Amaris Harrison is Changing the Baseball Culture at Muir

This article was originally published in the Pasadena Independent.

There’s something magical about the number 37 for Amaris Harrison. The senior second baseman for Muir’s varsity baseball squad led the team with 37 hits, 37 runs and 37 stolen bases last season.

Harrison led Muir to an 18-8 record last year and helped the school end a 30 year playoff drought. Muir played three games in the postseason, including a wild card berth, losing in the second round.

“It was a tough season. There were a lot of ups and downs. It was like a roller coaster almost,” Harrison said. “There were a lot of family problems throughout the whole team, but we rebounded from that and finished off strong. We needed a lot of luck to get into the playoffs, but we made it and that’s all we care about.”

Harrison said he and his fellow seniors worked hard to change the baseball culture at Muir, from a struggling program to a winning one.

“It’s been good, just a little different, being the under dog. I’ve played for a lot of winning teams so coming into Muir my freshman year was different,” Harrison said. “The team is going to be young this year, but with the few seniors we have, we plan on teaching them how we played over the past few years. We want them to get that same mentality and we’re hoping to make the playoffs again this year.”

A big incentive to succeed on the field looms in the hallways of Muir in the form of Jackie Robinson, one of the most famous baseball players and athletes of all time, the man who broke the color barrier in professional baseball and changed sports culture forever.

“He inspires me a lot,” Harrison said. “It’s a really good feeling to go to his school. He’s up in the hallways and we have his number up on our scoreboard. It’s good because it gives us something to prove everyday. It’s a lot on our back, but we’ve learned to play with it and it’s a nice feeling.”

While his team goal is to get Muir back to the playoffs and hopefully grab a title, Harrison has some lofty personal goals as well.

“Last year I had 37 hits, 37 runs and 37 stolen bases. This year I want to have 50 hits, 50 runs and 50 stolen bases,” Harrison said. “I want to be better each year than I was the year before.”

While 37 hits might not sound like much to the average baseball fan, it is important to remember that the high school schedule is about one-seventh of the professional schedule. Harrison’s 37 hits translated to a .457 BA, a .564 OBP and a 1.083 OPS, all team highs and seriously high stats.

Harrison has grown into the player he is today after 13 years of practice through little league, club, and now his fourth year on varsity. He plans to continue to play ball in college, although he isn’t sure where at yet. He does know he wants to stay in Southern California to keep close to family.

After college, Harrison aims to play professional baseball, maybe for the Atlanta Braves, his favorite team. He compared his play to Ozzie Albies, the Braves’ second baseman who has a similar stature at 5-foot-8. However, after some reflection, Harrison changed his answer.

“My all time favorite player from the past that I see in myself is Adonis Harrison. He was a very flashy infielder that hits left-handed and throws right-handed just like me and displayed excitement to the crowd,” Harrison said. “I’m hoping to be like him one day.”

Dustin Allen Leads On and Off the Field

This article was originally published in the Arcadia Weekly.

Senior outfielder Dustin Allen is a leader on and off the field for the Arcadia Apaches varsity baseball team. Allen leads by example with his play where he led the team with a .410 batting average last year.

“Last season went really well for me, although it started out rough. I struggled at the plate. I had trouble finding myself for the first few games of the season,” Allen said. “Coming out of that was a great learning experience, having to work my way out of that rough patch.”

Allen rebounded in a big way, collecting 34 hits, scoring 28 runs, drawing 13 walks and stealing 13 bases, all team highs. These numbers led to a .495 OBP, second on the team, and a 1.122 OPS, highest on the team.

Allen spends most of his time in the outfield, although he is a strong left-handed reliever as well. Although he struggled his sophomore year on the mound, he found his stride and tossed 33.2 innings without allowing an earned run last year. Allen allowed 14 hits and 10 walks, which combined are less than the 32 batters he struck out.

Allen said the best moment of the season came when the team won league.

“I was on the team the past couple years and it was heartbreaking to lose league in such dramatic fashions,” Allen said. “To win league finally and share the joy with my teammates was pretty awesome.”

In his mind, there was one factor that led to Arcadia grabbing their first league title in more than five years.

“The whole team was really close last year. We had a really good bond with each other that showed on and off the field,” Allen said. “We had each other’s backs and picked each other up.”

Although Arcadia captured league and had a nearly perfect 25-2 record, they fell in the second round of the CIF-SS Division II postseason tournament.

“The ball just didn’t bounce our way that day,” Allen said. “That’s definitely a goal for this season, to correct that, play harder and win the CIF final.”

As far as personal goals go, Allen is mainly focused on getting stronger, bulking up.

“I’m about 175 [pounds] now, but I want to get up to 190,” Allen said.

The added muscle mass would help Allen increase his power behind the plate where he notched six doubles, three triples and two home runs last year.

Allen plans on playing baseball in college, but is not closed to the possibility of going pro out of high school.

“It depends on the spot I’m in draft-wise,” Allen said. “I’m definitely aiming on going to college, but we’ll never know until the time comes.”

