La Cañada baseball's Clayton Herrmann takes Rio Hondo League's top honor

Perhaps no single player better symbolized the turnaround season the La Cañada High baseball team enjoyed than Clayton Herrmann.

Brought up to the varsity team as a sophomore to play shortstop, Herrmann had been a mainstay with the Spartans the past three seasons. In 2013, he went from a recognizable face to a feared one. He stepped into much bigger roles in his senior season, as a team captain and emotional leader, offensive spark and closer on the mound.

After wearing all those hats, Herrmann was named the Rio Hondo League co-Most Valuable Player with Monrovia's Chris Burkholder to fulfill a longtime personal goal.

"It definitely wasn't something I told anyone, but it was in the back of my mind," Herrmann said of his goal to be MVP. "We sat down at the beginning of the season and wrote down our individual goals, it's not something I put down, but it's definitely something I wanted to be."

It's the first time Herrmann has ever received an all-league honor, as he never received a first-, second-team or honorable mention selection the previous two years.

"He'd never got nominated for any award," said first-year La Cañada Coach Alex Valadez, who also had three first-teamers in Johnny Selsor, Scott Moulin and Justin Lewis after the Spartans won the league title for the first time in eight years after tying for last place a year ago.

Herrmann was most dominant as a pitcher. He emerged as the team's closer and logged a 2-0 record with six saves after not allowing a single run until the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs to post a 0.50 earned-run average.

La Cañada's stopper also struck out 15 batters, walked four and allowed 10 hits in 11 appearances and 14 innings pitched to post a .196 (10 for 52) batting average against.

"There wasn't one specific game or time where he told me I'd be the closer," Herrmann said of Valadez, "but it definitely got to the point where I felt if it was late in the ballgame and he came to the mound, I was the one he would call on."

Herrmann led La Cañada in a number of offensive categories — batting average (.355), runs (14) and also tied Selsor for the lead in runs batted in (14) and with Moulin and George Steckbeck for doubles (five). His on-base (.453) and slugging (.435) percentages and six stolen bases were both top-two marks for the Spartans.

"It definitely feels good, but it doesn't just come from myself," Herrmann said of being named MVP. "It helps when you have the whole team behind you and they have faith in you and know you can do it. It helps when everyone is pushing each other and they all come together."

While Herrmann produced at the top of the Spartans batting order, Selsor was at the heart of it. The junior batted third in the lineup most of the year and posted a .352 (25 for 71) batting average, which was right behind Herrmann's for second best on the team. He was also second in runs scored (13) and led the team in slugging percentage (.451), triples (two) and added three doubles.

"Gosh, he's pretty much solidifies our lineup; he really does," Valadez said of Selsor, who struck out just four times this year. "He should have hit over .400 this year, the problem was he'd smoke balls and just hit them right at somebody, that's just a fact."

Selsor was also a wall behind the plate. He committed just two errors all season on 98 total chances for a .980 fielding percentage. He also caught 11 of 28 would-be base stealers.

Like Herrmann, Moulin hadn't received any all-league honors until this season. The senior first baseman batted .311 (19 for 61) with 11 RBI and nine runs. He also made just one error in 112 chances.

"He's one of those kids that just has the work ethic behind everything he does," Valadez said. "It was one of those years, with certain kids you have a feeling they're going to start performing to their ability and I had a feeling that was going to happen with him."

Lewis was a bit of a surprise for the Spartans this year. The junior was converted to a pitcher after Valadez saw him showcase his arm from left field during a game early in the year.

"I looked at him throw it and was like, 'Wow,'" Valadez said. "I hadn't seen him throw much and he threw a bullet from the left-field fence on a line to third base. …He has a good arm, so we decided to pitch him. It was just one of those things."

Lewis quickly became the Spartans' ace of the staff. He posted a 3-2 record, 2.53 ERA, held the opposition to a .199 batting average against and struck out 33 batters to 13 walks. He threw a total of 38 2/3 innings in eight appearances and seven starts, including a complete game.

He also batted .214 (12 for 56) with nine runs, six RBI, three doubles and a triple.

La Cañada also had a trio of second-teamers in outfielder George Steckbeck, pitcher Alex Bang and second baseman Jacob Yonan.

Steckbeck batted .340 (18 for 53) with 10 runs, six RBI and five doubles. The junior also logged team-best .455 on-base and .434 slugging percentages. As a pitcher, he posted a 1.79 ERA , 16 strikeouts to 14 walks and 1-2 record in 27 1/3 innings.

Bang recorded a team-best 5-1 record with a 2.96 ERA through 28 1/3 innings pitched. The senior struck out 19 batters and walked just four.

Yonan batted .212 (14 for 66) with 13 RBI. The junior also stole a team-high eight bases and maintained a .975 fielding percentage after committing two errors in 81 chances in time spent at second and shortstop.

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