REDLANDS — The Citrus Valley High baseball program is still emerging from the shadow of Yucaipa and Redlands East Valley, longtime powers in the Citrus Belt League.
That is fine with the Blackhawks, a team of gritty achievers that doesn’t mind the underdog tag.
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Citrus Valley pitcher/shortstop Blake Griffin said at a practice last week. “We’re underrated in the CBL.”
Blackhawks coach Jon Austin, the former Cajon coach, doesn’t mind the perception.
“Yeah, they have a little chip on their shoulder,” Austin said.“They’re just starting to believe in who they are as ballplayers.”
The Blackhawks have impressed so far. Through the end of last week, they were 11-2 overall and in first place in CBL with a 4-0 record.
They played REV (3-2) twice this week (too late for publication) and meet perennial power Yucaipa (3-1) three times next week.
Citrus Valley second baseman Cy Robertson said the Blackhawks were looking forward to the REV and Yucaipa games.
“We’ve always been rivals and we know a lot of guys on those teams,” Robertson said. “Beating them would feel good.”
Citrus Valley is led by Griffin, who is 4-0 on the mound with a 2.21 earned run average and 45 strikeouts against only 10 walks. He also hits .333 with nine runs batted in and has signed with Concordia University Irvine.
“I always feel I have to prove myself,” Griffin said. “I’m not the tallest or the strongest player, but I strike out a lot of guys who are hyped up on social media.”
At 6-foot, 185, Griffin is not Randy Johnson in stature, but he throws his fastball in the 88-90 miles per hour range and has touched 91.
The Blackhawks are also led by sophomore outfielder Riley Hunsaker, a USC commit who is hitting .476; Robertson (.467); and catcher Jared Snyder, a 6-2 junior catcher who is hitting .459 with 16 RBI and two home runs.
Griffin is complemented on the mound by sophomore right-hander Jacob Jacome who is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and is hitting .300, sophomore right-hander Marc Di Carlo Jr. (1-1, 3.15), senior right-hander Lucas White (2-0, 0.81) and seniorright-hander Luis Garcia (1-1, 1.75).
Hunsaker stands 5-10 and is a lean 155 pounds, but says he is not necessarily surprised by his success.
“Yes and no,” he said. “I guess I’m a little surprised at the way I’m hitting, but at the same time I feel like I should play at the level because I have high standards and try to outwork everyone.”
John Murphy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org