Allen plans on studying criminal justice or sports management in college, both careers he could see himself going into and both careers his family has gone into. His grandfather was involved in criminal justice and his father played minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Allen aims to play professional baseball like his father, although he would rather play for his favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“That would be a dream come true,” he said.

Player Profile: Mikey Easter

This article was originally published in the Arcadia Weekly.

Mikey Easter wants to play professional baseball one day for his favorite club, the New York Yankees. For now, he’s content tearing it up at the high school level for Arcadia. 

Easter started playing when he was five years old. His whole family, from his grandparents to his parents, are all huge baseball fans. Easter recalls getting baseball toys when he was little.

“I would practice swinging in the living room with my dad when I was two,” Easter said.

Easter started out playing tee ball, then little league and travel ball. He still plays club baseball for CBA Marucci. Easter plays first base and catcher.

“I like both, but I prefer catcher,” Easter said. “I feel like I’m in every play and I have my pitcher’s back at all times. I feel like I’m more of a leader behind the plate than I am at first.”

Easter said he has a decent arm, but his best strengths as a catcher are framing and calming his pitcher down in tough situations.

This year Easter was one of Arcadia’s top hitters, as a sophomore. His batting average of .389 was the third highest on the team and he had the highest on base percentage at .516. Easter had 32 RBIs, 8 doubles, 3 triples and scored 18 runs. 

Although Arcadia fell short in the playoffs, Easter said the season as a whole still went really well. 

“We got one of our goals done, winning the Pacific League. We hadn’t won that since 2011. Bringing the Pacific League title back to Arcadia was a big deal for us,” Easter said. “I’ll always remember dogpiling on the field after clinching the league title.”

Easter is already in contact with a couple NCAA Division I schools, but he has not committed to one yet. He plans to stay on the West Coast for college, but isn’t tied to Southern California. Easter said he wants to major in business or sports management in college, although his ultimate goal is to go pro.

“It’s pretty far away, but I want to play pro ball. That’s been my goal ever since I was little,” Easter said. “Hopefully for the Yankees. My grandpa is a huge Yankees fan and I used to watch a lot of games with him when I was little and my parents were at work. That’s why they’re my team.”

When he’s not playing baseball, Easter enjoys hanging out with his friends or squeezing in a round of golf.

Although the season is still several months away, Easter is already preparing for it.

“This summer I’ve been going to the gym a lot, hitting the weights, hopefully hit more doubles and home runs next season,” Easter said. “I want to help the team win any way we can.”

Preston Howey is Arcadia's Newest Ace

This article originally appeared in the Arcadia Weekly.

Preston Howey has video game numbers. The staff ace of Arcadia High School’s baseball team won 13 games last year and lost just one.

Howey began playing baseball when he was just 4 years old. After 13 years, he has developed elite pitching skills that culminated last season in a 0.75 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and a 4.78/1 K/BB ratio. Howey ended the season with 65 innings pitched, 86 strikeouts, and allowed just seven earned runs.

“This year, I kind of just took off. It was crazy how it happened,” Howey said. “I put in a lot more work because I knew I had to step up my game. There were a lot of good returning pitchers coming back. I knew I had to step up to try to be the best I could. I put in the work and I guess it worked out this year.”

Howey started off the season with a bang, tossing a complete game shutout with 12 strikeouts.

“That was probably one of my favorite games I’ve ever pitched,” Howey said.

Howey would go on to toss one more complete game during the season, leading the Apaches to an overall 25-2 record.

During the offseason, Howey is working on improving his strength. He currently hits around 85-87 MPH with his fastball, but he topped out at 89 MPH.

“I want to consistently hit 88-89, maybe higher,” Howey said.

While his fastball isn’t quite where he wants it to be, Howey relies more on the off-speed pitches to get hitters. He said his favorite strikeout pitch is his slider.

When asked about a pro comparison, Howey named Houston Astros’ ace Justin Verlander.

“We have a pretty similar windup,” he said.

Although Howey wants to pitch in the MLB someday, ideally for his favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, he is currently focused on college. He has been in contact with different universities, but has not committed to a school yet.

When he is not playing baseball, Howey enjoys relaxing by going to the beach, hanging out with friends or listening to country music.

APU Summer Sports Camps Build Community

This article was originally published on

Azusa Pacific University’s campus is quiet over the summer—for all of three weeks. Then, at the beginning of each June, hundreds of excited kids and talented high school athletes flood campus to participate in six summer sports camps—baseball, basketball, football, softball, soccer, and volleyball.

APU football head coach Victor Santa Cruz leads an annual camp where more than 375 high school athletes attend each sold out session. “We draw athletes from all around California, Colorado, Texas, and even Hawaii. Parents will put their kids on a plane to travel here because they don’t want to miss our camp,” he said. “We limit the camp size to ensure the best experience possible. We provide personal attention to each student athlete.”

