For the first time since 2008, Redondo Union High School's varsity baseball team can brag that it made it to CIF playoffs.
For a team that has seen four head coaches in four years, making it to the playoffs is huge—and it's something not even Mira Costa can say this year.
Players, parents, coaches and friends gathered at the Elks Lodge in neighboring Redondo Beach on Wednesday night to celebrate a hard-fought and hard-won season culminating in a wild card spot for CIF playoffs.
While the team did not advance past the first game, the fact that this mostly overlooked, run-through-the-wringer bunch made it to the playoffs is a huge achievement.
With Redondo Union's coaching troubles over the past few years, a bit of redemption was exactly what the team needed.
"I couldn't have done it without my coaching staff," said head coach Jeff Baumback, . "When I came to Redondo, I was surprised to see how deep the talent pool was. They took that and developed it."
The pinnacle of the evening was recognizing the players and their achievements at all levels, from frosh-soph to varsity. Redondo Union Athletic Director Andy Saltzman presented many players at all three levels with the Scholar Athlete award—which is given to players who maintain at least a 3.2 GPA.
Recipients included junior varsity players Daniel Maroko and Emil Shallon, who had impressive 4.3 and 4.2 GPAs, respectively. For many varsity players, this last year was bittersweet.
While they finally made it to the playoffs as a team, it also felt as though it was the first year they could concentrate on playing as a team without worrying about coaching turnover.
Senior Kevin Hedlund received the Coaches Award, honoring him for his all-around great, hard-working attitude and outstanding work ethic. Hedlund was one of Redondo Union's dependable pitchers, but the award wasn't about performance—it was for about being a key, inspirational player on the team, whether or not he was playing.
Junior Jake Jimenez, a catcher, was named Best Defensive Player of the Year, while junior Dylan Hatch was named best offensive player of the year. Without Jimenez's strong arm and plate skills, along with Hatch's bat, Redondo Union's season would have been very different.
The varsity team's Most Valuable Player award went to senior Travis Fischvogt, who managed to not only snag key catches in right field, but proved effective on the mound and most importantly, came up big at the plate for the Sea Hawks.
"Whatever I needed Travis to do, he went out there and got it done for us," Baumback said.
Starting pitchers Grant Wessel and Drew Kozain shared the Pitcher of the Year Award.
"We truly had two No. 1 starters on this team, which just doesn't happen every year," said Baumback, noting that when the coaches were discussing the award, it was really no question that there were two pitchers of the year.
"You juniors, sophomores and freshman—you guys have big shoes to fill," he warned.
Baumback spoke about how, between the two starting pitchers, the season's chances at the playoffs vastly improved, from Kozain starting off the season strong to Wessel meeting the challenge at the end.
"They went out there and gave us a chance to win," Baumback said.
Baumback also announced that Wessel would be representing Redondo Union High School in the upcoming South Bay All-Star Classic, which will take place at Redondo Union Memorial Field on June 10.
He also announced that the Sea Hawks garnered five All-Bay League spots with star players from this year's varsity team. Sea Hawks who were selected to the teams are as follows:
1st Team All-Bay League
- Pitcher Grant Wessel
- First Baseman Dylan Hatch
2nd Team All-Bay League
- Pitcher/Infielder Drew Kozain
- Catcher Jake Jimenez
- Outfielder/Pitcher Travis Fischvogt
For Wessel and Kozain, who were both promoted to varsity during the post-season of their freshman year for the playoffs, the awards and the trip to CIF this season was a wonderful way to end what have been a wild four years.
For the rest of the varsity team and the rest of the Redondo Union ball club, it was a fitting end to a great year for a lot of them, but an amazing buildup to what can be expected for years to come.
In addition to recognizing player achievements, Baumback applauded the Diamond Club members, including President Michael Baer.
Baer "was in communication with [me] every day in some way," Baumback said. Also recognized was key volunteer Glenn Hatch.
"Glenn was up at the field all the time, showing me what needed to be taken care of and how I could get it done," Baumback told the crowd.
Other Diamond Club members recognized were Jim Brown, who maintained and updated the RUHS Baseball website; Kevin Anderson; David Esparza; and Ron Maroko.
Baumback recognized other key volunteers including Carol and Janet Harter, who ran the snack bar; Linda O'Rourke, who took all the pictures for the season, made the end of year slideshow and put together the seniors' photo canvas gifts; and Travis Anderson, who made it his Eagle Scout project to improve and update the outfield wall by painting it green and adding a logo and the Sea Hawks name.
Editor's Note: Erika Snow Robinson is a Beach Cities resident and mother of one of the players on the Redondo Union High School baseball team.