Great expectations surround senior pitchers

By Robbie Loeb

Wolverine baseball has high expectations for this season with just three months to win a CIF title before southpaw Max Fried ’12 and righty Lucas Giolito ’12 move on to bigger and better diamonds after their senior season, either at UCLA or in the MLB.

The season will be laden with distractions as Fried and Giolito, ESPN’s top-ranked left and right-handed pitchers have drawn more than 20 MLB scouts every time they have stepped on the mound since December, Head Coach Matt LaCour said.

Montclair Prep shut down its athletic program last year, and Harvard-Westlake baseball landed Fried as a result. O’Malley Family Field was already home to a top MLB prospect in Giolito, making the Fried acquisition all the more game-changing.

“Our guys have handled this extremely well so far, there is no question about it,” LaCour said. “There is a pressure that we will talk about prior to the season with so much attention from those professional scouts coming to all of our games, but our guys have maintained a really good focus and a really good perspective on where we are in our progression and what we need to get better at. It’s a mature baseball group that hasn’t shown any ill effects from all the attention we’ve been getting.”

“At this point, I don’t feel any pressure or distraction from scouts,” Giolito said. “The desire to attack the batter I’m facing and win the game far outweights all the stuff going on behind the fence.”

The program experienced similar “baseball heat,” as LaCour dubbed it, two years ago when professional teams were scouting centerfielder Austin Wilson ’10. With the pitchers, the volume of scouts has been much higher, LaCour said.

“Because they are pitchers, [the scouts] only get to see them once a week so everybody’s going to be there,” he said. “Whereas Austin was a position player, it wasn’t such a concentrated group at every outing.”

Despite the amount of attention the team will get in rankings and mock drafts, LaCour said he needs to keep his team focused on the next game.

The Wolverines will play their first game against Burroughs on Feb. 24 and open league play against Alemany March 3.

“We have a very narrow focus,” LaCour said. “If you want to point to important games, then our first league series is against Alemany. That’s where we want to be playing our best baseball. Each game, one by one, is where we have to maintain our focus. And if we do that, we stop ourselves from getting caught up in any kind of hoopla.”

With no state title to play for in high school baseball, anything short of a CIF title would be generally considered a disappointment for a team that features both the top left-handed and top right-handed pitchers in the nation, Giolito said.

“The thing about baseball is we never try to put our goals into something that can’t be measured,” he said. “We could go out and play one of our best games of the year, but run into a guy that’s really hot on the mound and have a wind-aided home run against us at a field that’s really small and lose. You can’t measure anything that you’re doing on something as simple as that.”

Giolito pitched a two-hitter in five innings and gave up one earned run during a 3-2 win over top-ranked Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas last weekend.

The Wolverines have been playing games since November and will come into the season in stride and at the top of their game, LaCour said. While the team has thoroughly dominated throughout fall and winter ball, LaCour again stressed the importance of the progression and improvement of his players over the actual results.

“We’re not concentrating on the score a whole lot quite honestly,” LaCour said. “We’re trying to get ready for the season, but the fall and the winter have gone well.”