Coach on field, Chris Puckett leads No. 4 San Clemente to national baseball final

Coach on field, Chris Puckett leads No. 4 San Clemente to national baseball final

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Coach on field, Chris Puckett leads No. 4 San Clemente to national baseball final

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CARY, N.C. — After pitching six masterful innings in the National High School Invitational semifinals Friday, Chris Puckett seemed to tire to start the seventh.

Puckett hit the first batter then allowed a sharp single to the next man up, meaning the tying run would be on deck.

As San Clemente (Calif.) coach Dave Gellatly walked out to the mound, Puckett knew exactly how he felt.

“It’s just tough, because you can’t do anything as a manager,” Puckett said. “You can only watch them and tell them what to do. It’s just tough.”

Puckett understands.

Long before pitching Super 25 No. 4 San Clemente into Saturday’s final with a 5-1 win against Huntington Beach, Puckett was manager of a championship little league team.

Despite being just 14 years old, Puckett and Cameron Shelley, also a senior on this year’s San Clemente team, took over a team of 12-to-14 year olds in the San Clemente Little League.

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“Cameron and I always thought it would be cool to manage a team, and then out of nowhere, the president of the league came to us and asked if we wanted to coach, because they were short,” Puckett said.

No parents were able to spare the time to take the team, so Puckett and Shelley took the helm, unofficially.

“Because we were still 14, we had to have my dad (Greg Puckett) listed as the official manager, but Cam and I ran practices and coached the games and stuff. It was a great year,” he said.

With Puckett and Shelley holding two and three practices a week, as well as strength and conditioning drills, the San Clemente American No. 2 team won the 2012 Tournament of Champions for California District 68.

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The victory earned the then-San Clemente freshmen national attention, including an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

It also helped shape Puckett’s approach to the game.

“Oh man, It helped a lot,” he said. “It helped me to understand a lot more about game situations and how to play things, be it on the mound, on the field, or at the plate.”

Puckett and Shelley returned as managers in 2013, but they couldn’t repeat their title.

After that, varsity beckoned, and the pair stopped living vicariously through their players and concentrated on their own careers.

Now seniors, Puckett and Shelley will be playing for a national championship at USA Baseball’s training facility. Both former managers had major roles in getting San Clemente a berth in the game.

Shelley entered as a defensive replacement and singled in the game’s final run in the seventh.

Puckett went 2-for-3 with an RBI. More importantly, he baffled Huntington Beach with his off-speed stuff for most of the game.

“He had a good slider and a good two-seamer. He was able to work both sides of the plate,” Huntington Beach coach Benji Medure said. “When you have a guy running it in and running it off, it can get to you.”

In six-plus innings, Puckett allowed one run on five hits, striking out five.

“He threw first pitch strikes and kept us off balance,” Medure said.

Puckett credited a mid-game adjustment.

“They were sitting on my curve ball a little bit, so we worked out a plan to go to the slider more often and give them a sharper break,” he said.

“He did what he does every time,” said catcher Lucas Herbert, an American Family Insurance ALL-USA preseason selection. “Staying away, on the outside part of the plate, keeping them off balance, like he does.”

The performance was enough to send San Clemente to the final.

“We’ve been looking forward to this since September,” Puckett said of the chance to win the invitational. “Ever since we heard we were invited, all we’ve been doing is prepping for it. We said we were going to come out here and compete for the national championship. It’s huge.”

Herbert added, “We’ve been working toward this every day. Now that we’re here, it’s time to turn it on.”

Wherever Puckett is on the field for the championship game, it’s a safe bet he’ll glance to the dugout at least once and give a nod of appreciation.

“I have a lot more respect for all my coaches now,” he said, “because I know what they go through.”

 

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