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Canyon's Chris Serrano, Justin Stark and Max Weinstein: Pitching change

Prep baseball: Canyon’s three-man starting staff offers hope for the future of the Cowboys

Posted: May 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Canyon pitchers (from left) Chris Serrano, Justin Stark and Max Weinstein have gained experience this year and flashed great potential. Next season, the Cowboys could have the best pitching staff in the Foothill League — and reach the CIF-Southern Section postseason.

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It’s almost hate.

Canyon High junior pitcher Chris Serrano says the feeling almost goes that far.

It’s agitating to him what people think of Canyon baseball.

“We’re basically a doormat. I feel that’s how people see us,” Serrano says. “It’s something I’ve taken personal and I’ve disliked the last three years. Oh, it’s motivated me every day.”

Since 2008, Canyon has won 15 Foothill League games and has a .271 overall winning percentage.

Included in that is a 4-9 mark in the Foothill League this season and an 8-17 overall record.

Frustrating?

You bet.

Deflating?

Maybe.

Promising?

Wait — promising is the question?

Yes, that’s the question. And the answer is yes.

Sure, the Cowboys will finish in fifth place in the Foothill League one year after finishing in fourth.

But this has been a year of experience for three promising arms that could make up arguably the best pitching staff in the Foothill League in 2013.

Serrano, a fearless junior right-hander, Max Weinstein, a junior right-handed innings eater and Justin Stark, a hard-throwing, big, sophomore right-hander have taken some lumps this season. Yet they’ve also flashed hints at how good they can be and they also might be three reasons for a possible Cowboys turnaround next season.

“I don’t see why not,” says Canyon head coach Adam Schulhofer on if this trio could be the best in the league next season. “If that’s what they want, and they’re prepared and do everything they can in the offseason and improve and be ready to compete, I don’t see why not.”

Statistically, Weinstein has been Canyon’s best pitcher this season with a 3-4 record and a 2.68 ERA, striking out 40 batters in 44 1/3 innings this season.

Serrano’s been close. Despite his 2-5 record, he has a 3.39 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings.

Stark is getting his feet wet. The 6-foot-2-inch, 210 pound righty has a 5.29 ERA, but has pitched 47 2/3 innings.

“We have three guys who came into the season and only one (Serrano) had a handful of varsity innings,” Schulhofer says. “The three of them are all getting the experience they need. Rather than wins and losses, we’re thinking about the experience we get from them.”

Schulhofer adds that there are pretty exciting arms at the JV level as well, which could make Canyon’s pitching staff not only good next year, but deep also.

Yet the trio currently on the team have the gift of being able to get innings in pressure situations that will help them in the long run. It also gives them an opportunity to build confidence with their various pitches.

Weinstein throws a two-seam, four-seam and cut fastball, a slider and change-up.

Serrano works with a fastball, curveball, slider and change-up.

Stark is developing his curveball, slider, split-fingered fastball and change.

All three say they’ve benefitted from the tutelage of Schulhofer.

The Canyon head coach, who began his second stint as Cowboys skipper in 2009, was a 13th-round pick out of UCLA by the Chicago Cubs in the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He pitched for two seasons in the Cubs’ minor league system.

Serrano says Schulhofer rarely tells old war stories from his professional days.

It’s not in the coach’s style to try to impress his kids.

Instead, his calm approach combined with a genuine interest and belief in his pitchers have made them buy into what he’s teaching.

When asked about their most pressure packed situations this season, each responded with a story of how they got in a mess at different points during the season. And interestingly, without solicitation, each player — interviewed separately for this story — recounted how their coach stepped in.

Weinstein: April 12 — Canyon 4, West Ranch 2 in the bottom of the seventh inning with no outs. West Ranch has the bases loaded. Schulhofer goes to the mound.

“He came up to me and told me, ‘There’s no way I’m taking you out of the game,’” Weinstein recalls. “That made me feel great, really. A chill in the body.

“You really have to convert it to adrenaline. Have the mentality that anybody can beat anybody on any given day. Why not me? You tell yourself you can do it.”

Weinstein gave up an RBI sacrifice fly, but got out of the jam and won the game — Canyon’s biggest and most unexpected victory of the season.

Stark: March 28 — Valencia 2, Canyon 1; Valencia has two on with two out late in the game. Schulhofer goes to the mound.

“He came out there, and he calmed me down,” Stark remembers. “He told me to have a bulldog mentality. Go after it.

“It’s amazing when you’ve got someone who says something to you out there, it gets you excited, gets adrenaline running.”

Serrano: April 27 — Canyon 2, Saugus 2: Saugus has the bases loaded and is threatening. Schulhofer goes to the mound.

“He was saying, ‘Stay calm. You know you can do it. You’ve got the stuff to get yourself out of the jam.’

“That’s huge. You definitely don’t want to go out there and have him say, ‘Hey, your stuff’s not the best right now. We might pull you.’ He says, ‘Here’s the job. You know you can do it. I’ve seen you do it before. Do it again.’”

With that approach and with the tools they’ve learned from their head coach, such as mechanical adjustments, it’s easy to see how these three pitchers are confident about the future.

“As long as we keep going the way we’re going, we don’t feel there’s any team in the league who can beat us,” Weinstein says. “We have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”

The qualifier is “as long as we keep going the way we’re going.”

Schulhofer said his guys need to work to make Canyon a contender first.

To truly understand why Weinstein feels the way he does, one has to understand how he and his moundmates feel.

Frustrated?

You bet.

Deflated?

Maybe.

Ready to make a change?

Absolutely.

661-287-5529

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