Evan Lepak, Summer Staff Writer – The Golden State and the sport of baseball have been the ultimate duo for over a century, manufacturing some of the greatest players to ever step foot on the diamond.
Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman all were born and raised in Southern California, and current Major League Baseball standouts Stephen Strasburg, Joc Pederson and Aaron Judge hail from the state as well.
The California-to-MLB pipeline is likely to continue into the future, as the state is still a congested hot bed of baseball talent with soon-to-be household names stretching from the vast redwood forests up north, down to the Cali-Mexico border near Tijuana.
The San Diego League is no stranger to the type of pro prospects the area produces; There are around 150 Division I players — a large amount being from in and around San Diego —participating in the league’s second year from colleges all over the country.Some of those San Diego area natives made the life-changing decision to leave home and head to the East Coast to further their academic and athletic careers.
That group includes Boston College’s Mason Pelio, Columbia’s Austin Mowrey and Fordham’s Andy Semo. All three set forth a colossal amount of time to the game from early ages, putting themselves in position for impressive high school careers that garnered a plethora of Division I interest.
While California-based universities and colleges made their presence felt during the recruiting process for Pelio, Mowrey and Semo, the opportunities that awaited on the other side of the country couldn’t be passed on.
Flamethrower Mason Pelio’s mindset is unwavering, especially when it comes to being the best baseball player he can be.A lot of kids play multiple sports growing up to get a feel for what they want to pursue long term.For Mason, he didn’t need that. He’s known since elementary school what sport mattered the most to him. “My parents used to tell me, when there were sports on the TV growing up, all I ever cared about watching was baseball,” Pelio said. “That sparked my curiosity into playing when I was nine… From then on it’s just been ‘how can I get better at this sport? “I never really gravitated toward any other sport,” he said. “My parents would ask if I wanted to play other sports, and the answer was always no… It’s always been baseball. I’ve never really surrounded myself with anything else.”Pelio’s career began in Candia, New Hampshire, where he lived for a short period of time before heading back to Southern California; the difference between baseball in California and New Hampshire are substantial and Pelio grew as a player quickly by facing talented players a lot more consistently on the West Coast. “(Moving out here) absolutely helped elevate my game,” Pelio said. “I always thought Southern California was one of the more competitive places to play baseball. “Pelio admitted his development, both physically and mentally, was assisted by his youth coaches holding him accountable. “(The coaches) would tell you to go run or do pushups because you messed up a play,” he said. “I don’t think you get that as much on the East Coast… One sometimes needs a little ass kicking so they’re not a pushover, especially in baseball.”As Pelio’s skills on the baseball field evolved, his drive and determination spiked to a boiling point.
He enrolled at Rancho Bernardo High School — a program with a rich baseball history that helped generate MLB All-Stars like Cole Hamels and Hank Blalock — with an organized blueprint of what he wanted to accomplish.”There were a lot of draft picks coming out of (Rancho Bernardo), and I wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger beyond just high school ball. “A starter on the freshman team, Pelio could tell he was getting more and more acclimated to the game, especially on the mound. He wanted to make an immediate impact on his varsity team the next season, so he got in the training room and went to work.
Pelio transformed from 175 to 205 pounds in the off season and his throwing elevated significantly too. “I started getting more into (pitching), and I found ways to increase velocity,” Pelio said. “Weighted balls, jaeger bands, long-tossing, weightlifting. You get opened up to all these new ways of getting better, and I wanted to do all of them. “According to MaxPreps, he racked up 16 wins and nearly 150 strikeouts in over 121 innings of work during his high school career. His ERA (1.96) and opponent’s batting average (.186) were both under two, and he gained plenty of eyes in the recruiting process.While area schools like the University of San Diego and San Diego State came calling, Pelio had his eye on one college specifically. One that sat 3,018 miles from Rancho Bernardo High.”I always had my heart set on Boston College,” he said. “I never really looked at anything else, because I wanted to go to school on the East Coast… The plan was to move back to New Hampshire regardless after I graduated high school, so the thought was going somewhere close so my family could watch. “Pelio had been infatuated with the school from a young age after visiting. The campus felt like home and getting an opportunity to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference made the choice even more of a no-brainer. “I remember on my official (visit), one of the upperclassmen told me all I really had to do was work hard and show them and the rest of the team that I’m willing to work, and that that’ll pay off and take me where I wanted to go. “As a freshman, the off season grind did indeed pay off for Pelio, as he wasted no time making an impact for the Eagles. The Sunday starter from the beginning, he went 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA through his first seven starts; three of those victories came against Top-25 competition, which included a 7 2/3-inning