A year ago, pitcher Griffin Canning of Santa Margarita was the Southern Section Division 1 player of the year. He's now a freshman at UCLA, but the impact he made hasn't been forgotten by Trinity League coaches.
They've put in the "Griffin Canning rule."
Starting on Monday and for the next five weeks, six Trinity League baseball teams will do something few other leagues would ever consider doing — play a single league opponent three times in a week.
Canning is the reason. Last season, he faced Santa Ana Mater Dei three times during league play. The league coaches decided as a group that was no way to decide the best team in the league, so they put together a schedule playing 15 games in a five-week period featuring three-game series. The schedule, combined with the rule limiting pitchers to 10 innings in a week, makes it unlikely a single pitcher will get to face the same team again and again and again.
"When you're playing a league schedule, it's the best team, not the best pitcher," Junipero Serra Coach Brett Kay said. "It really shows the depth of your team."
Coaches are scrambling to come up with pitching strategies. Usually they plan for two league games in a week, along with a third game in which they can experiment against a nonleague opponent. But in the Trinity League, with Division 1 playoff berths on the line, every game is going to be important, forcing coaches to prepare for uncharted territory.
"You just take it day by day and game by game and make decisions and regroup," Mater Dei Coach Burt Call said. "Our team is pretty resilient and will be ready."
Call should be the first person to complain about the change, since he lost his ace, Nick Pratto, indefinitely because of stiffness in his back. That's not exactly the best way to start a grueling league schedule with questions about the pitching staff. But the Monarchs showed no signs of having any pitching issues this past week, reaching the championship game of the Boras Classic on Friday before losing to JSerra, 5-0.
Now JSerra (13-1) and Mater Dei (9-5) meet again in a three-game series starting Monday night at JSerra, then moving to Mater Dei on Wednesday and back to JSerra on Friday.
"You're going to have to be prepared," Call said. "We prepared our staff to handle it and look forward to the challenge. It's something new. It's definitely going to be a different strategy in making sure your pitchers are ready from week to week."
Hitters are looking forward to the pressure being placed on pitching staffs to produce three times in a week.
"I like it as a hitter," Mater Dei shortstop Brandon Perez said. "We faced Griffin Canning every time last year. You can't have a guy like that face you every time. You have a chance to see everybody."
JSerra is probably feeling most confident in terms of pitching depth. Kay said he has 36 pitchers in his program, 12 on varsity. If he needs to bring up a junior varsity pitcher on Friday, he's ready to do it.
The other series starting on Monday have Orange Lutheran playing Servite and St. John Bosco facing Santa Margarita.
Trinity coaches will evaluate how well the schedule works out at the end of the season.
But if you see one of the coaches cursing by himself after a game, blame it on Griffin Canning.
Dave Bacani, the Santa Margarita coach who guided the Eagles to the Division 1 title behind Canning, said, "He earned the Griffin Canning rule."