St. Francis High senior Trey Silva has helped the Sharks baseball team stay in the hunt for a Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division title this season. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

St. Francis High baseball head coach Ken Nakagawa has no doubt this year’s group is talented enough to go on a Central Coast Section title run.

The faith has always been there. 

But more importantly to him, it’s just a matter of when they can get hot. 

“I think we’re starting to heat up at the right time,” he said.  

The Sharks extended their league win streak to eight following a 5-1 victory against Monterey High in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division action April 16. 

The streak began after losing, 2-1, to Salinas High on March 19. 

“Gonna keep rolling, we’re playing good,” Nakagawa said. “Everybody’s contributed to all our wins, which is huge. They all get along, it’s been a part of our success here… Our mentality is game by game, one at a time. I think we’ve kept that mentality, as it shows.”

Despite the rocky start in league play, Nakagawa said their expectations haven’t changed since Day 1. The first goal is to win the Gabilan Division crown. It’s not out of reach, but they’ll need some outside help. 

St. Francis is currently 10-3 in league play just behind Carmel High at 12-1. The Padres won the first two games on March 12 and 16. Both teams will meet one more time in Watsonville on April 24 at 4:30pm. 

Nakagawa mentioned how they also want to return to the CCS playoffs. Not just get there and be part of it, but go all the way.

“We want to win it and that’s our expectation,” he said. “We feel we’re good enough to win it.” 

St. Francis’ hitters are currently having great quality at-bats by not striking out like they were earlier this year. Plus, the defense is playing great despite not being able to practice due to the wet weather conditions at the beginning of the season. 

“If we could continue to do that, play catch and throw strikes. I think we’ll make a good run,” Nakagawa said. 

The Sharks have four solid pitchers in the rotation with Trey Silva and Adrian Leon leading the way. Javier Fonseca and Micah Cervantes have also made a big impact on the mound.

Nakagawa said it’s nearly impossible to win games in the Gabilan Division without a steady group of pitchers that can all contribute.

“We can’t really say there’s one guy that’s dominated on the mound for us,” Nakagawa said. “I think they’ve all contributed, they’ve all been doing a good job of throwing strikes and keeping us in ballgames.”

As far as leadership goes, Nakagawa expects both junior Nash Horton and senior Junior Ibarra—a San Jose State University commit—to help lead a talented group with potential for a CCS title run similar to 2022 when they won a Division IV championship. 

As a freshman, Horton was a huge part of the Sharks’ section title run in 2022. That season he had a 4-0 record as a starting pitcher, finishing with a 0.76 ERA and 50 strikeouts, according to statistics on the MaxPreps website.

Horton was ready to make his return to the diamond the following year. Instead, he suffered an injury to his pitching arm that sidelined him early in the 2023 season.

A devastating injury like that could be daunting for a young athlete. However, he said it was a blessing in his life. It allowed Horton to get in the gym six days a week with Rossy’s Training in Scotts Valley.

“Really reflecting and being able to watch the game from the dugout perspective, you really learn a lot from that,” he said. “When I come into the [2024] season, I want to help my team as much as I can.”

Nakagawa said for him it was a blessing for the fact that Horton got bigger and stronger, putting in all the work to get where he’s at today.

“It’s unbelievable the way he’s playing right now,” Nakagawa said. “He’s one of those special kids. You get them every 10-15 years.”

Ibarra is also back at full health after a bit of an impingement he had in his arm earlier this season. During that time, he was still in talks with SJSU’s baseball coaches.

“Just some things on my end that I had to fix and I clarified with them I’m doing it right,” he said. “So I got the green light to say that I will commit there. It was a pretty happy day for me, I can’t lie.”

Nakagawa called Ibarra a legacy kid because of his brother, Ruben, who was also a standout at St. Francis and played ball at San Jose State. Ruben Ibarra was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft and is currently playing for the Dayton Dragons—the High-A affiliate of the Reds.  

As a youngster, Junior Ibarra was part of his brother’s journey as he watched from the Sharks’ dugout.

“I feel like I’ve had Junior for his whole entire life, just watching him grow up as a young man and more importantly how hard he’s worked here, especially this year,” Nakagawa said. “Not only on the baseball field, but in the classroom.” 

Ibarra is excited for the next chapter in his career. But the main focus for him and his teammates is what’s in front of them as the regular season comes to the final stretch.

“Don’t let our foot off the gas, we gotta go,” he said. “We can’t get comfortable with a five-run lead, four-run lead. I always tell the guys ‘Let’s get two more each inning, we’ll bury them bit by bit.’” 

Next up, the Sharks (13-4, 10-3) have a rematch with Monterey on Thursday, followed by a challenging week in Gabilan Division play.

St. Francis starts with a homestand against Hollister High (7-12, 6-7) and Carmel (14-3, 12-1) on April 22 and 24, respectively, followed by a game at Salinas (13-6, 8-5) on April 26. All three games are scheduled to begin at 4pm. 

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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