CARY, N.C. — A week before leaving compete in the National High School Invitational, San Clemente head coach Dave Gellatly got some bad news.
Left-hander Kolby Allard, an American Family Insurance ALL-USA preseason selection and the top pro prospect in Southern California, suffered a stress reaction in his back and would be out six to eight weeks.
That meant the team would be facing the nation’s best high school talent without its best arm.
No problem, San Clemente still had its catcher, Lucas Herbert.
While his work at the plate is apparent, his true value to the team is easily overlooked.
“Maybe you guys figured this out, maybe you didn’t,” Gellatly said, “but we haven’t called one pitch all year long. He calls such a great game. He knows how to get hitters out. He knows how to block balls, when to back pick.”
“He makes us look like great coaches. It’s all him.”
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Herbert’s impact on the staff was apparent in the tournament. Even without Allard, San Clemente pitchers had a 2.41 ERA, with 23 strikeouts in 29 innings.
More importantly, the No. 4 Tritons picked up four wins in as many games to win the elite event, capped by an 8-3 victory Saturday against College Park (Pleasant Hill, Calif.) on Saturday at USA Baseball’s national training center.
“I just let them know it’s no different than pitching back home,” Herbert, also an ALL-USA preseason selection and a top pro prospect said of his message to the staff. “You’ve still got to throw strikes. You’ve still got to make pitches. Let guys put the ball in play.”
Herbert also helped spur the title victory at the plate. He went 1-for-2 on Saturday in the title game with an RBI double, two walks, and two runs scored. He finished with a .333 average over the four games, scoring four times.
The only thing Herbert couldn’t do in the tournament was hit his coach with a Gatorade bath when the game was over.
“Lucas tried to get me on (career) win No. 300 last year, too,” Gellatly said. “I should’ve let him go ahead and dunk me then, since it was 75 degrees in Southern California. Here (with a 43 degree game time temperature) I’ve got to run far and fast so I don’t get hit. Plus, we had a plane to catch and I can’t take a shower.”
Like Allard, Herbert plans to go to UCLA next year to continue his career in college.
“I grew up next to the Rose Bowl, watching football,” he said. “I became a fan of them through football. When I realized how good a baseball program they had and what great coaches are there, it was an easy decision.”
Of course, there’s a chance he won’t make it there. Like Allard, the professional draft may beckon in June.
“It’s kind of in the back of my mind. I’m trying not to think about it, because we have games to win,” he said.
He helped the team do that four times over the weekend. “That was pretty good,” he said. “Winning games is always good. It’s great to come out here and beat these great teams.”
The team was also helped by a spirited voice on the bench. Despite being unable to play, Allard made the trip. Herbert said Allard never mentioned his back injury and was only there to be supportive of the team.
“What a great group of guys,” Gellatly said. “Kolby could have come out here and just shut it down, or not come out at all. But he was the biggest cheerleader on the bench. He was probably our MVP off the bench. He helped us push through, just being there for his teammates.”
“No matter where I was on the field,” teammate Chris Puckett said, “whether I was on the other side of the dugout, out at second base or on the mound, he was the one voice I could always pick out. He was the loudest one, getting everyone up, keeping everyone going.”
That’s because, even with his back problem, Allard knew that the pitching staff’s true backbone was in place behind the plate.