Acorns coach Matt Brotherton is all smiles as he walks back to the dugout as the team celebrates winning a second straight Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division championship. Photo by Chris Keenan.

When the Live Oak High baseball team got swept by Santa Teresa High to open the Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division season, the Acorns knew their margin for error was essentially gone if they wanted to repeat as A-league champions. 

They were near perfect after that. After starting the league season 0-2, Live Oak went 11-1 the rest of the way to clinch an outright championship. The improbable run was capped by a 6-2 home win over Willow Glen on May 13 in the regular-season finale. 

Entering the final week of division play, the Acorns were tied with Branham and Santa Teresa for first place. But they beat Willow Glen on May 11, while Branham and Santa Teresa both lost, setting Live Oak up to clinch the title outright two days later. 

And that’s exactly what the Acorns (18-8) did. Landon Stump, a UCLA-commit, allowed just two hits and one earned run over six innings while striking out eight, and Diego Castellanos went 3-for-4 with three RBI to power the team to victory. 

Live Oak will most likely get slotted in the top Division I bracket for the Central Coast Section playoffs, which start on May 21. That seemed like an unlikely scenario as three of the team’s top six arms—Aidan Keenan, Tyler Klopp and Trevor Kester-Johnson—were pretty much sidelined this season, though Klopp has been instrumental with his bat in the lineup.

This marks the first time Live Oak has won back-to-back BVAL A-league titles. 

“I’m incredibly proud of this group,” Acorns coach Matt Brotherton said. “The resilience, the grittiness this bunch showed is second to none than any team I’ve ever coached. To go from 0-2 to start league, that’s a big uphill battle, and I’ve never seen it done by any team as long as I’ve been coaching. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done, but it’s very rare and very difficult to do that. In some aspects, I think it helped us that we had our backs against the wall from week one. 

“We had to keep winning and the entire team stepped up. Everyone on the team contributed. It’s just a great bunch and it didn’t start out that way. They had a lot of player-only meetings to start the season because we didn’t get off to the start we expected to and they figured something out and started playing for each other rather for themselves. And good things happen when you do that.”

Much was expected out of the Acorns this season since they returned a solid core group of players from a team that went 17-3 last year, won the Mount Hamilton Division championship and advanced to the Division I playoffs. The 2022 season has had its ups and downs, starting with injuries and inconsistent play. 

But through it all, the team persevered to repeat as A-league champions. 

“It was definitely a grind,” Stump said. “Winning the title was kind of a relief and celebration at the same time because we had to work our way back up. Last year, I kind of don’t want to say it was easy, but it definitely wasn’t this challenging. We faced a ton of adversity with the injuries to our arms and bats. Every time we play, we’re the smallest (numbers-wise) in the league. Sometimes we went out there with 12 healthy guys. It feels great we were able to push through it and accomplish this.”

Stump has gotten the job done on the bump and as a hitter this season. While Castellanos has no doubt been Live Oak’s most productive hitter and put up MVP-type numbers—he leads the starters with a .488 average, 10 doubles, 40 hits, 33 RBI, a .563 on-base percentage and slugging 1.234—Stump has a .406 average, 1.232 slugging percentage and a team-best .718 slugging mark, proving that while he’s known for his pitching, he can hit some, too. 

Senior shortstop Cole Wilson got on a hot streak in the final couple weeks of the league season, and his speed has been on display all season. He was a perfect 5-for-5 on steal attempts in the first game against Willow Glen and is 24-for-25 on the season. 

He’s also second on the team in runs scored and on-base percentage and third with a .371 average. Dominic Pereira, Ethan Lopez and Justin Kester-Johnson have all been consistent throughout the season with some incredibly productive games.

Michael Volkman, Alexis Perez and Andrew Giordenango—the team’s Nos. 7-9 hitters in the league finale—have also contributed, with Giordenango going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Willow Glen had just tied things up at 2-2 in the top half when the Acorns scored four runs, two coming from Giordenango’s homer and the other off the bat of Castellanos, who smoked a single to center field. Even without the services of Keenan, Klopp and Kester-Johnson on the mound, Live Oak’s pitching has been tremendous at times. 

Stump is 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA and 92 strikeouts over 57 innings, and Sullivan Elliott proved to be a reliable workhorse with 45 innings pitched and a 2.80 ERA. Volkman, Castellanos and Caleb Elam are the only other Live Oak pitchers who have gone 15 or more innings this season. 

Stump has pitched seven more innings than he did last year, a byproduct of the team having a full schedule. With the absence of a premier arm like Keenan, a Stanford commit who is No. 14 nationally in the class of 2023 rankings by Prep Baseball Report, Stump is the unquestioned No. 1 pitcher Brotherton will call on in any situation. 

Stump, who is No. 20 in the 2023 rankings with a fastball that regularly sits in the low 90s, enjoys the game and has an insatiable appetite to improve.

“I know I have to tighten things up before the playoffs,” he said. “We faced some adversity this season. It was a team grind, but also a personal grind. I changed things up and made some adjustments. I was used to just blowing it by people, but this year I had to locate my fastball more. All the miles per hour help, but you need to locate and mix up pitches, and that’s what I’ve been working on. Once I started to lock in on all that, it became easier.”

Stump likes to throw his slider around 10mph slower than his fastball. Stump’s slider has a sharp break to it and keeps hitters off balance so they’re unable to gear up exclusively for his fastball. 

“Ten mph is about the change of speed that helps throw off some of the batters,” he said. “It looks like a fastball and then slopes at the last second.”

Acorns ace Landon Stump delivered another gem in a 6-2 win over Willow Glen on May 13. Photo by Chris Keenan.
The Live Oak High baseball players congratulate each other after a title-clinching win on May 13. Photo by Chris Keenan.
Mateo Torres and Cole Wilson jump in celebration after the Acorns scored a run in a 12-8 win over Willow Glen on May 11. Branham and Santa Teresa lost on the same day, setting Live Oak up to win the league title. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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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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