West Ranch batter, Valencia pitcher elevate their games to win Foothill honors

West Ranch's Christos Stefanos takes off for first base during a Foothill League baseball game against Hart at West Ranch High School on Friday, April 21, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

The transitions took place on the same side of the valley. But 60 feet, 6 inches apart.

The transitions were both dramatic. But in dramatically different ways.

The Foothill League’s 2017 Player of the Year, West Ranch’s Christos Stefanos, and Pitcher of the Year, Valencia’s Chase Farrell, both separated themselves from a swath of talent by elevating their games this season.

Stefanos, a junior, morphed from a part-time third baseman in 2016 to a stalwart in the middle of West Ranch’s lineup in 2017.

MORE: All-Foothill League baseball teams released

Farrell, a senior, transformed from a good, solid pitcher to a dominant, overpowering one.

In 2016 Foothill League play, Farrell struck out 13 batters in 32 innings.

In 2017 league play, he struck out 50 in 50. He also dropped his ERA in league by more than a point from the year before to 1.12.

He walked just 12, tossing three complete games and one no-hitter.

“He came in as a junior and he was good and he overpowered people at times,” said Valencia coach Mike Killinger. “Something switched over the course of the summer and the fall and instead of trying to pitch around people, he went after everyone and the results showed a great change.”

Valencia pitcher Chase Farrell (20) throws a pitch during a Foothill League baseball game against Hart at Valencia on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Stefanos’ change was a matter of opportunity.

He made 36 plate appearances in 2016 as a sophomore, playing behind hot-hitting transfer Danny Luevano.

Stefanos finished the year with a .269 batting average and six RBIs.

Then Luevano graduated. So, too, did catcher Cade Spurlin, leaving a hole behind the plate for Stefanos to fill.

“We kind of knew over last summer, fall and winter that Christos was going to be really good in the spring,” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill. “Because he was good right away when he was getting playing time every day.”

Burrill said before Foothill League play that the Wildcats would need Stefanos to be one of the team’s run producers for it to be successful.

Stefanos came through.

In 15 league games, the junior went 24-for-50 (a .480 average) and drove in 18 runs.

The Player of the Year honor, though, still came as a surprise.

“I thought I had a really good season, but I didn’t think it was a Player of the Year season,” Stefanos said. “I was just focused on playing and on the team winning a league title.”

Farrell said Pitcher of the Year wasn’t something he ever thought about, either.

That he would win the award, though, became clear early.

Farrell tossed a no-hitter against Canyon on March 22. Then he struck out 10 Wildcats in a seven-inning effort on March 29. He allowed just three hits and two earned runs in the game, but West Ranch went on to win in extra innings.

He then shut out the Wildcats on May 9 to force a winner-take-all Foothill League finale that Valencia went on to win for its second straight league title.

Farrell finished league with a 6-0 record, but he said nothing about stats when asked about how he’d like to be remembered.

He said he wants to be remembered as a player who played at the freshman and junior varsity levels and trusted the process.

“I hope people who come after me realize that if they trust the process and keep throwing strikes, the speed will come,” he said.

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