It used to be that pitching was the most important ingredient to winning a City Section baseball championship. The newest trend points toward catcher as the key position.
Woodland Hills El Camino Real won consecutive titles in 2015 and 2016 behind catcher Eric Yang, now a standout on NCAA title contender UC Santa Barbara.
He was followed as the most influential catcher by Johnny Tincher of Lake Balboa Birmingham. Tincher is trying to end his high school career with a third consecutive City Section Open Division championship on Saturday against Palisades at Dodger Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m.
It’s the end of an era for Tincher, whose defensive prowess, leadership skills and toughness have been the catalyst to Birmingham’s success. Last season he was the City co-player of the year.
Before his final high school practice, Tincher was limping in his shorts from taking a foul ball off his knee on Thursday night in a 1-0 win over Sun Valley Poly in which he gunned down two runners trying to steal second base, picked off another runner at first and drove in the game’s only run on a bases loaded walk.
Don’t think for one second he won’t be ready for his latest Dodger Stadium appearance. He’s the son of a former Marine. He was taught pain is no obstacle to success.
“I’m limping,” he said, “but you won’t see that in the game. I’m going to sprint.”
Tincher, who signed with Washington, has been banged up much of the season. First it was one knee, then the other. He doesn’t complain — he just adjusts. It’s been a tough season for him to focus. His sister, Amanda, a softball player, showed up in a wheelchair for Thursday’s game because of a second knee surgery for an injury. His grandmother is dealing with cancer.
“I just have to suck it up,’’ he said. “It’s the last game. We’re going to give it our all.”
The Patriots began the Open Division playoffs as the No. 8 seed after inconsistent pitching. They got a walk-off three-run double by shortstop Alex Ballesteros in the opener to beat San Fernando. They upset No. 1-seeded San Pedro. Then came a shutout by junior Gavino Rosales to beat No. 4 Sun Valley Poly.
Palisades pitchers haven’t given up any runs in 14 innings. Ohio State-bound Wyatt Loncar and Georgia Tech-bound Will Coquillard are both available. Birmingham could use freshman Chris Romero or Ballesteros in a game that could be pitching by committee.
San Fernando Valley teams have won 45 of the last 46 upper division championships and 26 straight since San Pedro won in 1992.
Whatever happens, Tincher will be behind the plate ready to lead. “I’m always calming them down,” he said.