Escondido baseball Cougars on the prowl

Escondido Cougars 2015 team league championship photo.

How far has Escondido High School’s baseball team come in a year? The Cougars won its 16th game  last week, tying the total number of 2015 wins.

“I think we’re on the right track,” fourth-year head coach Aaron Hoofard said. Ya think? As of press time, the Cougars had won 14 games in a row.

Escondido plays a mostly Division III schedule, so it’s a winnable proposition. Lest there be any doubt this year’s version is legit, the boys in orange and black have beaten some of the big boys as in Fallbrook, Valley Center and El Camino.

The team to date has been showing the types of skills needed to induce the maximum quantity of mass victories. Starting with a good foundation of defense and pitching — team ERA is 1.74 — the Cougars also have been hitting, doing it at a .346 clip this year. That goes a long way to explaining 16 wins against only one loss.

Hoofard has been savvy enough to assemble a top staff, and my how times have changed. Most high school programs, up until fairly recently may have sported a head coach and assistant, possibly also a pitching mentor.

Escondido coaches include former Cougar stars Mike Garcia, Joel Sisler and the inimitable Nick Terrazas. Tommy Cheeks Sr. played at Mt. Carmel for Sam Blalock and at USD. Tommy Cheeks Jr. played at Rancho Bernardo for Blalock and at Loyola Marymount.

“This coaching staff has seven CIF titles under its belt,” Tommy Cheek Jr. said. “We know the game,” adding, “The kids have become sponges. The energy level from last year to this is night and day. Everything is geared to winning a CIF championship.”

This years team carries a bit of a chip on its shoulders, so has something to prove apparently. Numerous players and coaches have not been shy about expressing dissatisfaction with last year squad’s chemistry and emotional makeup.

Last year’s team suffered much inner turmoil and staggered to a 16-16 season. However, that included a 9-6 Avocado League finish which was good enough to win the league title. Yet the team ultimately disappointed. While not available to defend themselves, seniors were credited with some of the discord.

“Last year we had a very selfish team,” junior all-league shortstop Kellen McCoy said. “This year we’re just trying to combine all of our skills and come together.”

Returning a key group of 13 players from last year’s team coupled with new blood seems to have invigorated the program. The team has six seniors leading the way. The upper class has been credited with helping the upper-and-comers.

Character is the mantra this year and nothing builds character sometimes like winning, which the Cougars have been wont to do.

“I won’t lie, wins are important,” Hoofard said. “But it’s not all about wins and losses. We’re trying to build character. We’re trying to build respect for the game, your teammates and coaches.

Hoofard added: “We are more together this year. They really like each other,” said Hoofard, in his sixth year as varsity coach. “That’s a huge thing if you can get all seventeen guys that are close and want to do things together.

The season’s true test, however, is yet to come.

Finishing out the season, the Cougars play three games against the Division II Mission Hills of San Marcos, another good team going into this week at 11-5, undefeated in Avocado East play, just like Escondido.

Another three games were scheduled against that other team from the Valley of Discovery, San Marcos High School, 3-0 in Avocado East play. The Cougars also play three games against San Pasqual, Avocado East cellar dwellers.

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