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Daily Pilot High School Male Athlete of the Week: Lopez leads streaking Huntington Beach baseball

Daily Pilot High School Male Athlete of the Week: Lopez leads streaking Huntington Beach baseball
Huntington Beach High's Nick Lopez had a pair of game-winning home runs against Riverside Poly and Cerritos Gahr, helping the Oilers continue their current six-game winning streak. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition.

It has long been believed that teams want to place their best athletes up the middle.

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In Little League, that meant a good arm on the mound. In addition, there was the captain of the infield, the shortstop, and the captain of the outfield, the center fielder.

Nick Lopez fit that profile in his youth. He often found himself playing the middle-infield positions, shortstop and second base. He thought he was there to stay, but when he got to Huntington Beach High, Oilers coach Benji Medure had another plan.

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"I was originally an infielder," Lopez said. "Coach Medure said, 'Hey, we're not going to have a catcher, so we're going to throw you back there.'

"I used to play shortstop a lot. I figured that was just what I was going to stick with. I guess he just saw me as a good enough athlete to change positions and adapt to my new role that he was going to have for me."

Athleticism was a primary factor in Medure's decision to convert Lopez to a catcher. He made the comparison of Lopez to Dodgers backstop Austin Barnes, a 5-foot-10 catcher who played the infield at times.

"I think that's what baseball is moving to is just the smaller, more mobile, athletic catcher," Medure said. "Like Barnes who was an infielder in college, Nick can play on the infield. He has good feet and good actions as an infielder, so he's kind of a dual threat that way."

Lopez is 5 feet 7, 175 pounds. In his time with the Oilers, he has also played second base and third base.

Although most of the pitches are called from the dugout, Medure says that Lopez excels in other aspects of the game. He makes good calls when the ball is bunted, communicates the direction of the ball when it is hit to the outfield, and his low crouch keeps pitchers down in the strike zone.

"He has a feel for the timing of the game, where to throw the ball with runners and everything," Medure said. "That's not an easy thing to learn. I think you either have those instincts or you don't, and Nick definitely has those instincts."

Medure added that members of the Oilers' baseball family have been coming back to make sure that the next generation will leave the program in good hands. As far as catchers are concerned, it started in 2006 when Hank Conger took Clayton Prestridge under his wing.

Lopez mentioned that he has benefited from such conversations with alumni Tyler Murray and Hagen Danner. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Danner as a catcher out of high school last year.

Then there is the bat. Despite his small frame, Lopez provides a good amount of power. He hit game-winning home runs in back-to-back games against Riverside Poly and Cerritos Gahr.

Both home runs broke ties in the sixth inning. Lopez revealed a key to his success late in games.

"They either bring in their relievers, or you're facing the same [pitcher] for the third time in the game, so you kind of know what they're throwing and how they're trying to attack you," Lopez said. "Once you figure out how they're trying to attack you, you can try to take advantage of it."

Medure suspects that Lopez's power is a result of building up his lower half.

"He's a strong little kid," Medure said. "When he gets down with his legs and gets a pitch down, he can get some lift on it. That's exactly what he did on both days. Both pitches were down."

Lopez's three-run home run against Gahr gave his team a spark to begin the Newport-Elks Tournament, and the Oilers (6-2) went on to win it with a 4-3 victory over Foothill in extra innings on Friday.

The Abilene Christian University-bound senior says that he is looking forward to competing in the Boras Classic.

"It's always a challenge, and we like to face the challenge and go right after it," Lopez said. "Baseball doesn't have the state championships like other sports, so the Boras Classic is kind of the tournament that is put together that is like the state championship of baseball."

The Boras Classic will begin on April 3. Games will be played at JSerra and Mater Dei.

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Nick Lopez

Born: Dec. 5, 1999

Hometown: Huntington Beach

Height: 5 feet 7

Weight: 175 pounds

Sport: Baseball

Year: Senior

Coach: Benji Medure

Favorite food: Cheeseburgers

Favorite movie: "Lone Survivor"

Favorite athletic moment: In 2016, the Oilers won the National High School Invitational in North Carolina. Lopez caught Nate Madole in the championship game, as the Oilers rolled with an all-sophomore battery to win it.

Week in review: Lopez had a pair of game-winning home runs against Riverside Poly and Cerritos Gahr, helping the Oilers continue their current six-game winning streak. Huntington Beach won the Newport-Elks Tournament with a 4-3 win over Foothill in extra innings on Friday.

Twitter: @ProfessorTurner

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