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FOSTER SNELL, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER
San Clemente coach Dave Gellatly was impressed the first time he saw catcher Lucas Herbert's skills two years ago: ‘We got the next Carlton Fisk,' Gellatly said.

No limits on San Clemente's Lucas Herbert

STAFF WRITER

SAN CLEMENTE – Following San Clemente’s championship baseball game in the National High School Invitational on March 28, Coach Dave Gellatly let loose an insightful quote about his team’s senior catcher, Lucas Herbert.

“Maybe you guys have figured this out and maybe you haven’t, but (the coaches) haven’t called a single pitch all year long. He knows how to get hitters out, he knows how to block balls, he knows when to back pick and he makes us look like great coaches. It’s all him.”

The Tritons had just completed a 4-0 sweep in the prestigious tournament at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C., doing so without their ace, Kolby Allard. Through the tournament, Herbert guided San Clemente’s pitching staff, which was forced to stretch over four days of competition.

Herbert later told reporters he reminded the pitching staff it was just like pitching at home. They certainly looked comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.

Herbert follows in a tradition of talented catchers coming out of the Tritons’ program in recent years. Gellatly said Herbert has the potential to be a big leaguer, which is a claim he’s made about only two other players in his coaching career – one of them being batterymate Allard.

Gellatly has had nothing but praise for Herbert since he arrived from Georgia before his sophomore season. Herbert not only provides the physical tools needed to play catcher, his leadership and management abilities have helped the Tritons keep their pitching staff under control.

But how did the longtime San Clemente coach feel when Herbert first showed off his skill set two seasons ago?

“We got the next Carlton Fisk,” Gellatly said, referring to the Hall of Fame catcher. “He was pretty impressive when he came in as a sophomore. You see faults, but with him there just weren’t as many.”

INSTINCTS, OBSERVATIONS

Herbert is quick to say the pitchers are just as responsible for the team’s low ERA as he is.

Since he joined the Tritons, he has called pitches for San Clemente’s hurlers, giving Gellatly one fewer thing to worry about on a game-by-game basis.

“In the baseball community, everyone knows everyone,” pitcher and first baseman Will Tribucher said. “He might come out and talk to you in the middle of the game and say, ‘This guy struggles against the curveball.’”

Herbert’s instincts and observations have helped the Tritons to a 16-4 record and a slim staff ERA of 1.66. San Clemente has maintained its No. 1 ranking in Division 2 all season.

In addition to calling pitches, Herbert tips off the coaches when it might be time to turn the game over to the bullpen.

“In the (NHSI) championship game, (Tanner) Lawson was pitching and he walked a guy and gave up a hit,” Gellatly said. “I was going out to get him anyway, but before I did, Lucas gave me the sign that he was done. He almost acts like a fourth coach.”

Herbert said everything clicked during the late March run to the NHSI title. Everyone was on the same page.

Herbert’s ability to recognize tendencies and study the opposition has helped his staff to a new level of comfort on the mound.

“I like calling pitches because I can see what the batter’s doing, see holes in the swing and help my pitchers that way,” Herbert said. “I’ve always felt comfortable with it.”

MIDDLE OF THE ACTION

Upon his arrival at San Clemente, Herbert was welcomed by teammates and became part of the family.

Herbert grew up in Pasadena as a UCLA fan and the oldest of Mike and Cathy Herbert’s three children. His parents were both athletes; Mike pitched at Whittier College, while Cathy ran track for the Poets. So it’s only natural their three children are also involved in sports.

Though Herbert has played baseball since age 5, his father threw him behind the plate in a Little League game when he was 12, noting he had the arm strength to throw out potential base stealers.

Herbert fell in love with the position because it allowed him to be involved in every play. Some players go multiple innings without so much as touching the baseball, while catchers have to focus on every pitch.

“When you’re 12, everyone steals on the first pitch,” Herbert said. “If you walk someone, it’s like giving up a triple.”

Gellatly was impressed by the fearlessness with which Herbert played the position, noting his catcher was unafraid to block the plate though it meant absorbing contact.

“He was so good at it that our outfielders were conditioned to throw to the plate whether there was a play or not,” Gellatly said. “We would allow runners to head to second base on those throws, but we were recording outs and winning ballgames.”

A BIG DECISION

The Herbert family had moved to Milton, Ga., two years before Lucas entered high school, but they traveled back to California during his freshman year so he could participate in a showcase at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium.

The Bruins coaching staff saw enough potential in Herbert to make him an offer, which he gladly accepted. Despite the decision, San Clemente still sees heightened scout attendance at its games. Herbert doesn’t mind the extra attention, nor talk of being a potential draft pick in June. He just goes out and focuses on what the team needs to do to win.

“It’s nice to already have that set,” Herbert said. “It’s just not something I think about, I just go out there and play. If someone likes you they like you, but you just have to do your thing.”

Since starting at San Clemente, Herbert has blossomed. This season, Gellatly placed Herbert at the leadoff spot in the batting order. He leads the team with 31 hits and 12 extra-base hits.

As if the work he puts in behind the plate wasn’t enough, he gets on base in nearly half of his plate appearances, making the job of those batting behind him that much easier.

“It’s good to have a guy their age that they trust and can depend on in a game situation and he’s always been that guy,” Gellatly said. “His potential, there are no limits. We knew this group was going to be special, but bringing in a catcher of his caliber is just icing on the cake.”

Contact the writer: npercy@ocregister.com


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