High School Baseball: Rios' swing is back for Eagles

Tyler Rios sat in the visitor's dugout at Estancia High on Thursday and looked back at his time with the Eagles.

The senior smiled and shook his head at the same time.

"It's gone by real fast, super fast," Rios said of his four seasons with the baseball team. "I could remember my freshman year like it was [yesterday]."

Rios has started at shortstop for Estancia since he showed up at the school. At age 14, he was that talented and ready for varsity.

Not much has changed in terms of his height or weight. Over the years, Rios grew a couple of inches and gained 15 pounds.

The 5-foot-7, 155-pounder can now grow facial hair. Rios is more proud of how the Eagles' program has grown since his arrival.

As a freshman, he helped the Eagles win their first league title since 1991 and qualify for the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 1994. As a sophomore, he led the Eagles back to the postseason and then their first playoff victory since 1992.

Estancia returned to the playoffs last season during Rios' junior year, only to lose in the first round. Before he graduates from Estancia, Rios said he plans to do whatever it takes to get the program a first-round playoff win.

During Estancia's alumni game in February, right before the season, Rios sat in the visitor's dugout and talked to former players. His question to them was simple: When was the last time Estancia won a first-round playoff game?

"I think it was in the '80s maybe," one player told Rios, before another player said, "Maybe '79."

However long it's been, Rios came away knowing it's been a very long time.

Changing that is a top priority for Rios. He's not satisfied with the Eagles' 5-3 Division IV wild-card win against Anaheim from two years ago that ended a 19-year playoff winless drought.

The start to his final season didn't begin on the right note.

Rios said he began the year hitless in his first 20 at-bats. He really didn't. It just felt that way.

Through the first five games, Rios started two for 17. Yes, he was in a major slump.

"It was ridiculous. It was frustrating," Rios said. "I knew that I had the most experience on the team."

Rios also knew he was trying to do too much at the plate. His coach, Nate Goellrich, didn't need to tell him.

Goellrich saw that Rios was trying to carry the team on his shoulders.

"I think he's figured out now that we have a pretty good team," Goellrich said. "He's a great leader for us."

Rios is one of two captains on the team. The other is Ben Beck, a senior. The two switched spots in the batting order, helping each other get out of early-season hitting ruts.

Beck used to lead off for the Eagles (10-7, 3-4 in Orange Coast League). Now, Rios does and Beck bats right behind him.

Rios has found his swing since he started the season two for 17. Since then, he's 19 for 44 (.431). Seven of those hits came in 13 at-bats during the Beach Pit Classic, which ended on April 3 with the Eagles going 3-1.

"I actually wasn't paying attention," Rios said of the number of hits he collected during the tournament, helping him raise his batting average to .344, tops on the team. "I just wanted to keep hitting. I felt really good at the plate. I was hitting the ball well. I was hitting the ball to the opposite field."

Another thing Rios did during the Beach Pit Classic was pitch. With the Eagles playing six games in nine days, two in the Orange Coast League and four in the tournament, Goellrich needed another arm.

Rios started twice, opening the Beach Pit Classic by throwing a complete game. He struck out three and allowed seven hits and two earned runs in Estancia's 7-3 win against Sun Valley Village Christian.

"It was my first start and I was excited because it had been four years since I had started a game," said Rios, who earned another start in the tournament finale against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.

In that one, Rios suffered his first loss, but he went the distance again. This time, he threw eight innings, as Goellrich said an error in the seventh tied the game and forced extra innings.

"We needed a guy to step up, and we basically have a three-man rotation now," Goellrich said of Rios, who has performed at a high level for the Eagles, earning first-team All-Orange Coast League and Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team honors.

"He's meant a lot to this program for four years. When he was a freshman, there wasn't a whole lot going on here baseball-wise, and now we have two solid teams [on varsity and junior varsity]. Now, we're competing, we're going to be in the playoffs every year, and we're going to compete for a league championship. His leadership on the field has meant a lot to us."


Twitter: @DCPenaloza

Tyler Rios

Born: April 9, 1995

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 5-foot-7

Weight: 155 pounds

Sport: Baseball

Year: Senior

Coach: Nate Goellrich

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite movie: "For Love of the Game"

Favorite athletic moment: "Making varsity my freshman year."

Week in review: Rios led the Eagles to a 3-1 record during the Beach Pit Classic. Rios threw two complete games, going 1-1, and he went seven for 13 at the plate with one run batted in and one double.

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