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High School

Column: Blake Reilly of Thousand Oaks goes from never pitching to ace

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Sophomore shortstop Max Muncy, left, and senior pitcher Blake Reilly have been major contributors for Thousand Oaks this season.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

When Blake Reilly entered high school and told the baseball coach he was a pitcher, the response was: “We already having pitching.”

He left Westlake High never making it higher than the junior varsity team as an infielder. He transferred to Thousand Oaks with twin brother Vince for his junior year but had to sit out a year because of transfer rules that penalize players who follow their club coach to a new school.

In his first varsity game as a senior, and first ever high school pitching performance, Reilly struck out 14 and threw a shutout against Oxnard Rio Mesa on Feb. 9

He’ll enter this week’s Southern Section Division 2 playoffs having thrown 31 consecutive scoreless innings and four consecutive shutouts. He’s 7-1 with an 0.84 ERA. The senior right-hander’s success is one of the most improbable stories of 2019.

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“He can fill up a zone with four different pitches,” said Thousand Oaks coach Jack Wilson, a former major league shortstop who met Reilly when he was 8 and coached him in club baseball. “He does a great job commanding the zone and making big pitches when he needs to.”

Reilly also has the advantage of having a talented sophomore shortstop in Max Muncy to give him confidence that balls hit on the ground will result in outs.

“It’s amazing,” Reilly said. “I’m more confident in throwing strikes and letting the ball hit to him. I know he’ll make the play.”

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On Monday, Thousand Oaks (23-5), the Marmonte League champion, will learn its opponent for a first-round playoff game on Friday.

The Lancers took a risk three years ago in hiring Wilson, a Thousand Oaks graduate and former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop. There’s no guarantee that someone who played pro ball will be a good teacher-coach.

“It’s how you can translate it to the kids,” Muncy said. “You can have all the knowledge, but if you can’t relate it to a kid that’s our age, you’re not going to be able to coach. You have to be able to give kids information in a way they’ll understand. He does a great job with that. He’s established the program to where you can understand when he’s disappointed without saying anything.”

Said Wilson about coaching: “It’s coming up with a philosophy how you’d like your program to be run. How to play the game, how you want them to act on the field. We remind them we’re there to help them. We’re there to teach. We don’t win games.”

Muncy, who shares a birthdate with the Dodgers’ Max Muncy but is not related, is batting .414 with 25 RBIs and three home runs. He’s one of the best unsigned sophomore players in the Southland. He said he is being patient in the college recruiting process, having learned from his father, Mike, who was drafted three times after graduating from Camarillo and was too quick to choose his college.

“Eighth-grade year, you start hearing kids commit,” Muncy said. “Freshman year, everyone is committing. It’s like a big deal the earlier you commit. This year, it’s been like I know I’m going to end up somewhere but I want to make sure the place is where I want to be. I don’t want to get out of high school, ‘Wow I chose way too early.’”

This week, Reilly and his brother, an outfielder, will finally get to see what it’s like to participate in a playoff game. Blake, who is headed to Grand Canyon University after the high school season is completed, has already overcome a coach not giving him a chance to pitch. But more important, he learned in his year without baseball what he’d be missing.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I love playing this game, but as soon as it’s gone, you just miss it even more.”

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @latsondheimer


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