA boys sports. In prior seasons each needed to play uncomfortable roles. Before catcher Julian Parks came out to play his senior year, Nelson volunteered to play catcher despite having no experience at the difficult position. Herling was needed to pitch despite nagging injuries. “I think Joe realizes that high school is coming to an end. He really wants the ball,” said Johnson.
“I’m not worried about our offense and pitching but if our defense can do its job it will put us in a better position,” said Johnson. MGA has a team batting average of .414.