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Foothill baseball: Grizzlies done waiting

Youth has GV in Foothill League conversation

Posted: May 8, 2010 9:34 p.m.
Updated: May 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Clockwise from top right, Golden Valley's Riley Sherwood, Josh Smith, Scott Barlow and Billy Fredrick represent a youth movement within the Grizzlies' baseball program, which could earn them a playoff spot this season.

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Last year, beating Hart, the program with the most baseball history in this valley, was the biggest highlight ever for Golden Valley High baseball and maybe a sign of future success.

Then this year came and it appeared that things were regressing back to the Golden Valley baseball of old.
In the Grizzlies' first four league games, all losses, they were outscored 64-20.

Blame the awful defense. Blame the pitching. Blame the inexperience. And as the coach says, blame the coach.

Fast forward to today.

The Grizzlies are 6-3 in their last nine Foothill League games - with back-to-back wins over league-title contender West Ranch and one over league-leading Valencia (the first victory over the Vikings in program history).

Credit some changes, especially defensively. Credit the players, including the pitchers. Credit the youth.

Four players in particular are keys to this year's success, but are also keys to what could be an even bigger impact in the future.

Freshmen position players Billy Fredrick and Riley Sherwood and junior pitchers Scott Barlow and Josh Smith will all help make Golden Valley a Foothill League title contender next year. They also make the Grizzlies a playoff contender right now.

"I think we're going to be very good, especially with the confidence we're getting," Smith says.

Things are going awfully well right now.

But they were awful during the first third of Foothill League play.

The remarkable thing is no Foothill League team in the last 10 years has had such a dramatic turnaround in one season.

Second-season head coach Scott Drootin took over a program that by 2009 had gone through three coaches in three years and won a grand total of one league game through its first two seasons in the Foothill League.

The 4-11 league record last year was even considered a surprise.

But then there was an early letdown in 2010.

"I think that the low point was just before (spring break in a 17-4 loss to Saugus on March 26)," Drootin says. "We had the wind blowing, we had errors, we had kids I had to take out of the game because we didn't have guys running out popups."

What changed?

The team made physical changes and learned about camaraderie.

Jon Granado, who may lack in range but makes up for it in dependability, moved from third base to shortstop. Tanner Swire moved from short to second base. Fredrick made the move from second base to left field and Anthony San Miguel moved from left field to third base.

Smith took the mound again, after missing the first half of the season with a strain in his throwing arm.

After giving his players Saturdays off, Drootin called them in for defensive practices three Saturdays in a row.

Then spring break hit and the team played in the Bishop Gorman Tournament in Las Vegas.

"When we came back, it wasn't about what the name on the jersey says," Barlow says of the opponents.

Fredrick, Sherwood, Smith and Barlow agreed, beating West Ranch twice then Valencia was a bit of a shock.

But it wasn't just the fact that Golden Valley beat these teams. It's how it beat them.

The ball got rolling with an 18-6 beating of West Ranch on April 14, followed by a 5-4 victory where the Grizzlies showed it wasn't a fluke and they could win the close games.

On April 21, Golden Valley led Valencia for 4 1/2 innings, then lost the lead, then senior Brandon Smith belted a two-run home run in the top of the seventh to give the Grizzlies a 7-6 win.

"It's so exciting that the Golden Valley name is right up next to Valencia," Fredrick says. "It's amazing. It's an honor."

It wasn't just a shock to some Grizzlies. Even Valencia was shocked as some frustrated members of the Vikings coaching staff exchanged words with Grizzly coaches after the game.

"We believe in ourselves. I think we've proven it isn't a shock anymore," Drootin says. "I think our kids worked hard enough and have earned the respect."

Drootin says the Grizzlies can no longer be considered pushovers.

Ask the Foothill League.

The Grizzlies followed up wins against West Ranch and Valencia with their first-ever victory over Saugus.

Smith and Barlow have kept the Grizzlies in games.

Barlow pitched Golden Valley's first complete-game shutout of the season on Wednesday in a 3-0 victory over Canyon.

Offensively, Fredrick has been a major spark.

Despite wearing a device that shoots insulin into his body because of his diabetes, the freshman has made an easy transition from youth baseball to high school baseball, batting an outrageous .452.

Sherwood, whose brother Rocky is also a regular in the Grizzly lineup and whose father, also named Rocky, was also coached by Drootin, has a modest .276 average, but he has been a contributor and is expected to do even more in the future.

Fredrick and Sherwood also have the luxury of not dealing with Golden Valley's past.

"I think that's an advantage," Sherwood says. "We haven't dealt with losing. We think we can win."

So what's next?

Well, the Grizzlies have never made the playoffs - that's step one.

They also haven't won a championship - that's step two.
The future is bright.

But so is the present.

Fredrick realizes that this team and next year's can make a huge impact.

"We can get the Golden Valley name heard," he says. "We can have people notice us and talk about us and get kids to come here."


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