By Jay Steiger
It was always a team effort, but it was the seniors who truly made the team according to Grossmont High School Varsity Baseball Coach Jordan Abruzzo.
Grossmont won the San Diego Region CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Division 1 playoffs on June 1 after a hard-fought game against Madison High School. This is a back-to-back CIF win for Grossmont, having defeated Francis Parker in 2017. Grossmont principal Dan Barnes noted that Grossmont baseball leads the county with a record 13 CIF championships. Barnes commented that more impressive than any record is the young men and coaches who practice and play hard all year to get wins over higher ranked teams.
Grossmont, always well regarded in high school baseball, did not win league but still qualified to play in the CIF Championship. Despite a shocking game one loss to Carlsbad High School, the team rallied and fought their way back to the finals; including necessary back-to-back wins against the very same Carlsbad team which had previously defeated them.
Grossmont started strong in the championship game, taking an early lead with outfielder Austin Odom tripling and then scoring in the first inning. The Madison High team remained focused and, after scoring two runs in the third inning, took the lead. Grossmont tied the game in the fifth inning and then, after loading the bases in the sixth, team captain Tyler Parent powered a hit deep into the outfield. Three runs scored and Parent took second base. He then scored off a triple from Isaiah Gomez.
Excellent pitching from Jack Hyde and tight defensive play from the field kept Madison from scoring additional runs. The final score was Grossmont 6, Madison 2. After the final defensive out, a foul pop catch by first baseman Jessie Garcia, who then collided with another player but still managed to hold on to the ball, the entire team ran onto the field for a cheering group dogpile.
Coach Abruzzo, himself a CIF winner when he played for El Capitan High School in 2003, has been head varsity coach since 2015. He credits the success of the program to a dedicated work ethic.
“Show up on time every time and always play as hard as you can,” Abruzzo said, adding that he expects his players to practice and then play baseball the “right way.” Abruzzo also highlighted the importance of the varsity senior players as being key to creating a consistently strong baseball program.
“We had 10 returning seniors this year,” he said. “The work ethic gets passed down from those 10 guys to the next 10 and so on. It’s not always going to win a championship, but you are trying to create a culture that runs itself.”
Although everyone, from the field to the dugout, contributed to the team win, several seniors were highlighted — including shortstop Chris Giovengo, pitcher Joe Williams, second baseman Jase Russell, and in particular the team captain and third baseman Parent and first baseman Garcia, who hit 10 home runs during the season.
“Those guys set the tone all the time with their leadership on the field and in the locker room,” Abruzzo said. “It’s not a one-person effort, but they consistently led by example.”
One of the biggest challenges to the team is not losing talented players to private schools. Abruzzo noted that the school does not run its own travel baseball program, but that there are many skilled players within school and district boundaries and a large number of them come to Grossmont and want to play baseball. As part of the program, the coaches work to get players to focus on attending college. This is not done with the expectation they will play college-level baseball, just that they will go for their own future success.
With the season and school over for the summer, the seniors have graduated and many of the remaining varsity, junior varsity, and freshman players will participate in summer travel team tournaments. When school returns, baseball will resume offseason practice in preparation for Winterball and then the official spring season. It is an endless cycle, but one in which Grossmont can take justified pride.
“The time I had playing for Grossmont baseball was unforgettable,” said Parent. “This team was like a family and I’m really gonna miss these guys. It was one hell of a ride.”
—Jay Steiger is a local parent and volunteer with the La Mesa-Spring Valley and Grossmont Union High School Districts.