gem against No. 3 North Carolina State, where he gave up just one earned run on two hits while striking out seven.He threw 62 total strikeouts his first season, which helped earn him a spot on the All-ACC Freshman Team in 2019. Now, after a slow start to his sophomore season that was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic response, Pelio’s focus this summer has been to finetune his mechanics and improve on the variety of pitches he has at his disposal that includes a four-seam and two-seam fastball, slider, change up and curveball.Since returning to California, he’s worked tirelessly with his pitching coaches and personal trainer Bobby Congalton, and in his mind, he’s seen major strides.”My pitching coach pulled up video of me side by side and I looked completely different from before (my sophomore season),” Pelio said. “I had no confidence in my location, my off-speed, my fastball velo I wasn’t able to ramp up. The past month and a half I’ve just been constantly working on making my mechanics efficient.”Pelio’s confidence has skyrocketed, and his fastball velocity has increased with it, reaching upwards of 100 miles per hour. A former mainstay on the Long Boarders roster in the San Diego League this summer, Pelio’s progress on the mound has temporarily come to a halt due to a recent injury. In spite of the minor setback, he’ll still be training in the weight room until late August, when he plans on revving up the arm again to get prepared for the fall and spring.And if his success this summer toward becoming the most well-rounded player on the mound he can be is any indication, the No. 26 college prospect for the 2021 MLB Draft (according to Baseball America) will only continue to get better in the future. “While I’ve been here training, I finally hit 100,” he said. “But like I said about not dwelling on the successes too long, I’m just thinking, ‘why can’t we reach 103?’ Having the arm strength is just a standout. In games I want to be 95 to 97 consistently… Everything else has also shot up now that I’ve gotten back to the mechanics I’m comfortable with.
—Austin Mowrey is a phenomenal athlete. A deep dive into his athletic background uncovers success in both football and baseball, beginning from the moment he was old enough to participate in a competitive sport.In fact, there was a time where the gridiron took up more of Mowrey’s time than the diamond did.Halfway through high school though, he decided it was time to focus all of his time and effort on one. So, he chose the path that he felt was more likely to take him in the direction he wanted to go.”I thought about it for a second,” Mowrey said, when asked if he considered pursuing football over baseball. “But football is a dangerous game. And at that point of my life, I thought baseball gave me the best opportunity to get a really good education.”Although the choice to walk away from a game he played religiously for a decade was difficult, his skillset as a baseball player enhanced with all of his energy now devoted to getting better with a bat in his hand.”I really saw some big improvements in my game, hitting-wise especially,” Mowrey said. “Being able to train during all of those months that I wasn’t playing football anymore was really beneficial for me.”Mowrey’s high school baseball career was at its peak during his senior season at Lo Jolla Country Day School. He played one season as a Torrey after spending his previous three years at Orange Lutheran High School near Anaheim.According to MaxPreps, Mowrey batted .505 as a senior; he collected 47 total hits that season, with 12 RBI and 10 extra-base hits in 28 games played. He showed promise on the base paths as well, stealing 15 bases in 16 attempts.His efforts earned him multiple accolades including being named to the 2018 Fox Sports San Diego County All-Star Team. The game was played at the home of the San Diego Padres (Petco Park) and featured 48 of the best players — including close to 20 who are playing in the San Diego League this summer —from San Diego area high schools.”It was awesome to get to play on that field against talent like that,” Mowrey said. “Being out there, it was just a great experience.”One of San Diego’s most promising high school prospects put himself in a great spot during the recruiting process to get the prestigious education he set out to receive.And it doesn’t get much more prestigious than the Ivy League.”My priority from the beginning was to strive for the highest education possible,” Mowrey said. “I had always dreamed of playing at an Ivy League school, whether that was Harvard, Yale or Columbia, whatever it was… We visited six or seven schools and after being at Columbia, I kind of knew that was the place for me.”Mowrey had offers from some of the top California baseball programs in Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and University of San Diego, along with Northwestern and Duke taking notice on the East Coast. But the connection Mowrey felt with Columbia made the choice obvious.At times, all of the transitions haven’t been easy to maneuver for him, but Mowrey has taken the changes in stride from the batting cages to the classroom.”There’s always a learning curve,” he said. “The speed of the game always picks up, whether it’s going from youth to high school to college, up to the pros… And academically, Columbia definitely lives up to what everybody says about it.”After being mainly a plug-in-and-play guy during his freshman and shortened sophomore seasons, Mowrey’s outlook for the 2021 season could look very different. He’s hoping to have a bigger role as a junior at Columbia by making yet another transition: from the infield to the outfield.An infielder for the majority of his baseball life, the outfield is still mostly uncharted territory for Mowrey. However, he’s already improving this summer after