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Canyon baseball: Up and running

New offensive approach is helping Canyon score runs at a rapid rate

Posted: April 22, 2013 8:49 p.m.
Updated: April 22, 2013 8:49 p.m.

Canyon batters from left, Micah Moyle, Cole Mears, Max Weinstein, Chris Serrano and Chris Jenkins, have helped the team become one of the Foothill League's most productive offensive teams.

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Five years, 133 games, 486 runs.

That’s Canyon High baseball’s tally from 2008 to 2012.

In just the last three years, Foothill League rivals Valencia and Saugus have each scored more runs than 486, with West Ranch at 482 and Hart not too far behind.

Suffice it to say, Canyon baseball isn’t known for its offense.

Yet 21 games into the season, with at least six still to play, the Cowboys have scored more runs this season than any of those last five.

And a team that was supposed to be paced by its pitching in 2013 has rode its offense to a surprising first-place standing in the Foothill League.

Since 2008, Canyon’s best Foothill finish was fourth-place in 2011.

The team hasn’t made the CIF-Southern Section postseason since 2007.

“Coming into the season, I honestly did not expect to be doing how we’re doing,” says third-year varsity player and junior Cole Mears. “A couple of games into the season, it kind of took me by surprise.”

The Cowboys feature three batters in the Foothill League’s top 10 in batting average (minimum 50 at-bats) including the leading batter in the league in senior pitcher/shortstop Max Weinstein, at .466.

Five players are hitting above .350 — Weinstein, junior infielder Chris Jenkins (.386), Mears (.373), senior infielder/outfielder Micah Moyle (.365) and senior outfielder/pitcher Chris Serrano (.362).

Serrano — a fourth-year varsity player — can probably best explain just how frustrating things have been with the offense.

Serrano was one of a trio of pitchers, including Weinstein and Justin Stark, who were expected to come in and make the Cowboys competitive in 2013 because of the experience they had on the mound. All three had varying degrees of success on the mound last year when the Cowboys finished a typical fifth place in the Foothill and scored a dismal 2.5 runs per game in league play.

“It was definitely frustrating. You knew you had to go as deep as you could without giving up too many runs,” Serrano says. “It was a lot of pressure.”

Yet Serrano was asked to contribute more on the offensive side this season. As was Stark.

Serrano’s athleticism in center field and quick hands at the plate, combined with the emergence of sophomore left-hander Blake Leidholdt, made a change necessary.

Stark has also made an adjustment, going from the mound to catcher. He has responded by being the Cowboys’ second-best run producer in 2013.

As for the others, they also have individual stories that help make up what has been not only a surprising offense, but a sustainable one.

Of the five guys hitting over .350, Jenkins is the only one who played junior varsity last season.

He’s adapted quickly to varsity pitching.

Moyle is the only one who didn’t even play last season.

He was ineligible the last two seasons.

“I was disappointed in myself because of grades and not being able to play on the team,” Moyle said. “I tried to prove myself and get the grades. It’s my senior year. I wanted to go out with a bang.”

Canyon head coach Adam Schulhofer says he considered Moyle, a 5-foot-5-inch, 128-pound utility guy, the final guy on the roster at the beginning of the season.

But the contact-hitting Moyle’s desire has made him one of the Cowboys’ most dependable guys. He’s also one of the best batters in the Foothill at adjusting inside an at-bat.

That’s a difference for the Cowboys — the ability to adjust quickly and coming up to the batter’s box with an approach.

“We’re really making sure they’re cutting their swings down, not going up and worrying about distance,” Schulhofer says. “Mentally when they get into the box, how far they hit the ball is last thing on their mind. ... Hitting is a lonely thing. That 45 seconds that the pitcher is getting the sign for each pitch, then he pitches, it’s lonely. No one can help you. If you don’t have an approach, you’re hoping to get lucky. That’s not going to do much for you.”

Canyon batting practice is more focused on situational hitting and making solid contact.

In past years, Schulhofer says Nadal Street behind the fence was a bad place to be because of balls landing there.

But he wants his hitters to focus more on hitting the ball hard rather than far. So in practice, if you hit a ball that rolls to the fence, you get another crack.

Canyon has two home runs this season — the last hit on March 9.

Mears, Serrano and Weinstein, all varsity veterans have a combined 77 hits this season. Just 13 are for extra bases.

It’s about timely hitting and stringing together hits for the Cowboys.

On top of that, it’s about confidence at the plate.

The perfect example came last Wednesday with Canyon trailing Hart 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Canyon had the bases loaded with two outs, then Jenkins delivered a two-RBI double to cut the lead to 5-3.

Then Weinstein came to the plate with runners on second and third.

He was down to his last strike.

For a kid who was just 4-for-22 last season as a junior and who Schulhofer used to sit in favor of a designated hitter while he was on the mound, this was a situation Weinstein says he probably would have struggled with last year.

But he told himself in the offseason he was going to have to bulk up to develop some pop and confidence at the plate.

He was going to have to give Schulhofer no option but to put him in the lineup.

So with two strikes on him last Wednesday ...

“My approach, of course there was a lot of adrenaline going, but I had to stay relaxed,” says Weinstein, who is a Foothill Player of the Year candidate because of his offense and 4-3 mark and 2.07 ERA on the mound. “They were shading me in the hole. As long as I put it up the middle, we could score two runs. I just tried not to do too much. Not guess on a pitch — react.”

He was given a fastball up and in and went right up the middle for a two-run single to tie the score.

Canyon then won the game in the eighth with a Moyle infield single.

The Cowboys and runs — two opposites in the past.

In the present, runs might help Canyon make one to a Foothill League championship.

Wouldn’t that be a surprise?

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