Versatility, camaraderie and experience.
The Saugus baseball pitching staff embodies those three characteristics to the utmost.
Eight different pitchers have hit the field for the Centurions so far this season, and each one brings a different set of skills to the mound.
“As a staff, I think we’re extremely talented. We know our identity, we each have a role, and we all push each other to be better. I think when you play us, you know what you’re going to get: we compete, we throw strikes, and trust the defense behind us,” said senior Bobby Garcia, a California State University at Stanislaus commit. “What makes it work is that we’re all in support of one another. It’s our final push together as a staff of mostly seniors, so that factors in to our performance as well.”
Seven out of the eight pitchers are seniors, and two of them, Brandyn Cruz and Tony Jacob, are four-year varsity players.
Cruz, a California State University at Northridge commit, pitched more in his first three years, but was able to get on the mound for the first time this season on Thursday. He pitched one inning and earned the save in an 8-5 win over Hart.
Jacob has gotten five starts this year, going 2-1 in 23.2 total innings pitched with one complete game. He’s logged 31 total strikeouts, including a 15 strikeout performance against Golden Valley on March 22 in a 4-0 win.
After that game, Jacob deflected questions about his individual performance, instead focusing on the effort it took from the entire team.
“It was a great team win, everyone was doing their job,” he said. “Everyone one through nine is doing their job and that’s how we get a win.”
It’s that kind of team-first mentality that has made Saugus a tough unit to beat in the Foothill League. While the Centurions currently sit at 7-6 in league, many of their losses were close, including 3-1 and 2-1 losses to Valencia, which is 12-1 in league play.
Saugus also handed second-place West Ranch two of its three league losses, with Garcia earning both wins.
“Coach (Casey) Burrill does an unbelievable job with the West Ranch program. They’re very well prepared in every facet of the game,” Garcia said. “Every time we play them, we know we have to match them inning by inning, and pitch by pitch. We’re both two scrappy programs who love to compete. I think any time you can hang with them, and come away with a win, it’s pretty special.”
In six starts, the lefty has gone 4-1, with two complete games and 32 total strikeouts in 39 innings pitched. He also hasn’t given up a home run all season.
His latest feat was a complete game shutout against the Wildcats on Tuesday.
“I’ve been pretty proud of my outings this season, but that’s credited to time and energy spent working on my craft, or lifting weights in the gym,” Garcia said. “Throughout my playing career, I’ve always leaned on my brother for advice. He taught me a lot about the importance of hard work, but most importantly, he showed what it meant to be a really good teammate. It’s bigger than baseball.”
Davis Brown and Anthony Ramirez are two other seniors who have logged plenty of time on the hill. Brown has the most appearances of any Saugus pitcher with 11, including five starts. He’s logged 12 strikeouts in 30.2 innings pitched and one save.
Ramirez, like several of his counterparts, can play multiple positions. As a pitcher, he’s recorded 22 strikeouts in 23.2 innings of work, including four starts.
Cole Gallagher and Chase Stanley, both playing in their second varsity campaigns, round out the seniors in the pitching rotation.
Stanley has 15 strikeouts in 18.2 total innings in seven total appearances including one start. Gallagher holds an unblemished 2-0 record with one save in 10 total appearances, registering 22 strikeouts in 22.1 innings of work.
The right-hander, who doubled as the starting quarterback for the Saugus football team, repeated the same mantra that his teammates have been saying all season long: it’s all about the team.
“Playing for Saugus has been a privilege and an honor. I’m playing for a legacy and that’s awesome,” Gallagher said. “So much versatility and depth everywhere. And then we have guys to back up the pitching like Hewitt (Grissom) and Nolan (Kutcher) and Jarrett (Farmer).”
The only junior pitcher on the staff, Shane Kinsley, has had the opportunity to learn from a talented and multi-skilled group of seniors. He’s logged four strikeouts in eight innings so far this season.
Having so many reliable options at pitcher is a blessing, but also makes it difficult for coach Carl Grissom to find enough playing time for all his capable arms.
“We have so many guys that can be your No. 1 stater, it just takes time to balance it out and try to get everybody equal time,” Grissom said. “Everyone wants the ball and it’s just the fact that I have to pick and choose on the matchups. What gives us the best chance to win and going with my gut. It’s a gut feeling.”
Grissom’s gut feelings have paid off this season, as his pitching rotation has showed flashes of brilliance throughout the year.
With three games left, including two more in league, the Centurions are looking to make a final push and earn a trip to the postseason, an achievement that’s alluded them since 2015.
This collection of players, and the seven senior pitchers in particular, want nothing more than to earn a postseason berth and return Saugus to the glory days.
While the pitching staff has been leaving it all out on the field for their teammates, they’ve also been doing it to honor their coach who has meant so much to them since taking over the reins just a couple seasons ago.
“Coach Grissom has been the biggest part of why I enjoy playing. He’s so energetic and cares so much about the team and is always making sure we are learning and playing to our potential. I can’t explain how grateful I am for that,” Gallagher said.
“I love playing for coach Grissom. He constantly challenges us to be better and holds us to a pretty high standard. Also, he’s very relatable and understanding,” Garcia said. “He makes a lot of sacrifices to make sure we’re a winning program both on and off the field. So, as a group, we want to play our tails off for that guy.
“He believes in me so much. Every time I take the mound, I want to make him proud. I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for him.”