receiving some starts at the seven, eight and nine positions for the Jets.”I’m grateful to be able to get some reads out there,” Mowrey said. “Learn how to take angles on the ball, get balls to the (cutoff), make good throws to third and to home. You know, whatever it may be.”In addition to the reps, the reunions have been gratifying for the Columbia product.For Mowrey and a lot of the players in the league, their summer plans were altered drastically due to the broad cancellations of summer baseball leagues across the country. Despite the unpredictability gripping a lot of the league’s participants, the path the San Diego League has provided players to stay close to home and play with the guys they grew up competing with has been a blessing for many.On Mowrey’s team alone, there are a number of guys from the area who played summer ball together in high school that won a Junior Olympic Championship.”This is as good as it could be with the way things are, and I’m just happy to be playing and hanging out with a lot of my buddies again,” Mowrey said. “When you go to college, there’s a distance between you and those guys, and you don’t always hang out or talk like you used to… It’s been nice for this league to bring us back together again.”***Athletes put their bodies in harm’s way to be able to play and compete at the highest levels in their individual sports. The daily bumps and bruises are a part of the game, but sometimes a severe injury can derail a player’s path significantly.That’s what happened to Andy Semo during his high school playing days at the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California, and it almost cost him a chance to play Division I baseball.”Early summer of my sophomore year, I stepped on first base during an intersquad game, and I fractured my L3 (vertebrae) in my back,” Semo said. “It just cracked and didn’t heal right for a while after that.”Semo dealt with the break for the rest of high school, seeing a number of physical therapists and going through several non-surgical recovery processes to try to correct the injury.Despite the constant back issues, Semo played well during his senior year after sitting out much of his junior season. According to MaxPreps, he batted .350, while driving in 18 and collecting 13 multi-base knocks in 80 at-bats at the dish.The nagging injury lingered though, until Semo met with Joe Hippensteel — a California physical therapist with over 30 years of experience — who provided him with the right techniques to heal his lower back accurately.”It was tough,” Semo said. “Everyone just told me time off would fix it, but in reality, I needed to stretch it because of how tight it was… But it ended up working out. I’m in a great spot, I’m fully healthy now. Everything ended up working out well.”Thankfully for Semo, things did end up working out well because of one program; the only Division I school that stayed committed to him despite his injury history.”For a while, I thought I was going to stay on the West Coast because I grew up here,” he said. “But Fordham was too good of an offer not to take… They saw me two weeks before my injury and ended up offering me the Fall of my junior year.”The bright lights of New York City enticed Semo in spite of the cross-country tilt. He viewed it as both an opportunity and adventure he had to be a part of.The move came with adjustments, and one of the biggest for the Cali native was growing accustomed to the gloomy East Coast climate in the Bronx. A baseball player — especially at the catcher’s position — can be hindered by the chilly weather, so it’s imperative to take the proper precautions against the conditions. And funny enough, old fashioned hand warmers are Semo’s go-to behind the plate to keep his hands from bruising.”(The weather) really changed my preparation,” Semo said. “It’s a lot easier to tear something when it’s cold, and your body just feels tighter. I’ve definitely done a lot more stretching and foam rolling before competing to make sure my body is in a good position.”Healthy and rejuvenated, Semo received an abundance of playing time for the Rams during his first two seasons. He appeared in 40 games — including 30 starts — in that span.His freshman year — on his 19th birthday no less — he was a part of a Rams squad that won the Atlantic 10 Championship to advance to the program’s first NCAA Regional since 1998.Fordham advanced on a 4-3 walk-off win in 12 innings against Dayton; the same team the Rams lost to 17-4 just nine days prior.”It was one of the coolest baseball experiences of my life,” Semo said. “I’d love to win another A-10 Championship and then get another chance to win an NCAA Regional while I’m in college.”Semo had hit safely in five of six games before his sophomore season was cut short, and he’s been carrying that momentum with him into the San Diego League.”Everything was up in question, as far as summer ball went for me,” he said. “Luckily, this league turned out, and it’s really just as talented as the Northwoods League and some of the others… It’s crazy to see how much talent the San Diego area has.”Through 33 at-bats, he’s hitting .333 with a home run and six RBI for the Hooks, earning the final spot on the Sea Division roster for the SDL All-Star Game after winning the Twitter fan vote.Semo’s enjoying his time back in the San Diego area for the summer, taking advantage of the opportunity to surf, spearfish and lobster dive on the West Coast while continuing to get treasured reps on the baseball field at the same time.”I still love it in the Bronx,” Semo said. “But when it’s windy, 30 degrees outside and gray, I’m definitely thinking about the beaches out here… Coming back to San Diego and playing this summer compared to cold baseball in New York, I’ve kind of learned that San Diego is like baseball heaven. It’s the perfect place to play.”
