Baseball: Nakayama provided smooth transition at Holy Family

Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera
Holy Family first-year head coach Eric Nakayama gets a celebratory soaking after the Tigers won their second consecutive 3A state title

GREELEY — Having served as an assistant coach for 10 seasons under Marc Cowell, Eric Nakayama has seen some pretty solid Holy Family baseball squads. The Tigers won two state titles under the coaches’ direction as the duo built a program that became the class of 3A.

However, none of those squads might have been as talented as the one Nakayama guided to a championship on Saturday. In defeating Eaton 8-2, Holy Family capped a nearly flawless first season with Nakayama running the show. The Tigers finished the campaign with a 24-1 record and were even more dominant than that mark would indicate, winning their contests by an average margin of more than 10 runs.

“It’s up there,” Nakayama said of his team’s status among the best Holy Family has had. “As a first-year coach it’s going to be tough to follow that, but it’s going to be really tough to follow this group of kids. The pitching was there, the defense was there, and one through nine they are tough batters… There was a lot of talent here.”

The senior-laden squad brought a tremendous four-year run to a close with its second consecutive state championship, improving the team’s record to 83-18 in that four-year span. Yet despite the team’s recent string of success, how the group would fair without the face of the program in the dugout remained an unknown prior to the season.

Cowell left his position following the team’s 2013 title-winning season as one of the most successful managers the school has ever seen. The Tigers made eight postseason appearances during his tenure, including four trips to the 3A state finals and the school’s first two state titles.

But Nakayama didn’t miss a beat when he was handed the reins, and seems to have ensured that the program will continue to compete with the best the state has to offer for years to come.

“(The transition) went really smooth,” said senior Devlin Granberg, who broke a 2-2 tie with a 2-run double in the seventh inning of the final to put the Tigers on top for good. “The practices were very similar, the philosophies were very similar, and coach has done a great job this year. We had a great season to show for it.”

While Cowell is no longer around on a daily basis, he is by no means completely removed from the program. He was present at the championship game and had been offering his protege wisdom throughout the team’s postseason run.

“He gave a lot of good advice,” Nakayama said. “Get the momentum, and I think our kids did a good job of taking that momentum (early on). Take everything, give them nothing, and our kids battled everyday throughout the tournament.”

Given that the team will be losing 12 of its 15 core members to graduation, Holy Family’s 2015 squad will certainly look much different than this back-to-back title-winning team. But with their now-proven leader at the helm, don’t expect much of a slide from these Tigers any time soon, even as the growing school makes the jump to Class 4A.

“We’ve got some good-looking juniors coming through and there’s some good sophomores coming through,” Nakayama said. “We’re excited about this freshman class too. We talk about each team leaving its own legacy. This one did it this year and we’ll try to continue to do it up in 4A too.”

Added Granberg: “Going back-to-back is a great feeling. It sort of gives us momentum and confidence for those underclassmen. And I think it sort of gives them a blueprint for how to do it.”

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