Coach Abshier and the Griffin’s baseball team takes a 7-5-1 record heading into game two of their three-game series against San Bernardino. With the help of Justen Burkey who is sporting a team-leading .348 batting average and Griffin ace, Donavon McCrystal, Abshier expects to “win the championship”, repeating their success from 2016.
Although the accolades of winning coach of the year and a 200 victory career are important to Abshier in his 17-year coaching tenure at Grossmont, that’s not what he takes the most pride in. “What gives me the most satisfaction at Grossmont is seeing my student-athletes move on to the next level. It’s not about my win-loss record at all,” said Abshier. “People would say ‘congrats on your 200th victory!’ The first thing I’d say is that it’s not about me. The student does the work to get out of here. They just make me look good.”
Along the way, Abshier has learned a lot while under former Grossmont College baseball guru, Ed Olsen. Olsen retired at Grossmont at age 71 with a 516-373-7 record which put him as one of the top-10 winningest coaches in community college history. “Olsen used his knowledge as a baseball historian as a means of motivation to get his message across,” said Abshier.
Abshier went on to say the beautiful thing about community college is that “here, we give people second chances and show them the steps they need to get to four-year universities. 97 percent of my ball players at this program receive some sort of financial help to play baseball at the next level. When colleges hear my players go to Grossmont College, they know what they’re getting.” 2016 Coach of the Year, Abshier reiterated the fact it’s not just him, “I have to applaud Grossmont. We have great academics here.”
In Abshier’s coaching career he’s assisted in preparing 22 professional baseball careers and has seen one of his former baseball players, Sean O’Sullivan, blossom into a major-leaguer.
This coming season appears to be a promising one for the Griffin’s ball club. “We’re bringing a lot of the guys back from last year who bring the winning tradition with them. Those sophomores and the leadership they have is one of our biggest strengths. Plus, along with them the freshmen have stepped up,” said Abshier. “By seasons end our goal should be to win a consecutive championship despite losing some players to big time four-year programs.”
One of those players they lost last year to University of Nevada Las Vegas was Alan Strong who just won Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Week after pitching in a 6-1 win over Cal State Fullerton, the number seven team in the country.
However, so far this season Abshier and his team have had some troubles with weather as the rain has not been kind to them. “We call ourselves road warriors,” Abshier laughed. “We’ve been ran off the field due to all this rain lately and that’s tied our hands behind our back in preparing for this year.”
Despite the weather inconveniences, I wouldn’t read too much into their record. Most of their losses have come in tight, one-run games that could’ve gone either way.
For continued success, “it all starts on the mound” according to Abshier. “What’s key to our success is a strong pitching staff and a solid bullpen. In high school, it’s innings one though seven, but in college it’s seven through nine and that’s where games are won and lost.”
A member of Abshier’s strong starting rotation is sophomore ace, Donavon McCrystal. Last season, McCrystal bolstered an 11-1 record with his only loss coming in the final game of the year and also led the state in a lot of pitching categories. McCrystal has received a scholarship to play at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and will be attending UNLV next year.
McCrystal shares the same expectations with his coach, “Last year we were so close to going to Fresno so that’s got to be on our to-do list along with winning another conference championship.”
“This year our coaches did a good job in mentally preparing us,” McCrystal said when asked how they’ll accomplish their goal.
“This year’s been a little rough,” McCrystal said. “But we’ve won two in a row and I think we are going to keep this winning streak from here on out.”
“But it’s not just on the field where I’ve developed. In the classroom, Grossmont has helped me in becoming a better person,” McCrystal said.
With his 93 mph fastball, McCrystal says his personal goal is to pick up right where he left off and have another undefeated regular season by working even harder for his teammates. McCrystal, leading the team with a 2.83 ERA over 29 innings, says “there’s times when I’ll have two strikes on somebody and I’ll release the ball and already know it’s a strike before it hits the catcher’s mitt.”
On the other side of the ball is sophomore third baseman Justen Burkey who has been tearing the cover off the ball as of late. Early morning on March 3rd, Burkey broke out his finest pen and signed a letter of intent to play for Clark University in Iowa after receiving a scholarship.
Burkey drives from Valley Center to Grossmont to help Abshier’s program and don the Griffin jersey.
Burkey who has committed no fielding errors this season takes pride in his defensive prowess at the “hot corner”.
Carrying on his father’s love for baseball, Burkey gained his inspiration for playing the sport from his dad who passed away when he was young.
“If we can click like last year’s team that ended the regular season on a 13 game win streak we probably won’t lose another game. Last year we were only two games away from going to Fresno and we beat ourselves by committing too many errors,” said Burkey.
For the remainder of the year, Burkey says he’ll go up and compete during every at-bat and help his team in the field work towards a victory.
Grossmont College baseball has set the bar high in terms of expectations and has plans to reach them in Fresno, California in May.
The next home game for Coach Abshier and company is against Southwestern on Friday, March 10 at noon.