The Monarchs' 26 regular season wins were the most since 1989 and marks coach Dave Mallas’ highest win total since taking over the program in 2004.
By Benjamin Royer, Sports Editor
Despite the First Round exit in the CCCAA Southern California Regional, coach Dave Mallas is at peace about how the Monarchs battled in the post-pandemic year.
“It was more about starting and completing a full season since we had not done that since 2019," said Mallas, who finished up his 18th year as head coach. “We did it somewhat painlessly with this team. It was one of the more fun groups of the teams that I’ve had and it was a successful season.”
Valley College Baseball (27-16, 11-9 WSC South) advanced from the Play-In Round as the 18-seed to face off against top-seeded Saddleback College in Round One of the postseason, but after being swiftly eliminated as they dropped May 6 and May 7's contests by a score of 9-1 and 16-0 respectively, their rollercoaster season came to an unceremonious close.
Success had been hard to come by in recent seasons for Valley baseball. The team had not earned a trip to the playoffs since 2012 and the 26 regular-season wins were the most the Monarchs had earned since 1989.
But in 2022, Valley had a better overall record than College of the Canyons and LA Mission College, the teams tied with the Monarchs for a second-place finish in the Western State Conference South.
“It’s what-could-have-been, but at the same time, it was fun to watch our offense,” said Mallas. “Dorian Asher turned out a great season, Maddox Latta and Jackson Lapiner hit ten home runs and watching Tyler Olivas play defense was awesome. Out infield had three defensive players of the year for our conference.”
Latta, who won Western State Conference Player of the Year and earned defensive honors, was the cornerstone of the Monarchs infield, manning the shortstop position for the majority of the season.
Only missing one conference game – the final game of the regular season against West LA – due to a knee injury, Latta set the WSC South aflame, hitting .374 during conference play while tallying six home runs, 25 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. The 6-foot student-athlete showcased his excellence in the infield as well. He made the most plays at shortstop in the conference and the third-most in the state with 82 and 112 assists respectively.
“I really wasn't expecting too much,” said Latta. “Just try and go out there and help the team win and it turned out with me getting (Western State Conference) Player of the Year. I truly believe that is just the coaches and the team that surrounded me. They pushed me to be better.”
Hitting the second-most home runs and the fourth-most RBI in the conference was the aforementioned home run hitter Lapiner, who played a rangy center field and hit cleanup for a large portion of the year. His .308 batting average ranked third among qualified hitters on the Monarchs and his team-leading 10 home runs sparked comebacks throughout the campaign.
A game-winning grand slam on March 3 helped Valley defeat then-No. 14 ranked Irvine Valley and two months later on May 3, the left-handed-hitting slugger’s three-run home run allowed the Monarchs to triumph over Southwestern College in the Play-In Round. “About a week before the season started, the coaches really opened their arms out to me and welcomed me,” said Lapiner. “ (They) worked me right into the lineup after I worked my tail off all fall – on my own. But as a whole, as a team, we were nothing short of outstanding.”
Replacing Lapiner and Latta – who will likely leave Valley for Division I, four-year opportunities in the Fall – as well as freshman pitcher Kyle Ayers – who could be selected in the MLB Draft or honor his commitment to the University of Houston – will not be easy after the positive impact in 2022.
Mallas says his coaching staff is prepared for what is ahead and that the revolving door of community college athletics pushes them to reload every year. “I think generally you have an idea of who’s coming back and who’s not," said Mallas. “But because of COVID, we just don’t know. It is going to be clogged up for the next few years at the community college level as well as the four-year level. We have a lot of kids left who have eligibility.”