In his first year in charge of a high school baseball program, Kevin Conlin is glad to have his father, Chris, by his side. He has someone to lean on for advice during Estancia games.
“The roles have reversed a little bit,” said Kevin, who used to be one of his dad’s assistants at University, where Chris coached for 30 years before he retired as the head coach in 2016. “Now he’s helping me.”
The Conlins are enjoying their first year together at Estancia. The son and father have the program close to securing a berth into the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
Behind six strong innings from Nick Mazur, Estancia won its fifth straight Orange Coast League game on Tuesday, beating host Calvary Chapel 3-1 at TeWinkle Park.
Mazur struck out five, allowed one run on four hits and walked three, as second-place Estancia (15-9, 9-3 in league) stayed three games back of first-place Laguna Beach (17-8, 12-0). The Breakers clinched at least a share of their sixth consecutive league title with a 4-0 win at third-place Costa Mesa (11-14, 7-5) on Tuesday.
Three games remain in league, and Estancia has to win out to give itself any chance at splitting the league crown. Estancia must beat Calvary Chapel on Thursday to complete the three-game sweep, then defeat Laguna Beach twice next week, and hope someone ends the Breakers’ winning streak before Estancia faces the Breakers. Dating to 2016, Laguna Beach has won 29 consecutive league games.
Brian Rodriguez, who went one for four with a run batted in on Tuesday, believes Estancia can knock off the Breakers.
“We had a [5-0] lead over them in [the first inning of] the first game, and we just kind of let off on them,” Rodriguez said of the game Estancia ended up losing 6-5 at Laguna Beach on March 29. “But they better watch out, because we’re going to keep going all seven [innings], all 14 [innings] next week.”
Laguna Beach’s last setback in league came against Estancia two years ago, and Rodriguez played a role as a sophomore.
Rodriguez, now a senior, helped Estancia take the lead against fourth-place Calvary Chapel (10-7, 6-6) in the top of the third inning.
Jake Alai led off the third with a grounder to third baseman Troy Lombardo. He tried to backhand the ball, and it went off his glove and toward the left-field line. The error was the second of four by Calvary Chapel and it allowed Alai to reach second. Hayden Pearce’s sacrifice bunt moved Alai over to third, and two pitches later, Rodriguez singled to right field and drove in the game’s first run.
An inning later, Estancia tacked on another run with the help of a lucky bounce. With two outs, Joe Stukkie’s grounder took a high bounce over shortstop Robbie Haw, and Jake Covey scored to give Estancia a 2-0 lead. The support was enough for Estancia to beat Adam Axtell, who went the distance in the loss.
One run is all Calvary Chapel gave Axtell, who struck out four while giving up six hits and one earned run. Calvary Chapel scored in the fifth, after Mazur gave up a leadoff single to Darren Johnson, and Johnson eventually made it to third on a sacrifice bunt and passed ball. Sam Wagner singled him in to cut the deficit to 2-1.
But for the second time against Estancia this season, Calvary Chapel only managed one run. Covey earned the save by striking out two of the three batters he faced in the seventh.
Covey and Mazur have had their way with Calvary Chapel’s lineup. Covey threw five innings in the first game against Calvary Chapel, striking out five and allowing four hits in a 2-1 win on March 27. Kevin Conlin said Covey will get the start on Thursday.
“Coaching humbles you,” Conlin said of what he’s learned in his first year as a head coach. “I’ve learned a lot and the kids have been great.
“When you stop playing, you want to stay involved in the game. Coaching was just a [natural] thing. I like playing a lot better, but coaching is a good way to stay involved.”