2017-03-16 / Sports

Every minute matters

Lancer baseball team wins five of first seven games
By Eliav Appelbaum


EXTENSION—Thousand Oaks sophomore outfielder Dillon Kissick dives for a catch at a recent practice. EXTENSION—Thousand Oaks sophomore outfielder Dillon Kissick dives for a catch at a recent practice. BASEBALL /// Thousand Oaks Lancers

Every action has a purpose. Every moment means something.

There is urgency in every swing, suspense in every throw. When the ball spins and settles into a nook within a weathered leather glove, it is the end of one play and the beginning of another.

In theory, a baseball game could go on forever. Games eventually end, but the learning never does. There’s always something new, even for the old pros, the mystics, the grizzled veterans, the legends, the ballplayers who spend every spring and summer on fields under the sun.

“It’s important to come out here and want to learn about baseball every day,” coach Jack Wilson said. “Do not take any day for granted.”

Thousand Oaks High baseball players do not go through the motions for anything, not even during the final throes of batting practice the day before the Marmonte League opener in Wilson’s first season as head coach at his alma mater.


CAPTAIN— Thousand Oaks senior captain Christian Walton fields a ground ball during practice. Walton, an honors student, will play baseball at the University of Pennsylvania next season. CAPTAIN— Thousand Oaks senior captain Christian Walton fields a ground ball during practice. Walton, an honors student, will play baseball at the University of Pennsylvania next season. The Lancers take the game seriously, but what is baseball without joy?

“The umpire says, ‘Play ball!’ not ‘work ball’ or ‘do ball,’” said Ben Martz, the team’s senior catcher who hammered four home runs in his past four games entering the week. “If you’re not having fun, why do it?”

Wilson, who played 12 seasons in the major leagues, has revitalized a Lancer squad that missed the playoffs the previous two seasons.


HOT SAUCE—Alex Mueller, a junior shortstop for the Thousand Oaks High baseball team, throws to first base during practice on March 14. 
Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers HOT SAUCE—Alex Mueller, a junior shortstop for the Thousand Oaks High baseball team, throws to first base during practice on March 14. Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Thousand Oaks went 17-2 during fall ball and won five of its first seven games this spring. Wilson, who graduated from T.O. in 1996, said his players are receptive to learning. Now they’re gaining confidence.

“They have to believe that they can play Lancer baseball,” Wilson said. “The guys challenge each other and keep each other accountable.”

Christian Walton, a senior right fielder and first baseman, said the skipper stresses fundamentals. The Lancers must grasp the basics before they can fly.

“We’re a changed ballclub since last year,” said Walton, who is also a left-handed pitcher. “People don’t realize how much we’ve changed and how much Jack has brought to the program.”


IMPACT NEWCOMER—Matt Ottino, a transfer from Torrance, will be eligible to play April 3. IMPACT NEWCOMER—Matt Ottino, a transfer from Torrance, will be eligible to play April 3. Walton, a fourth-year varsity veteran, will continue playing baseball at the University of Pennsylvania. His older brother, Dane Walton, is a golf standout at Penn. During the recruiting process, Christian Walton wasn’t sure he wanted to go to Penn, but he said the school’s commitment to academics and athletics was the best of both worlds.

The captain wants to make every player feel involved.

“I try to keep everyone unified and make sure everyone feels like we’re a family,” said Walton, an honors student with a 4.46 gradepoint average. “I want to make sure everyone feels heard and no one feels left out.”

Walton, who enjoys surfing and photography, volunteers with THERAsurf in Malibu.

Martz, arguably one of the best catchers in California, has been on a tear. The fourth-year varsity standout is more aggressive at the plate. His arm strength has improved behind the dish, and he’s laser-focused on trying to help Thousand Oaks earn a postseason berth.

“I’m more mature physically, but the mental game is coming into place,” the Cal State Northridge commit said. “I’m stronger mentally, and I’m having more fun.”

Martz said he’s learning nuances about the game from Wilson; he’s a sponge soaking up nuggets of wisdom from the former All-Star shortstop with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“It’s really special being out here with him,” Martz said. “I love it a lot.”

Martz will spend this summer playing with the Bethesda Big Train Stars, a wood-bat college team based in Maryland. Former Thousand Oaks skipper Bill Sizemore—who coached Wilson in high school—is Bethesda’s pitching coach.

The catcher said he likes that Thousand Oaks is off the proverbial radar for the moment.

“We’re happy we’re the underdogs,” Martz said. “We’re happy people are counting us out.”

Zack Schuberg, a second baseman and outfielder, is a Lancer to watch.

The senior, who earned a scholarship to Cal State San Marcos, said he’s enjoying playing baseball with his friends.

“I love hanging out with them, playing baseball and winning games,” he said.

Schuberg said Wilson stresses defense, and even jumps in during drills to show the Lancers how to play the game the right way.

“He’ll come out early and take ground balls with us,” Schuberg said. “He makes it look so easy, but he reminds us to stay loose. He notices the small things and corrects them.”

Schuberg said the team got closer during a weekend trip to Big Bear in October.

A big Dodger fan, Schuberg enjoys snowboarding. He grew up playing AYSO soccer and kept playing until his senior year of high school. His older brother, Ryan, played baseball at Thousand Oaks. His sister, Maricel, is a sophomore soccer player for the Lancers. His younger brother, Andrew, 12, plays Thousand Oaks Little League baseball.

Walton, Martz and Schuberg Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers are captains.

Steele Ledford, a former football receiver, is a senior standout at center field.

“He’s the best center fielder probably in Southern California defensively,” Wilson said of Ledford.

Royal Wilson, a senior southpaw, is a crafty pitcher who’s smart and deceptive. He notched a 1.50 ERA last spring.

Blake Campbell, a senior righty, hits his spots and delivers strikes consistently. In back-to-back wins against West Ranch and Saugus, he pitched complete games while throwing fewer than 85 pitches per outing.

Michael Lipp, a senior lefty, is an honors student who will likely earn an academic scholarship to college, the coach said.

Thousand Oaks can’t wait for two standout transfers to become eligible on April 3.

Matt Ottino, a junior from Torrance, is an MVP-caliber shortstop who committed to Fresno State.

“He’s the real deal,” Wilson said of Ottino. “He’s a game changer type player.”

Sean Power, a junior outfielder out of Westlake, hits for power. He notched a .450 batting average during fall ball.

Alex Mueller, a junior shortstop, has some pop in his bat.

Scott Sheehan, a junior infielder, outfielder and catcher, hit above .400 in his first seven games.

Andrew Berard, a senior leadoff hitter, makes plays at first base, third base and in the outfield.

Cameron Weitz, Dillon Kissick, Garrett Clarke, Garrett Flynn, Jakob Allen, Mitchell Thompson and Tristan Perrin also contribute for Thousand Oaks. Rod Stillwell, Manny Mosqueda and Jay Lucas are assistant coaches.

“They’re great kids,” Wilson said. “There are no individuals. You have to be a team player.”

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