The La Cañada High baseball team looked to bounce back from a disappointing 2018 campaign and regain the Rio Hondo League title.
With the goal set, the Spartans marched on to win their second league title in three seasons under coach Matt Whisenant.
Along with the title, the team received its share of all-league accolades, including pitcher of the year and most value player honors.
Spartans right-handed pitcher Ryan Graves was named the Rio Hondo League’s Most Valuable Player as a result of his strong efforts on the mound and at the plate.
Connor Buchanan, a senior right-hander, earned the league’’s pitcher of the year.
Graves, a San Jose State University commit and two-sport athlete who was a standout on the Spartans’ boys’ basketball program, finished the season 8-3 with three complete games and one shutout in 11 starts. The senior, who was also the league co-MVP in basketball, pitched 70 1/3 innings and recorded a 1.89 earned run average with 64 strikeouts, seven walks, 70 hits and 19 earned runs.
Graves hit .424 and had 16 runners batted in, 28 hits and 14 runs scored in 66 at-bats. He also tallied six stolen bases.
“He’s earned the respect of not only his teammates and coaches, but the rest of the league and that’s why he’s so deserving of this award,” Whisenant said. “Every time he took the mound, he gave us a chance to win. On top of that, he had an outstanding year at the plate, which was kind of unexpected. If not for him, we don’t win as many games.”
Buchanan boasted a stunning 0.76 ERA in 46 1/3 innings. In three starts and five saves, Buchanan yielded five earned runs on 26 hits, struck out 60 and walked 14 for a 3-0 record.
At the plate, Buchanan hit .299 and drove in 24 runs with 26 hits, including eight home runs. He scored 33 runs and recorded seven stolen bases.
“The kids are deserving of the recognition,” Whisenant said. “I’m glad that they were noticed. I think it means a lot, especially when they’re noticed by the other coaches in the Rio Hondo League as to how successful they were and how much they mean to our team.
“If you look at those guys that are on the first and second team, the MVP and the pitcher of the year, they all had their own roles and they played them incredibly effectively to get us to where we got at the end.”
Spartans junior Ian Tinkham and senior Tai Walton were all-league first-team selections.
Tinkham hit .320 with seven RBI, 37 hits and 21 runs scored to go along with 11 stolen bases. Walton hit .323 for 18 RBI, 30 hits, including three home runs, and 21 runs scored. He also tallied 17 stolen bases.
Earning spots on the second team were junior Jason McCubbin (.311, nine RBI, 23 hits, six runs scored), freshman Luke Fogarty (.234, 20 RBI, 18 hits) and senior Zach Feehan (.277, 10 RBI, 13 hits, nine runs scored, nine stolen bases). Feehan shared the league co-MVP honor with Graves in basketball.
“I just think this graduating class is a tremendous one, with the likes of Connor, Ryan, Tai and Zach,” Whisenant said. “To have those four kids in the same class doesn’t happen often — not even in private schools. It’s nice to have the luxury of having those types of kids, especially for the first three years that I’ve been coaching here. It’s a nice luxury.”
With a league title under its belt, La Cañada embarked on a historic postseason run that culminated in the program’s first CIF Southern Section championship game appearance. The Spartans (22-8 , 10-2 in league) fell to Great Oak, 7-0, in the Division III title contest at Dodger Stadium.