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No more convincing needed in San Ysidro

06/13/2013, 11:11am PDT
By Steve Brand

Coach Ken Canche motivated the underdog baseball team to the Division III title.

Ken Canche has been around long enough to know when he has a good group, he just had to convince his players that this year’s San Ysidro baseball team was special. Special enough to win the school’s first-ever section championship.

To boost their confidence, he could point to winning streaks of five and four games. The up and down Cougars also had five- and four-game losing streaks, but to strong teams.

“Toward the end of year I told them we were the 16th team in Division III (12 qualify for the playoffs), but if we’d keep winning, we’d move up,” said Canche, who has been coaching for 22 years, the last seven at San Ysidro.

“We peaked at the end of league, heading into the playoffs. All of the sudden they were doing the right things every day.”

Although his Cougars would earn the No. 11 seed, he wasn’t ever worried about making the playoffs.

“Just looking at our schedule, you could see we played strong teams at the start of the season,” said Canche, dismissing his then 12-15 record. “We were disappointed when the Lions Tournament put us in Division VI because we wanted to be in the premier division. We also had a bundle of one-run losses.

“When we won (the last six league games) and had just a loss to Brawley (9-8), I told them, ‘we’re in.’ ”

They were, but at No. 11 they had to win a play-in game against a tough Francis Parker nine. The 4-0 victory gave the Cougars confidence but when they took a 4-1 win over No. 3 Serra in the second round, they knew they could play with any of the teams.

They narrowly beat Canyon Crest, 5-3, before going wild against No. 2 Del Norte, 13-4, in the semifinals. Canche had been here before, only to lose to eventual champion Santana in 1994.

Only 28-6 pitching-deep San Dieguito stood between them and the school’s first title. All of those tight games proved vital as the teams battled scoreless into the fifth, when San Ysidro scored twice. San Dieguito rallied in the sixth to cut the lead in half.

Sophomore pitcher Octavio Arroyo seemed undaunted as he closed out the Mustangs, allowing just six hits and the lone run for the victory.

And they did it with senior catcher Jose Garcia, who finished the season with a .441 batting average and gaudy .610 on-base percentage, getting shut out at the plate.

“Jose is going to Galveston College and being a three-year guy, he was the key,” Canche said.

And Canche’s reaction after the win?

“I finally had the monkey off my back,” he said. “I reached one of my goals as a head coach. We played every playoff game on the road and we beat the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds. After going 9-20 last year, it wasn’t easy.”

He believes the banner that will go up in the gym and forever be the first in the school’s history, will make a difference.

He hopes that players who normally would go to San Ysidro but because of the perception that the Cougars could not win a section title elect to go to other nearby schools, would stay closer to home.

“We have a good nucleus returning, including all of our pitching, but that’s because if a kid looks like he can play varsity, he plays varsity,” says Canche. “We had seven sophomores and a freshman this year.

“Kids who come here know if they’re good enough, they’ll play varsity right from the start.”

Only this time as champions.

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