As the Central Coast Section baseball playoffs begin today, San Mateo County programs look to replicate the area’s stunning success of a year ago – when Burlingame High and Menlo School claimed championships in two of the section’s three divisions.
While many will focus on the play of veterans as the key to postseason success this May, a few local programs are counting on production from freshmen who have played prominent roles at a young age at the varsity level.
Carlmont, Half Moon Bay and Menlo each boast a freshman starter who has grown into a being a difference-maker despite his lack of experience. These youngsters have managed to exceed expectations on their respective ballclubs despite facing fierce competition from older athletes.
Brett Berghammer Battles through Growing Pains at Half Moon Bay
The Cougars (21-6) clinched the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division title last week, capping a strong regular season with three consecutive victories by a margin of at least four runs. As usual, freshman Brett Berghammer helped lead Half Moon Bay’s attack, batting 4-for-9 with three RBIs in the final three contests.
Berghammer, the Cougars’ leadoff hitter and center fielder, led the team with 32 hits and 11 extra-base knocks during the regular season. His 18 RBIs are the second-highest total on Half Moon Bay’s roster.
"Since Brett basically bypassed development at the JV level, it was a matter of him catching up to speed against older guys," Cougars coach Steve Terraszas said. "He had to learn how to be a leadoff hitter. Instead of being aggressive early in the count, we taught him the importance of trying to see at least five pitches during an at-bat. He's been good enough to get our offense going on several occasions."
Berghammer actually started spring training on the junior varsity squad with his fellow freshmen. It only took a handful of practices for Terraszas and the rest of the Half Moon Bay coaches to become convinced he was ready to contribute with the big boys.
Berghammer batted leadoff on opening day, but it took a while for him to grow acclimated to life on varsity.
"I had a rocky start to the season but I played through it," Berghammer said. "At first, I was a little nervous about playing against guys that are two or three years older than me."
The center fielder’s high school career opened with a 1-for-24 slump in the first seven games of the season. Despite the early struggles, Berghammer asserts his teammates never wavered in their support of the squad’s youngest member.
"The older guys are great motivators and they've helped me a lot," Berghammer said. "We've had a great year and we believe in each other.”
Berghammer batted .376 over the final 20 games of the regular season and enters the playoffs as a confident player, no longer the wide-eyed newcomer who took the field in March. His coach believes this is only the beginning for Berghammer at Half Moon Bay.
"He has the necessary drive and desire to make himself a better ballplayer," Terraszas said. "Brett won't sit back and be satisfied with what he's accomplished this season. I'm sure he'll make the most of the next three years."
The fifth-seeded Cougars host Monte Vista Christian (16-11) today at 4 p.m. in the first round of the Division III playoffs. Berghammer will lead off the team’s offensive attack once again.
Menlo’s Mikey Diekroeger Lives up to the Family Pedigree
The Diekroeger name has become synonymous with success at a Menlo program that claimed a share of the West Bay Athletic League title for the second straight year this spring and now looks to defend its CCS Division III title.
This year, freshman Mikey Diekroeger has provided the Atherton powerhouse with an added weapon. Diekroeger finished the regular season with a .390 batting average as the team’s everyday second baseman.
The newcomer’s skills should hardly come as a surprise to those who follow local sports. Diekroeger’s older brothers Kenny (Menlo class of 2009) and Danny (class of 2010) were standout athletes in their own right, and both are currently playing baseball for Stanford.
Danny earned league MVP honors as an infielder at Menlo and all-state recognition during his record-setting football career as a quarterback. Kenny is a former second-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Rays organization that opted to attend Stanford, where he was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2010 as the team’s starting third baseman.
"Everything my brothers have done has helped me become a better player," Mikey Diekroeger said. "Their success is motivation for me because they've increased my personal expectations. Some of the guys I'm playing with now were teammates with my older brothers and they know the pressure that's on me. I've always felt included on this team, regardless of my age."
Mikey already has one edge on his accomplished older siblings. Unlike Danny and Kenny, he started his high school career on varsity.
Diekroeger initially entered the season as a spot starter, filling the void for infielders when they took their turn in the pitching rotation. But when senior second baseman Tim Benton was moved to centerfield by coach Craig Schoof, Diekroeger slid into the suddenly vacant keystone corner.
Diekroeger, who also played basketball during the winter, feels his heightened sense of patience has allowed him to progress through the challenges of consistently facing pitchers who are two or three years older.
"It's hard to adjust to pitching as a young player," Diekroeger said. "The competition varies so much in high school so you're never sure what to expect. You can't get away with being an undisciplined hitter. You have to avoid swinging at the wrong pitches, relax and wait for the right pitch to come your way."
Diekroeger and third-seeded Menlo (22-4) host Scotts Valley at 4 p.m. today.
Kyle Barret Brings “Swagger” to the Scots
Carlmont coach Rich Vallero has never doubted Kyle Barret’s love of baseball. Enthusiasm oozes from the freshman infielder, according to the sixth-year skipper.
"Kyle is all baseball. The kid eats, sleeps and breathes the game," Vallero said. “He’s got a swagger to him, and self-confidence must be prevalent to compete at this level at his age. I’ve always got the impression that he feels he belongs on varsity.”
Barret hits second for the Scots (18-8), who finished tied for second in the Peninsula Athletic League’s top-tier Bay Division. The infielder, who Vallero envisions as a starting pitcher or potential catcher in the future, owns a .329 batting average and a team-high 26 hits.
Carlmont’s starting lineup features four sophomores alongside Barret, giving the program a heightened sense of enthusiasm for the future. Sit down with coach Vallero and it’s easy to see how excited he is about the direction his program is headed. The Scots won a piece of the PAL Bay title last year. The next hurdle will be putting an end to a streak of three consecutive closely contested losses in the first round of the Division I playoffs, a minefield of heavyweight programs.
“I can’t wait to see how this team develops over the offseason,” Vallero said. “Guys like Kyle have the certain mind-set that leads to winning. They won’t be denied.”
With three seasons remaining in his career, complacency would be dangerous for a talented young player like Barret.
“Not only is Kyle coachable, he’ll play wherever we need him to on any given day,” Vallero said. “That’s the kind of attitude you look for in every player. He’s always trying to push himself, and he’ll never become complacent. Kyle knows it takes more than simply showing up to produce -- that’s why he has a bright future.”
Menlo and Barret can make a significant head start toward that future if they’re able to end their run of first-round exits and defeat top-seeded St. Francis (25-5) on the road at 4 p.m. today.