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CERRITOS HIGH BASEBALL ENDS LOSING DROUGHT OF NEARLY TWO DECADES

 

Dons

 

By Loren Kopff

 

The word ‘playoffs’ or the phrase ‘winning season’ have not been in the vocabulary of Cerritos High baseball much since 1998. Sixteen straight losing seasons have haunted the Dons since their last trip to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs.

But under second-year co-head coaches Scott Parsonage and Brooks Walling, the Dons have already assured themselves of a non-losing regular season mark and with three more wins, could grab that long-awaited playoff berth.

Parsonage, who graduated from Cerritos in 1993 and played for Tony Guggiana, and Walling took over the program shortly before the beginning of last season when former head coach Chris Aquino went to be an assistant at St. John Bosco. At first, it wasn’t easy to convince the players or even the parents that the new coaches were determined to turn around the floundering program. In fact, Parsonage, who also pitched at Fullerton Junior College and then the University of Mississippi, had to convince Walling, a former Artesia High standout to move back to California from Idaho.

“Just the experience of turning around a program and knowing that we can do it…it’s a [multiple] year transition, but it takes a little time,” Parsonage said of taking the job. “A lot of it is a mentality change. It’s a challenge.”

In fact, the writing was somewhat on the wall even when Aquino was still at Cerritos because Jacob Carter and Aaron Hinds, both of whom are wrapping up their senior seasons, approached Parsonage, who came to Cerritos to teach health, and asked him to coach the team. Obviously, he turned down the offer because Aquino was still in charge, but once the position became open, it was virtually a no-brainer.

“I knew that they were really good coaches,” Carter said. “I knew I had to trust them. The difference between Aquino and them is that they expect a lot more out of me. Nothing is ever good enough and that’s always been my motto.”

Early on last season, players began disagreeing with Parsonage and Walling because of what they had learned in the past from previous coaches. It wasn’t until shortly before spring break last season that the players began to buy into the new direction.

“A coach can’t make all the difference,” Parsonage said. “You have to have some talent to win. You can be the best coach in the world but if you don’t have talent, you’re still not going to win. There are pieces to the puzzle. You have to develop the kids that you have here, you have what you’re dealt with here and you have to make the best of it.

After going 9-18 last season and finishing in sixth place in the Suburban League with a 2-10 mark, one of the things the new co-head coaches noticed was that nothing had been done to change the field and the image of Cerritos High baseball. Last September, they had to convince the parents that a lot of fundraising needed to be done in order to improve the field. As a result, the Dons have new banners around the outfield fence and batting cage, along with new uniforms and a new logo.

“I knew that he played college baseball, so I knew that he definitely had a lot of experience,” said senior Justin Fujii of his first impression of Parsonage. “It kind of told me that I should really respect [Parsonage and Walling] and really pay attention because they know how to win and they know what to do.”

The players played a truckload of games in the offseason, both with the team as well as travel teams. As a result, the players received a lot of big time play. It goes without saying that the 6-0 start to this season came as no surprise to the coaches or players, especially Fujii, who is a four-year starter. Fujii entered this week leading the Dons with a .404 batting average and 17 walks.

“I even knew that before the season started,” Fujii said. “The way we all developed as a team, not just coaches but the players. We all really came together a lot nicer than the other years. I knew that we had that bond; we had that special chemistry.”

“Hey, we could be pretty good,” Parsonage thought. “We got a little lucky here and there. A couple of teams weren’t all that great. But still, a win is a win, especially when you’re trying to build something and build confidence.”

The Dons would win nine of their first 10 games before their league opener, which was an 8-5 road win at Mayfair. Unfortunately for Parsonage, he was ejected from that game in the late innings but still saw the celebration from the nearby parking lot. It was the first win at Mayfair since 2004. Cerritos would lose a nail-biter two days later, 1-0, and get swept by La Mirada the following week. But by now, people began to take notice of what the Dons had become.

“It just opened some eyes a little bit,” Parsonage said of the Mayfair win. “What the heck is going over there at Cerritos? We still have pretty much the same guys [as last year] but we play a different style of ball. We’re aggressive; we’re going in the right direction. It only gets you greedier. When you beat a team like that, you want to beat more.”

Even when Cerritos went through a minor slump, losing five of six games from Mar. 27-Apr. 6, the team bounced back and including a 3-1 win against Norwalk this past Wednesday, is 14-11 overall and 3-6 in league. The 14 wins are the most since 1994 and the three league wins are the most since 2008. With three more victories, Cerritos would assure itself of its first non-losing league season since going 7-5 in 1998. In fact, if the Dons finish 6-6 in league, it would surpass the combined win total in the circuit from the past four seasons,

“I’ve been a winner my whole life,” Parsonage said. “I know how to win. I’m a competitor. My coach is a competitor. We’ve done nothing but compete and win our whole life in everything we’ve done. I don’t really take losing as an option. Obviously, you’re going to take your lumps.”

Carter, another four-year varsity member, remembers what is what like his freshman season when the Dons lost their first seven games and finished at 8-19. As a sophomore, the ace of this season’s pitching staff saw Cerritos begin at 0-5 en route to a 5-21 mark which included 12 league losses.

“I was really young; I was 14 and I remember competing against these bigger guys was really intimidating,” Carter said. “But it also made it fun because it was a bigger challenge. I just remember going through the motions.

“I didn’t get a lot of playing time my freshman year,” Carter continued. “I think I only pitched in two games and I just wanted the ball more. I felt like I wished I could do something more for the team.”

But Carter, through the help of Parsonage, has emerged to be one of the top pitchers in the league this season. Carter is currently 6-3 with seven complete games and a 2.83 earned run average. He entered the week batting .372 and was one of five everyday players to be batting at least .350.

”Of course Parsonage helped me on pitching with a few mechanical things,” Carter said. “But mostly it’s just mental. They push, they push, they push mentally; being strong and…nothing is ever good enough.”

“It was rough because I didn’t know what to expect,” Fujii said of his freshman season. “When I first came in and we started losing, it took me by surprise.

“I tried to make it one of my goals to make sure [the losing] doesn’t happen,” he continued. “There’s only so much that I could do. But at the same time, I tried to do my part and especially I knew that in my senior year, that’s when I wanted to make a big difference.”

Cerritos, which won the Division 4A championship in 1989, then was absent from the postseason until 1998, visits Norwalk today before ending the regular season at Artesia on Tuesday and home against the Pioneers on Thursday.

 

 

 

 

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