Brewers capitalize on Sharks mistakes to win third in a rowBy Race Archibald, Summer Staff WriterThe Brewers held the Sharks to only five hits, and the league’s best team was never threatened in a 4-1 victory.Starting pitcher Brian Marquez (Colorado Springs) and closing pitcher Parker Askegreen (Palomar) both went three scoreless innings with just one hit allowed.“He’s full of deception,” Brewers Head Coach Matt Bergandi said about Askegreen. “When he goes out there it’s a funky delivery. It’s three different pitches for strikes and has a fourth one he can show. It’s a weird arm action, he slows it down and it’s methodical. I love it, every (pitching) staff has a guy like that and he’s been so dominant for us.”Askegreen has compiled a 0.43 ERA this summer in 21 innings with 16 strikeouts. He’s fired 11 consecutive scoreless innings in his last five outings.Michael Knorr (Cal State Fullerton) and Ben Aguilera (Corban University) combined to go three innings, and helped keep the lead the Brewers had for the entire game.One of Kyle Nevin’s (Baylor) two RBI came in the first inning, as the Brewers offense slowly jumped in front of the Sharks. The Brewers put up a single run in the first, third, fifth, and ninth inning. Michael Campagna (UC Davis) led the team with three hits, and started at first base instead of his usual spot behind the plate.“I’ve been used to first base, I played it at UC Davis this season for a bit,” Campagna said. “It wasn’t new for me, but it was cool being out there doing something different.Campagna was responsible for two Brewers runs, scoring on errors both times.“You have to capitalize on mistakes,” Bergandi said. “That’s what our team does a great job of. We find the little mistakes and errors and that’s when we slide in. Today we didn’t hit as well as we wanted but we were able to capitalize.”Nevin got the start at second base, who has now started at each of the four infield positions this summer.“He’s so reliable,” Bergandi said. “I can say ‘We’re going to put you in left field today,’ and he says he can do it, or have him play first or third, and even shortstop. I don’t want to say utility, because he’s so much more than that, because he’s a great fielder and hitter.”The only Sharks run came from an RBI single from Niko Diaz (Cal State San Marcos) in the fifth. Cole Percival (UC Riverside) went 4 1/3 innings with eight strikeouts and three unearned runs allowed, but it wasn’t enough as the Sharks lost their third game in a row. It was the third win in a row for the Brewers, who continue to rack up wins, and are now six games ahead of the next best team, the Hooks at 8-8.“We find ways to win,” Campagna said. “We make good opportunities from the other team’s mistakes and capitalize when we need to.”
Timely hitting lifts Hooks over ‘Boarders 7-4By Race Archibald, Summer Staff WriterIt only took five hits, but they came when it mattered the most for the Hooks as they defeated the Long Boarders 7-4.Jordan Thompson (LSU) delivered the go-ahead two-run double in the top of the ninth to give the Hooks a 6-4 lead. He would later score off a wild pitch to extend their lead to three.“We had two guys in scoring position and an opportunity to put the team ahead,” Thompson said. “I tried to hit the ball to a spot where nobody was on the field.”Mike Jarvis (San Diego State) entered the game in the eighth inning with his team down 4-3, hit a single, and later scored on an error to tie the game 4-4.The Hooks had taken an early 3-0 lead in the second, highlighted by Jacob Freedman’s (La Verne) RBI double. The ‘Boarders responded immediately with Taylor Meaux’s (Clarke University) second home run of the summer, a solo shot, and an RBI groundout from Tyler Weiner (UC San Diego).Hooks Head Coach Audie Afenir’s squad wouldn’t score for the next five innings, and went behind 4-3 in the sixth, courtesy of ‘Boarders outfielder Kade Kretzschmar’s (Dartmouth) game-tying RBI single and Trevor Hobbensiefken’ RBI fielder’s choice to put them ahead.“They did a great job,” Afenir said. “They kept us in the game the whole time. Guys did a good job coming off the bench for a good team win.”Hooks starting pitcher Carson Hamro (UCLA) went five innings, giving up two runs with five strikeouts. The trio working in relief for the Hooks; Austin Schroeder (Gonzaga), Brandon Dieter (New Mexico State), and Brandyn Lee-Lehano (Hawaii at Hilo), who picked up the win, surrendered only a combined two hits to the ‘Boarders.No one from either side had more than one hit, but Thompson had three RBI for the Hooks, getting the start in the leadoff spot.“I just want to have good at-bats,” Thompson said. “I’ve been struggling a little bit and I was trying to be slow at the plate and try to drive balls through the middle of the field.” Before their victory today, the Hooks had lost five of their last seven and were tied with the ‘Boarders for the Sea Division lead. They are now first in the Sea Division, and 2-0 against the ‘Boarders, which could be critical as the playoffs draw closer.“We feel really good going into Saturday,” Afenir said. “Everyone’s fresh and ready to go.