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Difference-maker

Jake Bernards hopes his last season will result in West Ranch’s first league title

Posted: March 20, 2009 1:45 a.m.
Updated: March 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The future of West Ranch senior first baseman Jake Bernards lies on the gridiron, where he will suit up for San Diego State in college. But Bernards is back for one more round on the diamond, and he and his Wildcat teammates hope the season results in the school's first Foothill League championship.

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Jake Bernards is likely playing his last baseball season because he passed on the chance to play at the collegiate level to accept a football offer from San Diego State.

“I’m going to miss baseball,” Bernards said. “I’ve playing since I was five so this season is big for me. I want to go out with a bang.”

The 6-foot-5-inch quarterback and first baseman is likely to be red-shirted during his first year before competing for playing time in 2010.

“He’s such a great baseball player that I’d love to see him play at the next level,” said West Ranch baseball head coach Casey Burrill. “But he’s a bright kid, and football is his passion, so I’m sure it’s the right choice for him.”

Bernards, who is hitting .467 with three home runs and five RBIs in the Wildcats’ first five games, became the first West Ranch football player to receive a football scholarship when he committed on Jan. 23.

“He brings a lot of the skills he uses as a football player to the baseball field,” said West Ranch shortstop Cal Vogelsang. “He’s like the quarterback of infield, and he never gets down. Whenever anything goes wrong, he’s there to pick the guys up.”

Having the size of a Division I quarterback also intimidates opposing teams.

“Opposing pitchers know they have to deal with Jake, but they don’t want to,” Burrill said. “Having him in the lineup changes the game because the other team doesn’t want to put runners on in front of him because they don’t want to have to pitch to him.”

Bernards’ imposing frame in the batters box and his defensive skills at first remind Burrill of Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira.
His teammates also see him as a hitter at the highest level.

“He is a swing genius,” said West Ranch catcher Max Blaha. “We say he’s a ‘Swingius’ because he’s so smart at
the plate.”

A lot of what Bernards brings to West Ranch goes beyond his impact at the plate.

“He’s a great leader” said West Ranch third baseman Casey Watkins. “This team has really good chemistry, and a lot of the reason we get along so well is because of guys like Jake.”

The fact that Bernards and several of his teammates have spent a decade playing together is also a major reason for the Wildcats’ close bond.

“A lot of our seniors have been together since we were like eight years old so that just makes us want to win together even more,” Bernards said. “I’d love to make this the year that we put West Ranch baseball on the board.”

Bernards’ teammates feel that the chances of having the best year in West Ranch baseball history are greatly improved thanks to the slugger’s decision to play his last season with the Wildcats.

“I’m glad he decided to play this season,” Blaha said. “We have a lot of seniors who want to win, and we know that Jake can help make that happen for us.”

For Bernards, it’s a group of players that he wants to help win a Foothill League championship.

“Everyone looks up to him, literally and figuratively,” Burrill said. “These guys are all really close friends, and Jake is a big reason for that. This group has an affection for each other that is rare.”

While it may be the end of the baseball road for Bernards, his athletic future remains bright.

“I know he’ll be successful in whatever he does,” Burrill said. “If Jake ever wanted to come back and play baseball, there is no doubt in my mind that there would be plenty of opportunities for him.”

Bernards sees the season as the close to his baseball career, while his football life takes flight.

“I’m excited for this season,” Bernards said. “Baseball has been a part of my life for a long time so I have high hopes for this season.”

kdamore@the-signal.com

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