CVCS’s Andre Antone’s focus on hitting helps power Eagles to CIF-SS quarterfinals
By Steve Breazeale
With the game hanging in the balance and a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals of the CIF-SS Division 4 playoffs on the line, Andre Antone confidently approached his coach, Clemente Bonilla, in the dugout with a proposition.
The Capistrano Valley Christian baseball team held a 6-3 lead over Burbank heading into the bottom of the seventh inning on May 23, and the Eagles’ standout senior wanted to close out the game.
Antone began the season as the team’s ace starting pitcher, but was shut down early when tendinitis flared up in his throwing arm. He entered the second-round playoff game having thrown just two innings all season, but now there was no pain and he was ready to go. Bonilla knew Antone had spent months building strength back up in his arm, and he didn’t hesitate to hand his ace the ball.
Antone’s inning didn’t go as planned.
He surrendered two quick singles and a walk to load the bases. He issued another free pass to score a runner, then gave up an RBI single that cut into the lead, 6-5.
Antone was rusty, but his fastball had plenty of zip on it. With the bases loaded and no outs, he fired another fastball and got the outcome he needed, a hard comebacker to the mound that he fielded and sent back to home plate, jumpstarting a double play. Antone got the next batter to pop up and end the game.
“It was crazy. I’d never been in an inning like that,” Antone said. “As a senior, I wanted the ball in that situation and win or lose, I wanted it to be on me.”
The Eagles will travel to play Nogales in the Division 4 quarterfinals on May 25.
While Antone provided the late-game heroics on the mound against Burbank, it is at the plate where he has made the most impact this season.
The tendinitis turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-3-inch UCI commit. With his pitching duties marginalized Antone devoted his time to becoming a better hitter. He has emerged as the cornerstone of one of the most high-powered offenses in Orange County.
Antone has always been able to swing a bat. As a junior, he batted .400, drove in 24 RBI and had 12 extra-base hits, including three home runs. They were very solid numbers for a junior on the rise.
This season, however, is a different story.
Antone, with the help of Bonilla and a full-time swing coach, focused on using his lower body more in order unleash the power in his large frame and drive the ball to all parts of the field.
Through 29 games, Antone leads the Eagles in batting average (.462), RBI (48), hits (48), home runs (eight) and extra-base hits (20). He also has a .521 on-base percentage and 13 stolen bases.
“My swing has never felt better. I knew I couldn’t contribute on the pitching side but I really wanted to make sure my hitting was top-notch. I didn’t want to be completely useless,” Antone, who hit a solo home run in the second-round win over Burbank, said.
Antone’s selfless approach to the game has been apparent since he transferred to CVCS from St. Margaret’s Episcopal as a freshman, Bonilla said. The veteran coach described Antone as a “team favorite”, and the type of player who enjoys chatting up the younger players and offering guidance.
“He has that combination of leadership where he can be vocal and lead, but at the same time he can be funny and quirky,” Bonilla said. “He has a real good knack for seeing what the situation and atmosphere dictates. Everybody on the team seems to really love him.”
Antone said his focus is solely on helping the Eagles win a CIF-SS Championship, but a future of high-level baseball is definitely in the cards for the two-way standout.
As a junior, Antone flashed his ability to pitch. He made 15 appearances, including six starts, and went 3-2 with a 2.26 ERA. UCI, which originally recruited him as a third-baseman, has recently shown interest in using him as a pitcher as well.
As the 2017 season progressed, big league scouts began to trickle in to Eagles’ games with the intent of possibly selecting Antone in the MLB Draft in June.
“His offensive capability is there and when his arm is healthy, he’s a strike-thrower who throws hard,” said Bonilla, who had a five-year professional baseball career. “I think he has a bright future beyond Division 1 college baseball.”
With hitters like Zack Mendez (.381 batting average), Tyler Piston (.439), Alec Arnone (.400) and Carson Matthews (.422) joining Antone in the lineup, the Eagles present opposing pitchers with a very tough assignment. The offense is averaging just over nine runs a game, and blew past Rancho Alamitos 11-1 in the first round of the playoffs.
The Eagles will go against Nogales’ ace Jonathan Guardado on Friday. Guardado, a University of Arizona commit, is a 13-game winner who boasts a microscopic 0.27 ERA. He’s thrown four no-hitters and struck out 130 batters in 77 2/3 innings pitched this season.
At the Eagles’ practice on May 24, the top six batters in the lineup took part in live batting practice. Antone hung out behind the batting cage, talking with his coach and teammates while waiting for his turn at the plate.
The topic of discussion eventually turned to Guardado and how fast he could throw. Bonilla told his players to expect a live arm and a fastball that could reach into the lower-90 mph range.
“He throws how hard?,” Antone said with a smile. “That will be fun.”