BURBANK — It's with a heavy heart that Bellarmine-Jefferson High baseball Coach Hector Perez guides his Guards into this season's CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs.
After 11 years as a teacher and coach at Bell-Jeff, Perez was give notice Friday that he will be laid off at the end of the school year.
Perez has been one of the most successful coaches in the area — in any sport — when it comes to guiding his teams to the postseason. When the Guards take the field Friday for their first-round opener against Crean Lutheran in Irvine, Perez will have helped lead his ninth consecutive team to the playoffs.
"The only reason why I've done this for so long is because of the kids," said Perez, a Burroughs High graduate. "It's all about the kids, and giving them the best experience possible. My players are a part of my family. It's difficult for me for sure, but I can't let that get in the way of what we want to do in the field."
Following a second-place finish in the Santa Fe League — finishing behind champion Salesian — Perez said he thinks he has the talent to compete in the playoffs.
"Like every year, it's a fresh start to the season," he said. "We just want to go out and play each game as they come, and see what we can do. I'm excited and I'm hoping to make a run."
Bell-Jeff is the lone local team to qualify for the postseason. Burbank and Providence weren't able to finish among the top teams in their respective leagues to earn spots. Burroughs saw its season cancelled after a group of players were involved in an incident involving alcohol.
The Guards will be taking on a Crean Lutheran team that placed second in the Academy League behind Oxford Academy. The Saints come into the first-round game riding a six-game winning streak.
The teams have a common opponent in Salesian. While the Guards lost to the Mustangs, 6-0, and 6-3, in league games, Crean Lutheran defeated Salesian in a tournament game, 3-2.
Bell-Jeff has a solid crop of hitters in senior Philip Diaz, junior Matt Landini and sophomores Ryan Okiishi, Johnny Karalis and Mitch Kellogg.