From left, Andres Alvarez, Conrado Diaz and Gilbert Suarez — the San Ysidro High teammates want another title.
Gilbert Sanchez, Andres Alvarez and Conrado Diaz have been friends since they were little kids — starting at age 4.
Each of the San Ysidro High students burns with the desire to recapture something they had two years ago and really didn’t appreciate until last year — a section baseball title.
“After we won (Division III) two years ago as sophomores,” said Sanchez, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior pitcher-outfielder, “we expected to win it again as juniors. But the championship team had great leadership. Jose Garcia was the catcher and he’d get on us even before the coach did.
“Four seniors graduated, but we thought it was easy, that we’d be able to win it again because we had so many players back who had been there before. But we missed that leadership, and it was a shock when we lost (10-2 to West Hills) in the first round of the playoffs.”
Alvarez, a senior like Sanchez, said once reality set in, the players who would return this year got together for a talk.
“We knew we’d screwed up because we should have won — we had basically the same team — but some of the players would miss practices and not take it seriously,” said Alvarez, who can play practically any position but is the cornerstone of the infield at shortstop.
“None of us wanted that feeling of losing again. This year is different. Miss a practice — even show up late — and you won’t play the next game. No one has missed a practice.”
Diaz, the soft-spoken junior catcher, was only a freshman on that team and despite admitting he was terribly nervous when he tried out, he dedicated himself to doing whatever the team needed.
“This year we’re like a family, a close family,” he said. “We’re very supportive of each other. I think we’re a lot better.”
Could be. The Cougars entered the week 14-3, winning 14 of their last 15 games with only a loss to Torrey Pines spoiling the streak.
Sanchez is the ace on the mound, posting a 3-1 record with a 0.95 ERA. He has struck out 30 batters against just eight walks. He is batting a hefty .462 with three homers and 22 RBI.
Diaz is hitting .375 with 12 RBI while Alvarez is batting .347 with 11 RBI.
And, while all three are burning to capture a Division II title this year — they moved up because of their recent success — they already know they have accomplished something even more important than what happens on the diamond.
Each will be the first from their family to attend college.
Sanchez will take his fastball that touches on 95 mph but is consistent over 90 to San Diego State.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Sanchez said. “There are days we have to be here at 7:30 a.m. to get the field ready and by the time we finish up with school and all, it can be 9 p.m. We still have to shower and eat before we do our homework.
“But it’ll be worth it.”
Alvarez will go for a year to Trinidad State, a community college in Colorado, before heading off to Pan American University in Texas. Next year Conrado will join him.
“They’re living the American dream,” said coach Ken Canche. “That’s been my goal here, to send players off to college. And the great thing is some of those guys come back afterward and work with the team in the winter.
“They actually run practices and the players see how important it is to go to college.”
None of that has distracted the three from keeping the goal of another championship alive. Anything less is just not acceptable.