Santa Cruz said he recruits many of these high-caliber players. “Camp gives us a good opportunity to find students with strong character, academic skills, and athleticism. We’re looking for visionary young people who want to do something bigger with their lives,” he said. “We share who we are spiritually and academically. These athletes are really hungry for that. We often hear, ‘You guys are different. How can I be a part of this place?’”

APU’s other sports camps focus on a younger crowd (grades K-8). Cougar baseball head coach Paul Svagdis has led a summer camp for 10 years. The program has grown from about 25 kids in 2009 to 100 children per session today. An average day at camp is jam packed, beginning at 8 a.m. with warm ups, throwing, and stretching. Campers then split into two groups to practice offense on the Cougar Baseball Field with stations, including base-running and hitting, and defensive fundamentals at the Dillon Recreational Complex. After an hour, the groups switch, then they take a lunch break before afternoon games. “We play games on different parts of the field. They always want to play in center field because they can hit home runs there,” Svagdis said. “While home runs are great, we reward kids for demonstrating good character and sportsmanship. That’s where the big bucket of candy comes in.”

A Glendora resident, Svagdis said he often sees kids across town wearing their Cougar baseball gear from summer camp. “I’ll be in a grocery store and a little guy will come up to me and say, ‘Hi Coach Paul, do you remember me?’ They’ll tell me how excited they are for camp next year and how they asked for a week of baseball camp for Christmas,” he said. “Their parents will even tell me how they did extra chores all year so they could attend a second week of camp.”

Svagdis said APU’s camp is truly special because of the student athlete volunteers. “APU students are first class,” he said. “Just a couple weeks ago, I had four players travel to a little league game to support one of the kids who came through our camp. That’s not uncommon with our players. We build relationships within the community and it opens up opportunities for people to connect with the university.”

APU women’s soccer head coach Brooke Lincoln seconded this. “It’s pretty special to see these kids interacting with my college players. It gives our players an opportunity to give back. It wasn’t that long ago that they were one of those little campers. Now, it’s come full circle for them,” she said. “Some of them want to coach in the future, so this is an opportunity for them to get their feet wet. For other players, it gives them a different perspective on the game, not just as a player, but as a teacher. They can be a bright light, an encouragement, an inspiration, and a role model for these children.”

Lincoln said the best part of summer camp came months after camp ended last year. “We had a lot of these kids come to our games,” she said. “We invest in them for a week or two, help them develop their skills, and they come out to support us at our home games. They’ll never know how much that means to us.”

To learn more about APU summer sports camps, click here.

Cougars crush UCSD in first game of West Super Regional

This article originally appeared on ZU News.

On Thursday, Azusa Pacific routed UC San Diego 13-2 in the first game of a best-of-three West Super Regional series at home. Five cougars clobbered six home runs to back pitcher A.J. Woodall’s knockout performance.

APU got on the board early with a solo homer from third-baseman Osvaldo Tovalin in the bottom of the first. The Cougars added three more runs in the second inning off of back-to-back home runs from center-fielder Casey Dykstra and right-fielder Cole Kleszcz. With the homer today, Kleszcz increased his NCAA leading home run total to 26 on the season.

UCSD struck back with a two-run homer from shortstop Shay Whitcomb in the top of the third, cutting the Cougars lead to 4-2. However, these were the only runs UCSD would score during the game after APU ace Woodall regained his control.

Woodall tossed eight innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits and two walks, while striking out six. He probably would have gone the distance for a complete game if it had not been for two UCSD hitters who chewed up 21 pitches in the top of the eighth inning. Woodall ended the day with a workhorse 114 pitches, lowering his ERA to 3.30 on the season.

Although Woodall pitched dominantly, it proved to be unnecessary as APU poured on the offense. The Cougars failed to score in the third and fourth innings, but scored four more in the bottom of the fifth inning off a double from Tovalin, an RBI single from left-fielder Griffen Herrera, a two-run homer from catcher Justin Gomez and a solo bomb from designated-hitter Joseph Kim.

The Cougars continued their offensive dominance in the bottom of the sixth, scoring four more runs and going through the entire lineup. Dykstra was hit by a pitch to open the inning, then he stole second and scored off an RBI single from Kleszcz. Herrera walked, setting up a three-run homer from Gomez, his second long ball of the day. Four more Cougars reached base in the inning, but APU left the bases loaded with a two-out strikeout.

APU scored one more run in the bottom of the seventh off a double from Tovalin, who was knocked in off an RBI groundout from second-baseman Joe Quire Jr. This would be the final run of the game. Reliever Hayden Jorgenson closed out the game for the Cougars, fanning the final two batters he faced.

The Cougars claimed the first game in the best-of-three West Super Regional by a score of 13-2, improving to 40-13 on the season. APU notched 14 hits on the day, paced by Tovalin with three knocks and Gomez with five RBIs and two home runs. UCSD ended the game with five hits and one error.

APU will face UCSD again tomorrow at 12 p.m. at home and again at 3:30 p.m. if game three is necessary. If APU claims victory again tomorrow, they will head to the NCAA World Series in Cary, North Carolina from June 1-8.