By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
While practice and preparation are crucial in terms of finding success in any sport, on occasion an athlete just has a good feeling heading into a matchup here or there.
Last Tuesday was one of those days for La Habra senior pitcher Sean Sparling, and it turned out he had good reason to feel that way as he threw a no-hitter against Troy on the road.
Not only that, but the win earned Sean and the Highlanders a 2-to-1 series win over the Warriors and kept them in second place in the Freeway League standings behind rival Sonora.
“Before the game, I was thinking about throwing one because it’s one of my season goals, but I was feeling it before the game,” Sean said. “During the game, I was just trying to stay calm, hit my spots and do what I needed to get batters out.”
The no-hitter could be an early culmination of Sean’s hard work in a new system provided by first-year head coach John Sothern.
It could also be a sign of things to come if Sean continues to work endlessly at his craft, something Sothern has recognized since he first saw his senior ace take the mound.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy, not a boisterous type of person,” Sothern said. “When I first got around him, I wasn’t sure how to take him, but when you see him in the pen and on the field, he’s working hard at getting better at what he does. He’s fairly advanced on the pitching aspect, so he’s working hard on the mental aspect of things now.”
For Sean, it’s another goal realized, the senior admitting that he wanted to throw a no-hitter at some point during his final season at La Habra. Consider that item crossed off the list.
But it didn’t come without a little anxiety as Sean said he felt some pressure as he was heading down the stretch.
“It was nagging at me a little, but I was still feeling comfortable out there,” he said. “I noticed I was getting close to it in the 5th inning, there was a little pressure, but I tried to stay calm and I got it done. I’m very thankful.”
But Sean only appeared to get stronger down the stretch, relying on his secondary pitches and trusting in his coach’s scouting and pitch selection.
As if in sync, when he shook off a sign, Sean went to the next pitch that Sothern would call anyway.
The performance was one that Sothern had confidence that his ace could pull off.
“From the first time I saw his mix of pitches and his presence, I knew he was our No. 1 guy,” Sothern said. “And he could have easily thought ‘a new coach, I got this’, but I made one little suggestion after his first outing and to see him working on that immediately and having success and then reminding me that I told him that, so he’s been working on it, it shows that he really does care.”
Coming into the season, Sean knew that this was his year to step up. He also knew that this year was going to be different with his new coach.
However, an immediate acceptance of the change and a constant drive to learn and make adjustments has kept Sean on top of his game. Despite a 3-3 record, his earned run average is at a very respectable 1.56 runs per game.
Though he stays relatively quiet, Sean showed in his next pitching performance that he had taken in the advice given by his coach and was making attempts to work on them.
“I knew before the season started that I was going to be one of the leaders on the team and I’ve been having a lot of fun so far this season,” he said. “He [Sothern] is always trying to coach me up and I’m always here to listen, so the things he tells me, I work on and try to get better any way I can.”
In that regard, perhaps the installment of Sothern as head coach came at a good time for Sean, who is currently looking into schools to take his game to the collegiate level.
The senior said he still has a decision to make, but UC Irvine could be a very good destination for him.
“I’ve had a couple visits, I’m trying to decide where to go within the next week or so and that’s one of the places I’m definitely considering,” he said.
He continued to say that a decision could come as early as next week, which could give him more time to focus on his senior season and continuing to work on making himself stronger toward the end of the season.
While he spends most of his time at school or on the practice field, when Sean does get free time, he enjoys hanging out with friends and doing the usual teenage activities, some of which include miniature golf, frisbee golf and heading to the movies.
In his senior year, Sean said his Biology/Forensics class stands out as one that piques his interest.
But when it comes to role models, it came as no surprise when Sean mentioned another pitcher and his father, Vern.
Sean credits Bryce Stowell, a La Habra graduate and current minor league pitcher, with having a big impact on his game while in high school, while his father “is always there for me, helping me out and helping me progress as college approaches.”
With that kind of support system and the evolution of his game through the current coaching staff at La Habra, it’s no surprise to see Sean continuing to progress as the season unfolds.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing where my career will take me and I’m going to keep doing what I can to be successful.”