Playoff appearance caps strong season for baseball team


Neima Fax

POWER: Senior Yakir Kanefsky loads up to swing in the Firehawks’ 8-7 victory over the YULA Panthers April 14. The baseball team made the playoffs but lost 13-9 against the Hillcrest Christian Saints in the first round on May 2.

After having a season last year that was described as a “debacle” by parents, the boys baseball team finished this season playing 17 games and making the playoffs.

The Firehawks finished the season 8-7 but fell 13-9 to the Hillcrest Christian Saints of Thousand Oaks in the first round of the CIF playoffs on May 2.

Head Coach Brad Gunches said a lack of playoff experience contributed to the loss.

“They looked a little nervous,” said Coach Gunches, who became the head coach in January. “Playing in the playoffs is a lot different than playing in a regular game and it’s very hard to coach kids how to play a playoff game.”

“Either you win or you go home.”

And they went home. In that game, the Firehawks jumped to a quick 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning. However, they blew the lead when the Saints responded with 10 runs in the bottom of the first, most unearned due to errors.

“We fell apart,” Coach Gunches told the Boiling Point.

The team rallied and chipped away at their six-run deficit but it was too little, too late, and they ended up losing by four. Junior Jonah Tochner said that the playoff game was symbolic of their whole season.

“We started off strong in the first inning, went down by I think six runs in the second inning, but we never let that get to us,” said Jonah, who plays shortstop and pitcher. “We kept fighting, and I think that’s indicative of our whole season.”

He knew what we wanted; he wanted us to be comfortable in our positions. The coach actually wanted us to get a lot better, and he actually believed that we had what it took to win.

— Josh Harrison, 10th Grade

Junior outfielder Zach Helfand was upset to have had the team’s playoff run end in the first round.

“It was frustrating,” said Zach. “Especially the way we lost it, we kind of gave them the game.”

Sophomore Josh Harrison, who plays shortstop and third-base, was happy to have made the playoffs.

“It was amazing,” Josh said. “Such a good feeling to actually accomplish that this year.”

The Firehawks last made the playoffs in 2017, but lost 13-3 in the first round with their seniors absent in Poland and Israel.

Despite the loss, Athletic Director Jeff Remer said the baseball program has improved substantially from last season.

“Baseball’s on the upswing,” said Coach Remer. “I think that it’s only going to move in the right direction from here.”

Coach Remer said that the baseball program is now legitimate.

“People will take it seriously,” he said. “Kids understood that baseball was serious.”

Two years ago, the team went 7-8-1, and last year, the team finished 5-10.

“We made the playoffs of course, which was one of my biggest goals,” Coach Gunches said. “Next year we’ll be even better, cause there were a lot of times where we only played with nine players.”

His players agreed.

“I want to go further,” said Zach. “I want to make a drive in the playoffs.”

The team currently has five juniors poised to lead the team next year as seniors. This year, they had three seniors, but none were on the team last season as juniors. Players are already beginning to recruit incoming ninth-graders for next year.

Although he said the season was great, there’s still room for improvement, said Coach Gunches.

“We could’ve done a lot better… and there were a couple of games that we could have pulled out, could’ve won,” he said.

Next year, the team will have a longer regular season and a winter program with weekly practices and scrimmages. Freshman second-baseman Andrew Petlak expects the hard work will pay off.

“That’ll be better for our team chemistry,” said Andrew.

According to Coach Remer, the team will have Fairfax High School’s baseball field for games and practices, and on Sundays, will play at Valley College against other Jewish day schools.

Josh Harrison said everything about this season was better than last.

“The practices are just so much more efficient and better; we actually did drills that could help us in the game,” Josh said.

Josh said that Coach Gunches was especially supportive of the team.

“He knew what we wanted; he wanted us to be comfortable in our positions,” Josh said. “The coach actually wanted us to get a lot better, and he actually believed that we had what it took to win.”