Westlake High’s baseball team didn’t make the playoffs or win many games—but it’s not the end of the world.
“This is where I made all my best friends and where I have had all my best memories,” said senior catcher Jack Ingles minutes after playing his last game in a Warrior uniform on May 10.
Entering the last week of the regular season, the Warriors had a chance to qualify for the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 postseason. They lost the final two games to Oaks Christian, however, and finished the spring with a 10-17 record, including 5-10 in the Marmonte League.No one in the senior class will continue playing Division I baseball, but the squad is loaded with talented, smart and well-spoken players with bright futures. Ingles enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He leaves for boot camp in San Diego on June 25.
Cade Kritsch, a junior center fielder, sports a 5.0 grade-point average. He wants to play baseball and study engineering at a top academic university on the East Coast.
Matthew Habermann, a senior right-handed pitcher, notches a 4.35 GPA. He will study business at Santa Clara University.
“We want to develop the kids and do things the right way,” said Zack Thornton, the squad’s firstyear head coach. “We want to do it the right way to get them ready for the next level.”
Thornton, who graduated from Oak Park in 2006, is technically an interim coach. Westlake will open the job up to school district employees, and Thornton will apply for his own job.
The skipper, who began his coaching career assisting Westlake in 2012, believes he can provide stability to a program that has rifled through more coaches than George Steinbrenner at a firing squad convention on Rikers Island.
Thornton has enjoyed a prosperous and eventful playing career.
The pitcher suited up at Ventura College, got drafted by the San Francisco Giants, played at the University of Oregon, got drafted again (this time by the Oakland A’s), signed a contract and played pro ball with the A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets organizations. In that time, he also faced off against Alex Rodriguez.
In what he called one of the top-three experiences of his playing career, Thornton was invited to pitch for Team Israel during the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The darling underdog of the tournament, Israel won its first four games and came within one win of reaching the semifinals at Dodger Stadium.
The Warriors hope a disappointing finish this spring will inspire the team to improve in Thornton’s second year at the helm.
“There should be more motivation for the guys coming back next year to play with more intensity,” Ingles said.
Several members in Ingles’ family have served in the military, including his grandfather Bill Ingles, who fought in World War II with the U.S. Marines.
“I want to make a difference,” Jack Ingles said. “I’m not scared but nervous for the unknown. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ingles is selfless on the field, too.
“He’ll sacrifice his body just to block a ball,” Thornton said of the catcher.
Ingles’ father, Paul, played water polo at UCLA.
Kritsch enjoyed a breakout junior campaign with the Warriors.
“He does everything the right way,” the coach said of Kritsch.
The center fielder will spend this summer with the Thousand Oaks-based So Cal Giants wood bat scout team. He will work on his hitting, attend academic showcases and continue practicing. He volunteers with the Assisteens charity group.
He’s already looking forward to the 2019 season.
“We should be really good next year,” he said.
Kritsch’s brother, Jackson, is a shortstop for San Francisco State.
Habermann worked hard to keep Westlake in the hunt for a postseason berth.
He pitched a complete-game shutout in the Warriors’ 3-0 win against eventual league champion Newbury Park on March 16.
“I had good command (that day),” Habermann said.
He has been an umpire with Westlake PONY Baseball for six years. He took a moment to reflect on his four years with the Warriors.
“It’s surreal kind of that it’s over,” he said. “It’s been bittersweet. We’ve had a lot of coaching changes and turmoil between parents and coaches for playing time. We try to cut through that, but it’s hard.”
Thornton called Habermann “our bulldog, our ace.”
“Every day, he was going to compete,” the skipper said of the pitcher. “He threw a lot of innings. He was eating up innings.”
Danny Hernandez, a junior first baseman, is a cleanup hitter for Westlake. His cousin, Eddie Hernandez, is a junior on the squad.
Sophomore twins Casey and Cato Kleinman fortify the infield. There’s another set of twins on the team: juniors Ryan and Colby Downard.
Jack Johnson, a freshman third baseman, has a bright future. He’s shown glimpses of being spectacular, the coach said.
Kevin Taylor, a junior second baseman, is a spark plug leadoff hitter.
Kevin Bleier, a junior who hits third in the lineup, embraced a transition to right field from shortstop.
Joe Alvidrez, Cole Bunker, Matt Calvert, Michael D’Amore, Trevor Hodges, Johnny Victor, AJ Villeda and Chase Walian are seniors. Juniors Brett Fornatoro, Christian Lymberopoulos, Chad McMillan, Justin Sprague and Hayden Vaughn boost the squad. Kenny Lawson, Chris Romero, Parker Hindle and Mike Ladwig bolster the coaching staff. Carson Lenz is the team manager.
In a positive development, Westlake’s freshman team went 22-6 this year.
“Our future’s bright,” Thornton said. “They’re a good group of kids. I enjoy coming to the field every day and seeing them.”
In a nutshell
• Zack Thornton (first season)
• Jack Ingles, senior, C
• Matthew Habermann,
• Cade Kritsch, junior, CF
• Danny Hernandez, junior, 1B
• Kevin Taylor, junior, 2B
• Jack Johnson, freshman, 3B
• Kevin Bleier, junior, RF
• 10-17 overall,
5-10 in Marmonte League
There are two sets of
twin brothers on the varsity
roster: Casey and Cato
Kleinman, and Ryan and
Colby Downard. Danny and
Eddie Hernandez are cousins.