Balanced La Cañada Squad Looks to Make Another Big Run

Photo courtesy Eric Danielson
Ryan Graves is one of two key returners this season. The junior was named the Rio Hondo League’s Most Valuable Pitcher last year.

La Cañada High School baseball coach Matt Whisenant wasted little time in impacting the program. In his first season, he guided the Spartans to a Rio Hondo League championship and their first CIF Southern Section quarterfinal appearance since 1989.
However, his second season got tougher well before it began. The program graduated nine players and the team was bumped up to Division 3 after competing in Division 5 last year.
“We lost some key players from a year ago and it is tough to fill those spots,” said Whisenant, who graduated from LCHS in 1989 and played professional baseball. “Those guys over performed and did a great job.”
Despite the hurdles, there’s plenty of optimism from Whisenant. He will be counting on two returning All-Rio Hondo League pitchers, including Most Valuable Pitcher Ryan Graves. He and Connor Buchanan will keep the Spartans in games while the offense finds its groove.
“Having two of our top pitchers still here for another two years gives us confidence because we know we can stay in games. They are big contributors.”
The Spartans (3-2 overall record) opened the season with two tournament losses before going on a three-game win streak. The offense is showing signs of improvement, scoring 23 runs during the streak after being limited to two runs in the first two contests.
“Good pitching will lead to good hitting,” Whisenant said. “It gives players confidence. We’re teaching the same philosophy of quality at-bats. We’re going to produce good runs and put ourselves in good situations to get runs for our starters.”
The younger athletes are already showing great promise, including junior leadoff hitter Tai Walton. He has been getting on base and driving in teammates early in the season, as well as senior Andrew Nomoto.
“Andrew didn’t play for La Cañada last year and came back to us in the fall,” Whisenant said. “He has worked his tail off, and is a great overall player who understands the game and wants to win. He’s a great leader and solid addition to the team.”
The roster includes seven seniors, six juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen. It’s a balanced roster of youth and experience, but Whisenant plans on giving the younger players plenty of playing time.
“We have a few guys we’re going to push into the fire and let them get as much experience,” the former Major League Baseball player said. “Ian Tinkham is one of those guys who has good, raw talent but is still trying to understand the game. He’s going to grow into a good baseball player. Jason McCubbin Jr. is another young player is now our starting catcher. We groomed him a bit last year and kept him around the big guys. He might not be where he wants to be at the plate, but he’s done a great job of handling the pitching staff. Trevor Grey is another nice surprise for the coaching staff and has done a great job. He improved drastically at the plate and has worked very hard.”
With stellar pitching and a balance of youth and experience, Whisenant scheduled a more difficult schedule to accelerate their development and better prepare them for the challenges of the postseason.
“I think we’re putting ourselves in a good position,” Whisenant said. “We played a lot of good competition in the winter and we’re playing tough tournaments to get ready for league. When you’re a league champion, you have a target on your back. I want us to be prepared. I like our kids. They have a good mental disposition. I’d rather take losses in the beginning, and be 18-10 and go deep into the playoffs as opposed to going 23-2 and going out early.”
La Cañada will travel to Canyon Country to face Canyon in a nonleague doubleheader this Saturday at 11 a.m. The Spartans will open Rio Hondo League play next Friday, March 16, at Monrovia.

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