With a stellar senior core at the center of a talented all-around roster, it's become a popular opinion that 2012 could be the best chance the Crescenta Valley High baseball team has had in years to win a Pacific League title and make a deep playoff run.
Fortunately for the Falcons, Elliot Surrey takes the mound every few days with a lethal left arm and a quiet confidence that's contagious.
"When he pitches, we know he's going to throw strikes and he's going to win us the ballgame," says left fielder Troy Prasertsit, one third of the Falcons' nucleus of four-year starters along with Surrey and center fielder Troy Mulcahey.
Surrey is unbeaten on the mound this season, swings a hot bat in the No. 2 hole and relishes the role he's grown into as a steadying influence for the Falcons.
"It's kind of a nice feeling knowing that they count on somebody every game that I'm out there," Surrey says. "It makes me feel good about myself, it gives me confidence, as well.
"It's just a good group of guys and we all support each other, which is good."
In five starts, Surrey is 5-0 with a minuscule 0.68 earned-run average. He's issued just one walk in 31 innings pitched, while fanning 44 and is holding opponents to under a .200 batting average.
"As a pitcher, he's left-handed, which gives him an advantage, his ball moves, he battles and he competes," Crescenta Valley Coach Phil Torres says. "He's locked in when he's pitching, things don't bother him all around and this year you can see where if things go bad around him, he can tighten that belt up and go back after guys.
"That's just kind of a sign of maturity where maybe you didn't see that the last couple of years. Now he'll bull his neck a little bit and keep going back after guys."
His solid start has been the foundation of the Falcons' own burst out of the gate. After Saturday's doubleheader sweep of San Diego Mater Dei, in which Surrey fanned 10 over five one-hit innings to get the win in the opener, the team is 12-4 overall and riding a five-game streak. More importantly, the team is 4-0 in the Pacific League with a showdown with reigning league champ and bitter archrival Arcadia looming on Friday.
Surrey opened league on the mound against Pasadena on March 23 with a two-hit complete game in a 3-2 win over Pasadena, in which he struck out 11, including the final three batters he faced to end the game.
He was equally impressive in a 5-0 league win over Hoover on April 6, shutting the Tornadoes out on three hits over six innings with nine punchouts.
"I feel like my job is to just keep the team in the game each game and just give our team a chance to win," Surrey says. "I'm pretty satisfied with the way I'm performing and the defense behind me has been key to that because if you don't have good defense, you're pitching won't have any confidence. The defense behind me gives me good confidence and so does our hitting, too, knowing we can put up the runs we need to put up when we have to put them up."
Surrey's role in scoring those runs can't be overlooked. When the heart of the order comes up, Surrey's usually in position to be driven in thanks to his ability to get on base, as his .396 on-base percentage attests to.
"He's done a great job hitting in that No. 2 hole the entire four years for us," Torres says. "If you throw him a strike, he's going to smoke it and he got off to a hot start offensively this year and just kept it rolling."
Batting .347, Surrey has scored nine runs, including the three he scored while quietly going four for four in a 12-4 win over Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Babe Herman Tournament on Tuesday.
"I see my job as being the guy to get on base to get the ball rolling for the big hitters in the middle of the lineup," Surrey says. "I just try to go out there and make contact, whether I get a little bloop hit or a line drive double into the gap. Just as long as I get on base, I'm fine with that and I'm pretty sure the team's fine with that too."
Surrey's metronome-like consistency hasn't been achieved by accident, Torres says.
"He's so consistent and part of that is he comes and works hard every day," Torres says. "Because he works hard every day, he has a lot of confidence. It's inner confidence, he's not real boisterous or a loud guy, but his confidence comes from working hard, and when you work hard, you know you're prepared and you have an opportunity to succeed every time out.
"We just expect Elliot to be steady."
At this point, Surrey no longer needs to take it on faith that his hard work will pay off. In addition to his success on the field with the Falcons, he's also earned the opportunity to spend the next four years pitching at the Division I collegiate level with UC Irvine.
"I've learned through life that if you work hard, you'll get good results," Surrey says. "I've seen good results when working hard. It takes a lot of work to get there, but it really pays off in the end."
Torres says Surrey has had a lot of positive influences on his success, from his family at home to former Falcons now in pro ball who have retained a connection to the program right down to Crescenta Valley pitching coach Darrin Beer, who works with Surrey daily and calls his games.
"I think it's a combination of everything, but when you're this age, you make that decision yourself to say, 'Look, I'm going to be hard worker and I want to succeed and [hard work] is part of the deal if I want to really be good at this level and the next level,'" Torres says.
In the here and now, the next level is clearly defined for the Falcons – win league and prepare for a CIF run befitting the final year of Surrey and his senior mates in Falcons pinstripes.
"Our goal as a team was to just win as many games as possible and just get the best possible seeding for playoffs," Surrey says. "That way we go in knowing what to expect and just give ourselves the best chance that we can.
"It's our last year together and we've been together for four years now, so I think this is our year to click and put the pieces together and put on the table what we know we can. We know we have that ability."