The annual high school baseball showdown between Serra and Burlingame featured a decidedly fresh flavor on Friday night. And it went well beyond the latest crop of varsity stars.
Both Peninsula heavyweights have undergone a coaching change in the last two years after well over a decade of being guided by the same men. One year after Serra’s Craig Giannino assumed control of the Padres’ program, Shawn Scott is now in his first season at Burlingame.
Coaching changes at many programs happen so often that they barely merit a mention – but the case couldn’t be more different at Serra and Burlingame. Giannino stepped in after Pete Jensen’s 24-year tenure, and Scott took over after Rich Sciutto retired last spring after 14 seasons.
So a new era is underway at both programs. But Giannino and Scott – and their teams’ legions of fans -- would be plenty happy if the results stay the same. Both coaches entered the scene the year after their predecessors steered the teams to a Central Coast Section championship.
“There’s not much to bring up – it’s here,” Scott said when asked about the state of a Burlingame program that followed its fourth Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division title in seven years by winning its second section crown last May. “The winning tradition is here. The kids know it, and we just want to keep it up.”
When Giannino, 39, took the helm at Serra, the Padres were coming off an unprecedented fourth straight West Catholic Athletic League championship and had just snapped an 11-year CCS title drought. After leading his first crop of Padres to a 25-7 record, a tie for third place in the WCAL and the CCS Division I semifinals, Giannino is relishing the challenge of developing a less-experienced team this year and moreover introducing a new group of players to the program’s storied tradition.
Giannino, a former assistant at College of San Mateo, Burlingame and Sacred Heart Cathedral, needed to learn that history on the fly as he entered with an outsider’s perspective. Now he speaks with great respect of “understanding the pride of a Padre” and teaching his players the responsibilities that come with that distinction.
“It’s an expectation to do things well, how you carry yourself off the field,” said Giannino, who instituted an eight-week speaker series in the offseason to bring former Serra ballplayers from various walks of life back to speak to his players. “It’s just not really about you anymore – it’s about the name on the front of your jersey.”
Meanwhile, Burlingame’s Scott credits much of his formative baseball training and appreciation of the game to a former Serra player -- Carlos Roman, the El Camino High coach.
“He taught me how to play the game, he taught me how to respect the game and how to respect my opponent,” Scott, 42, said of his varsity coach, who is now in his 28th year at El Camino.
After 13 years of playing professional baseball, six at the Triple-A level, Scott took over Burlingame’s frosh/soph team last year and helped the varsity team during its run to the CCS Division II crown. Scott, a former center fielder, said he wants to bring many of the same values to the Panthers that he saw Sciutto teaching on a daily basis.
“Discipline, respect and hopefully some hard-nosed ballplayers that’ll keep the winning tradition going,” the Burlingame coach said. “Go out, get a little tough. If you’ve got a team of hard-nosed ballplayers, good things happen.”
Chris Blanton, a Burlingame first baseman and pitcher, said his coach’s recent playing experience is a big bonus for the team.
“He definitely relates more to us because of that – the way he breaks our swings down, breaks our fielding down,” Blanton said.
Asked to describe the team’s early atmosphere under Scott, the senior said: “We get our butts worked – that’s definitely the No. 1 thing.”
Blanton said most components of Scott’s teachings are consistent with what the Panthers learned under Sciutto – but he highlighted a more aggressive mind-set in terms of stealing bases and using the hit-and-run as changes he has seen.
“Create a little havoc,” Scott explained with a smile.
A year ago, returning Serra players also spoke of enjoying having a younger coaching staff. Those Padres said the biggest difference at the start of the Giannino era was the enhanced analysis – studying the count and adjusting hitting strategy accordingly, for example.
Both Giannino and Scott are passionate about guiding the growth of their players and are eagerly embracing the challenge of leading their decorated programs to new riches – and they relate those pursuits back to taking small steps on a daily basis.
“I love the position I’m in – 100 percent,” Scott said. “Long days. Lots of thought processes when you’re driving your vehicle alone about how to make the team better and the kids feel better about themselves.”
Added Giannino: “You love to compete but you love to see kids grow and develop and see kids grow to do something they didn’t think they were capable of, individually or as a team.”
Shortly after in a tight battle on Friday night, Giannino gave an admiring tip of his cap to the coaches who preceded him and Scott.
“The loyalty and commitment of those two men … when you coach in it, like a game like tonight, as a coach, the time and energy level is tremendous,” said Giannino, who was an assistant under Sciutto for two years, including for the Panthers’ 2004 CCS championship squad.
“For guys like Pete and Rich, the guys who’ve done it that long, it’s a testament to their commitment and passion.”