It is Monday afternoon at the Estancia High baseball practice.
A teammate calls out to Eagles junior right-handed pitcher Jake Covey, asking him his earned-run average.
Covey responds with a single word.
“Low,” he said, and he’s not lying.
Covey stands 6-foot-3, but he’s pitched even bigger than that. He has been more than an ace for the Eagles, he’s been nearly impossible to score against.
Covey came into this week with a 5-1 record, and just one earned run allowed in 52 2/3 innings pitched. He did allow two more in Tuesday’s 7-2 Orange Coast League victory over Santa Ana, though he went the complete game. Covey’s earned-run average now sits at a cool 0.24.
Tuesday’s win over Santa Ana, along with Costa Mesa’s 9-3 loss at Orange on the same day, allowed Estancia (13-11, 8-5 in league) to move into outright first place in league. Estancia then lost 11-9 at Santa Ana on Friday, falling into a four-way tie for first with the Saints, Orange and Calvary Chapel with two games left.
Covey, a three-year varsity starter, can help the Eagles win at least a share of their first league title since 2010 next week. They close out league with two games against last-place Saddleback, starting on Tuesday on the road.
Estancia’s second-year coach Kevin Conlin, who previously was an assistant at University and Northwood, said the league only got more competitive this year when it added Orange and Santa Ana, despite the loss of league champion Laguna Beach.
“It’s probably the most competitive league I’ve ever coached in,” Conlin said. “It’s fun to compete in a good league.”
Two wins over Costa Mesa last week vaulted Estancia into a tie for first place. Covey picked up his second shutout win over the Mustangs this season on April 9, allowing just three hits in a 5-0 victory at Costa Mesa High. He struck out nine.
Estancia beat the Mustangs again 3-2 the next day, with Covey delivering a run-scoring single in a three-run second inning. The Eagles swept their three league games against the Mustangs, winning back the Paul Troxel trophy.
The bat has come around for Covey, Conlin said, since he came out following the basketball season. He’s batting over .300 in league. Covey is a power forward and center for coach Xavier Castellano on the hardwood.
As for the arm, Covey consistently hits 86 mph with his fastball. He also has a sinker, changeup and curveball in his repertoire.
“It couldn’t be going any better,” he said. “I’ve been working hard for a long time now, years now. It’s always paid off; I’ve always been able to hold my own. Coming into this year, dominating is a strong word, but I’m actually starting to have lots of success on the mound … I couldn’t hope for anything more, and junior year is a great time for that to happen.
“I’ve never really been one to catch the eye with flashing the right number on the radar gun. I’m hoping that by doing good this entire season, I can finally start turning some heads.”
Covey, who plays travel-ball with the SoCal Birds, does want to play college baseball. He has been perhaps the best pitcher in a wide-open Orange Coast League.
Conlin said he wouldn’t take anyone else.
“You know the guy’s really good when he misses spots and he’s still effective,” Conlin said. “His stuff is better than most people’s in our league. There are some good pitchers in our league … [but] I would pick him. He’s had all quality starts. Even his loss was a 1-0, seven-inning complete game [against Calvary Chapel] and he gave up an unearned run to lose the game.”
Covey, who was 8-4 last season, hasn’t done a lot of losing on the mound for the Eagles. He certainly came up big against Costa Mesa this year.
“In terms of my plan up there, I don’t change anything,” he said. “I’m still going to go up there and pitch how I pitch. Some guys on Mesa — Cameron Chapman and Omar Munoz, just to name a couple — they’re great hitters and fantastic guys. I’ve got nothing but respect for them, but when I’m on the mound, I don’t really care who you are. I’m going to find a weak spot, and I’m just going to come after you. I’m not going to run away from you. I’ve just got to go up there and get my job done.”
Born: Aug. 10, 2001
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Height: 6 feet 3
Weight: 170 pounds
Coach: Kevin Conlin
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: “For the Love of the Game”
Favorite athletic moment: Estancia’s walk-off 7-6 victory over Costa Mesa in 2017 at Angel Stadium, featuring a game-winning double from Jeffrey Alai.