The Live Oak High baseball team was 4-1 entering Thursday's non-league contest against Homestead High. The Acorns returned several key starters off a team that was in the top division of the Central Coast Section playoffs last year. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

The Live Oak High baseball team proved it was one of the top eight teams in the entire Central Coast Section last season after making the Division I playoffs. 

This year, the Acorns aim to do what they couldn’t in 2021: get back to the top playoff division and win a game or more. 

“I think our lineup is better than last year even though we lost P.J. Kissee and Tyler Madden,” Acorns coach Matt Brotherton said. “We’ve been smacking the ball and hitting so many barrels. And we still have plenty of arms.”

In fact, Brotherton said the team has six quality pitchers, including five who can throw in the mid 80 mph range, and in Landon Stump’s case, the low to mid 90s. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound right-hander went 7-0 with a 1.42 ERA as a sophomore and in the last year has made a verbal commitment to play at UCLA after decommitting from Oregon.

Diego Castellanos, Trevor Kester-Johnson, Sullivan Elliott, Michael Volkman and Caleb Elam all have the capability to pitch effectively and be dominant at times. Kester-Johnson and Elam were both injured last year and their return has given the team an added dimension. 

“Caleb is a closer type of guy,” Brotherton said. “He throws hard and has a good curveball. Trevor is very gifted and talented and we’re looking for some good things out of him this year.”

Castellanos is a dynamic 6-1, 175-pound junior who plays mostly center field when he’s not pitching. Through the team’s first four games in which it went 3-1, Castellanos had put up some video-game type numbers: .727 average, .812 on-base percentage, seven RBI, a 1.000 slugging percentage and 1.812 OPS.

“I don’t know if Diggy has made an out yet,” Brotherton said. 

Just a sophomore, Volkman has already made his presence felt with some quality innings on the mound and some hits at the plate. When Volkman is not pitching, he’s a top-notch defensive infielder who is a threat to reach base every time he steps to the plate. 

“Michael is hitting the crap out of the ball,” Brotherton said. “He can really swing it.”

Live Oak returns premier talent Justin Kester-Johnson, the 2021 Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Junior of the Year. Justin and Trevor Kester-Johnson are twin brothers and Justin has made the move to right field this season after playing center last year. 

“Justin is a high motor kid and a real pleasure to coach,” Brotherton said. “You love to coach a kid who gives it his all. I’d love to have a dozen of those guys, but he’s a special and unique guy. He’s a monster: big, strong, fast and has the intelligence side of the game down as well.”

Another key returnee, catcher Tyler Klopp, was one of the team’s hottest hitters at the end of last season and looks to repeat or surpass his production from a year ago. Junior outfielder Dominic Pereira is off to a fast start and was a mainstay in the lineup last year and should be even better this season. 

Ethan Lopez is the team’s backup catcher but also can play other positions when Klopp is behind the dish. Lopez will also DH along with Elam and possibly Stump. 

Mateo Torres, a junior who plays second and third base, had a bases-clearing double in a season-opening win over San Lorenzo Valley and figures to be a key cog in the team’s march toward repeating as BVAL Mount Hamilton Division champions. 

Senior infielder Cole Wilson looks to have another standout season defensively. Brotherton said in all his years as Live Oak coach, he’s never had a bounty of players who could play a variety of roles. 

“We have a very different team than any team I’ve ever coached,” he said. “Many interchangeable parts with kids able to play all over the field. It makes it easy, but it also makes it difficult at the same time. A couple of kids are really good at a certain spot and it’s hard to not put them in there, and other guys can be just about as good and maybe with a stronger bat so we’ll have a lot of different lineups this year.”

Acorns ace Landon Stump has made a verbal commitment to play for UCLA. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Ethan Lopez, seen here hitting a towering home run against Christopher, should play a key role in the team’s success this season as a utility and backup catcher. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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