Chemistry keyed Placer’s 1993 title run

Sierra Scoop
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Jerran Hamelin remembers the warm afternoon in May of 1993 like it was yesterday, not only because Placer High won its first Sac-Joaquin Section baseball title. Hamelin played catcher under first-year coach Clay Elliott, who instilled a no-nonsense approach from his first day on the job. The coach had irritated some players on the team with his methods. But Hamlin learned a lot during that championship season, both on and off the field. “When I was a senior, I was a rogue,” Hamelin said. “It wasn’t until we won that (title) game that I really understood why we did everything we did. We would run bases after games and I hated it. But it wasn’t just to get in shape. (Elliott) was building our character. He was met with resistance from some parents and players, but everything he was doing made sense. I give him a lot of credit for that year.” A perfect combination of top-level talent, intense competitors and demanding coaching led the Hillmen to their first and only section baseball title 16 years ago. Placer swept then-Sierra Foothill League rival Mesa Verde in a best-of-three series 6-5 and 12-0. The Hillmen are back in the section championship game for the first time in 16 years after sweeping Oakdale in their Division IV semifinal series last week. They will face Pioneer Valley League foe El Dorado Monday at noon at Sacramento City College. Elliott was given a tough task in 1993 when he took the reins of a Placer program that had been to the playoffs the previous season, but hadn’t fully utilized its significant talent. Elliott, who was then a youth pastor at Auburn’s First Baptist Church, teamed up with Mike Ballantine to whip his team into shape. “We pushed them hard,” said Elliott, who now serves as the Bay Area Director of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is the head coach at Prospect High in Saratoga. “Our attitude was we don’t want to be out-worked by anybody. They put in their best effort, but they were typical teenage kids too. They would push us, try to dog it sometimes... We did quite a bit of running that year.” The Hillmen had a special pitcher in senior Jake Esteves. He threw a no-hitter against Oakdale in the playoffs and shut down Mesa Verde in the title-clinching game. Esteves went on to play at Sacramento City College and won an NCAA title at LSU. Drafted by the Giants in 1998, he was on a fast track to the big league club before an arm injury set him back and eventually derailed his career. Hamelin was Esteves’ battery mate at Sacramento City, but injuries ended his college career prematurely. Second pitcher Tad Thrower went on to have a nice career at Cal State Hayward, second baseman Eric Easter played junior college ball at West Valley Junior College and third baseman Seamus Brazil continued his career at Sierra College. Shortstop Joss McDaid played at Sacramento City and West Valley before earning a scholarship at the University of Pacific. He said the ’93 Placer team had talent, but also knew how to play together. “It was really a true sense of roles and every guy knew what they had to do,” said McDaid, who is now a real estate agent in Fair Oaks. "The tone was set by Clay Elliott. He had played at a pretty high level (Triple-A in the Braves’ system) and he had a professional approach. He found our strengths, found our weaknesses and everybody played to their strengths. We worked hard and we had a great time.” Like Elliott, current Placer coach Larry Prewitt is a former pro player. He played at the Triple-A level for both the Giants and the Mets. This year’s Placer squad also features elite talent, led by catcher Joel Thys, who has signed with Long Beach State. Senior Matt Ross is the ace pitcher and an unquestioned leader after his experience quarterbacking the Placer football team to the section title game last fall. McDaid was a similar presence on the ’93 squad. “He was our captain and he had wisdom beyond his years,” Elliott said of McDaid. “We named him captain and he led in every way. Early in the season he saw a problem and he came to me and said, ‘Coach, if we don’t get Jerran (Hamelin) on our side, we’re going to have problems.’ He went to Jerran and they became co-captains. We didn’t have any problems after that.” McDaid said his coach returned the favor with his influence throughout the season. “I needed a strong role model then and he filled that for me,” McDaid said. “The one thing I still use today is the importance of the camaraderie of a team. I’m always trying to get that back in whatever I do in business or in life. If you can recognize your weaknesses, you can fill gaps with people that have strengths that you don’t.” Baseball is still Hamelin’s passion. He helps run the National Adult Baseball Association in Sacramento and is on the diamond just about every weekend. He said there’s no way he would miss Monday’s title game as the Hillmen look to bring another section baseball banner to Auburn. Hamlin said he cherishes the championship, but the journey to the title and the relationships that developed along the way are what he remembers most. “There was more to it than winning and losing,” Hamelin said. “I hope this current team understands that. The championship’s nice, but it’s more about everything you take with you. Everything you go through during the year — that’s where memories are made.”