Baseball remains undefeated at top of league

Matthew Ross

Update: The team defeated Terra Linda on Thursday (April 9) by a score of 6-1, improving its league record to 7-0 and extending its winning streak to 11 games. Tyler Peck pitched a no-hitter, striking out 10 batters along the way.

With an undefeated league record of 6-0 and a ten-game winning streak under its belt, the varsity baseball team has a target on its back, said coach Mike Firenzi, and it’s growing bigger by the week.

Considering the team’s impressive record, one might assume the Giants’ style matches the flair of its statistics. However, according to Firenzi, Redwood is anything but a showy team.

“If you come and watch Redwood baseball play and you see the record, you expect to see fireworks,” he said. “We aren’t flashy, we just beat guys down. We don’t make mistakes, and the game will stay close for a while, and then they’ll make a mistake and we’ll capitalize on it. But we don’t hit four home runs and throw no-hitters and make diving plays—we’re just a steady baseball team.”

“We’ll win any way we can,” said senior Adam Hussain, a center fielder with five doubles. Hussain’s nine RBIs rank him sixth in MCAL.

Junior Zach Cohen steps up to the mound to throw a pitch at a game against Novato on March 27.
Junior Zach Cohen steps up to the mound to throw a pitch at a game against Novato on March 27.

Firenzi said the team’s dependable defense contributes to this pattern, as well as its mental attitude.

“My philosophy is that if the other team doesn’t score, we’ll never lose. We might stay tied forever, but we won’t lose if they don’t score,” Firenzi said.

Starting pitcher Zach Cohen, a junior, said that the team goes into a game with just that mindset.

“We’re not going out to beat the teams. The teams are trying to beat us,” said Cohen, who has a 1.28 ERA with 26 strikeouts. Cohen is 5-0 this season, but has also proved to be powerful at the plate with seven hits, including two triples and a double.

The Giants’ lone loss came against Casa Grande in an extra-inning preseason battle in late February. Redwood managed to come back from a 4-0 deficit, rallying for four runs in one inning to tie the game, but fell short when the Gauchos scored in the bottom of the ninth.

Though Redwood has only lost that one game, Firenzi said the team is not playing to its full potential quite yet.

“I still think there is more in the tank. The scary thing is we’re about 70 percent right now to where I think we could be. If this team continues to get better, the sky’s the limit,” he said. “If these guys keep getting a little bit better each day, and that’s what we’ve talked about, I don’t know how good they could be.”

Compared to last season, the Giants this year are less focused on the individual and more on the team as a whole, senior Tyler Peck said. Peck has five wins, no losses, and one no-decision start with 32 strikeouts as a starting pitcher. In his start against Drake on March 31, Peck pitched a complete-game shutout.

Peck said that players on this year’s team are focused on being teammates rather than individual players. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Firenzi has yet to name any player a captain.

“The guys have talked in the past about captains,” he said. “But I haven’t really seen a captain yet. I don’t want to make somebody a captain just to have a captain.”

When it comes to statistics, Redwood is represented at the top of the league in many categories by players. Second baseman Riley Overend, who tops the league with a .457 batting average and eight stolen bases, and ranks third with a .525 on-base percentage. Redwood pitchers Zack Kopstein and Tyler Peck boast impressive ERAs of 0.58 and 0.78 respectively.

Firenzi added that, while you can “look at a piece of paper and see who’s leading statistically,” there are other aspects of leadership that are just as important.

“[The starters] have all contributed in one way or another—some bigger statistically, but some bigger emotionally or motivationally,” Firenzi said.

While Firenzi said there is a chance he could choose a couple of captains at some point later this season, he is pleased that many players are stepping up to take a leading role.

“I can’t really put my finger on one guy, which is great. We want to spread that across the board as far as responsibility goes,” Firenzi said.

Cohen echoed Firenzi’s opinion, saying that there are benefits that come when no single player is assigned the role.

“It gives more room for people to be leaders without having ‘the title.’ Anyone can step up and be a leader,” Cohen said.

That being said, Peck, Cohen, Hussain and Firenzi noted the vocal presence of senior shortstop Devon Pence.“He’s like another coach on the field,” Firenzi said.

“It’s important to have leaders,” Hussain said, “But you don’t need captains to win. You can’t just rely on certain people to go out and do it every game—everyone has to do it.”

This season is Firenzi’s first as Redwood’s head coach, but he doesn’t see this as a major factor in the team’s success.

“I didn’t come in here, wave a magic wand, and all of a sudden we’re good. The guys have put in a lot of hard work to get to where we are,” Firenzi said.

Accounting for the team’s ability to win games so consistently, Firenzi points to the pitchers as a driving force.

“Our pitching staff has been out of this world,” he said. “We’re up with anybody. Kopstein, Cohen, Peck: they’re as good as any three around.”

Those three pitchers combine for an ERA of 0.88. In 86.1 innings pitched, the three have allowed only 58 hits.

Cohen and Peck have attributed the strong pitching to hard work, but more importantly a dependable defense. The two pitchers said when they’re on the mound, they trust their defensive players to handle the ball wherever it’s hit.

“When we go out there and pitch, we trust that every position will make the play, every time,” Cohen said.

At this point in the season, Firenzi hopes to preserve the team’s first-place standing by distancing themselves from the rest of the teams.

“Right now we’re trying to make it through the first half of the season. We talk a lot about separation now because we are in first place alone,” Firenzi said. “Now every time we win, we separate ourselves from the pack. That’s something that we’re really striving to do.”

Looking ahead to postseason play, Firenzi hopes to secure one of the top two seeds in the MCAL playoffs, which would allow for a first-round bye.

But, Cohen stressed the importance of taking the season one game at a time.

“We’re focusing one game at a time. Our mentality is that our next game is the most important game,” Cohen said.

For some time, Firenzi said, Redwood hasn’t been expected to win much in the postseason, let alone the regular season. This season, Firenzi aims to ditch the fifth and sixth place teams of the past that have barely snuck into the playoffs. With its current record, Redwood has now become the subject of the other teams’ attention.

“Everyone wants to beat the undefeated team,” Firenzi said.

In an effort to resurrect the winning culture that existed when Firenzi himself played for Redwood, in the late 70s and early 80s, he has brought a couple of Redwood baseball legends back to train with the players.

Buddy Biancalana, World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals and member of the Redwood baseball team that won the mythical national championship in 1977, is one of those alumni.

Al Endriss, coach of that 1977 Redwood team and for whom the baseball field is named, has also come to encourage the current team.

Redwood’s league game against Terra Linda, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed to Thursday, April 9, due to rain. The team will play its next league game at Justin-Siena at 4:30 today.

Note: All statistics have been updated as of press time on April 7.