Before Zach Livingston went up to bat with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, he had already built up a mental scouting report on the Palma pitcher. San Benito High was facing its rival for the second and final time this season in the regular-season finale May 10, and Livingston had a chance to come through.
The center fielder delivered, driving a ball to deep left field for a walk-off hit. Before coming to the plate, Livingston had a conversation with assistant coach Angelo Loomis, something that happens in the normal course of a game.
“He’ll always give me a scenario and ask what I think a guy will throw in a certain count,” Livingston said. “He’s always keeping us thinking in the dugout, and that is one of the reasons why we’re more prepared at the plate. … (the Palma pitcher) had good velocity, but his ball looked really flat watching from the dugout. I figured I would get a couple of chances to get fastballs early in the count.”
And that’s exactly what happened, as Livingston drove a pitch that was middle in and smacked it to left field. Moments earlier, Livingston’s best friend, catcher Josh Cutler, had led off the inning with a double. The player who pinch ran for Cutler scored the tying run in what would be a 4-3 San Benito victory.
It was the season highlight for both Cutler and Livingston, who would love nothing more than to help the program to its first-ever Central Coast Section playoff championship. The No. 2 seed Balers (23-5) play No. 3 Valley Christian (27-3-1) in a CCS Open Division playoff semifinal on Tuesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium.
San Benito won a 3-2, eight-inning thriller over Santa Cruz last Saturday in the opening round when Marcus Aranda singled home Isaiah Bueno for the winning run. One of the team’s assistant coaches, David Marquez, coached several players on the team in Hollister Little League and Babe Ruth.
“He’s been with us every step of the way, and it would be really great if we could win it with the coaches we have on this team,” Livingston said. “They’re all pretty special coaches.”
As the catcher, Cutler knows he plays a vital role on the team. Communication with the pitchers and infielders is key, especially in crucial late-inning situations where the team that executes all of the fundamental plays—hitting the cut-off man or being in proper position defensively, for example—often plays a huge role in determining the game.
“Catchers see everything and they have the ability to take control in most situations,” Cutler said. “That was the biggest thing coming up to the varsity, was I needed to be louder and take on a leadership role. I need to be vocal and take charge in situations.”
Livingston feels the same way in manning the outfield, knowing he had to get more vocal to keep communication between the outfielders constant. Livingston has no problems diving for the ball; growing up, he used to practice diving for balls with his dad, David.
“I always had green stains on my shirt coming home,” Livingston said.
Cutler and Livingston are childhood friends, and their parents were friends long before the San Benito High seniors were born. Growing up, the families went on yearly camping trips to Collins Lake—it’s a man-made lake north of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada—and their best memories revolve around the time in the great outdoors.
Livingston said the families plan on going camping again before he and Cutler leave for college, Livingston to Liberty University in Virginia and Cutler to Chico State. Neither Cutler nor Livingston have plans to play in college, making their final games in a high school uniform an emotional one.
Whatever happens, Livingston and Cutler have thoroughly enjoyed the dynamics on this year’s team. Coach Billy Aviles praised the players for being selfless and coachable. Livingston said in his three years on the varsity squad, the 2018 team has the most chemistry.
“It’s really exciting to play on this team,” Livingston said. “It’s definitely the most cohesive team because there aren’t really any cliques. No one plays for themselves.”
After the Balers beat St. Francis of Watsonville 3-0 April 18, Livingston said one of the St. Francis coaches—who knows some of the San Benito players—touched upon the Balers’ team dynamics.
“One of their coaches said out of all of the great Hollister teams, this might be the least talented, but the best team Hollister has ever had because of the team dynamic,” Livingston said. “Obviously, we all get along, and I don’t think there could be a better team to make this CCS title run for how hard everyone has worked.”