2018 Season Preview: Acalanes Dons

Blaine Clemmens
Northern California Director of Scouting

As the start of the 2018 high school baseball season in California draws closer, we’ve begun rolling out team previews from around the state.

In this edition we go to the North Coast Section to take a peek at one of Northern California’s most successful programs, the Acalanes Dons of Lafayette (CA), seven time NCS champions. Coach Hughes doesn’t have a lot of returning starters, but the plethora of young talent very well could have the Dons back in the mix for a section title, if not this year, certainly in the near future.  Acalanes is a D3 size school that has petitioned up to D1.  Go get ‘em!

Team: Acalanes HS  

Nickname: Dons

Section: North Coast, Division 1

League: Diablo Athletic League - Foothill

Head Coach: Justin Santich-Hughes

Coach Twitter: @jhughez21

Years as Head Coach at AHS: 9

Team Twitter: @acadonsbaseball

2017 Overall Record: 12-12

2017 League Finish: 6-4

2017 Postseason Finish: Lost in 1st round

Team Website: Acalanes Dons

Number of Returning Starters: 3

Number of Returning Pitchers: 2

Top Returning Players:

Nick Berry: SR/3B-OF - 6-0 195, L/R, versatile player can play all over the field, Fresno State commit

Nick Kresnak: SO/3B-P-OF - 6-1 200, R/R, recruiting interest from Pac-12s & others

Brian Merken: SR/LHP - 6-1 185, has had D1 interest, still pondering opportunities

Other Players To Watch:

Davis Diaz: FR/SS - 5-8 145, R/R, recruiting interest from Pac-12s & others, Team USA 15U

Tommy Thrasher: SO/1B-OF - 6-1 200, R/R, recruiting interest from D1s, big raw power

Thatcher Hurd: FR/C - 6-1 175, R/R, recruiting interest from Pac-12s, high level defender w/power potential

Season Outlook:

The 2018 season will be one of great interest for those who follow the Acalanes Dons.  The tradition of success at Acalanes is well-known in the Bay Area, particularly the East Bay, as the school is nestled in the hills near Saint Mary’s College.  Coach Justin Santich-Hughes acknowledges that he may have his most talented group in his nine years at Acalanes (potentially as many as 7-8 D1 players), but they are also very young and youth brings a lot of variables.

At any given time they could start three freshmen, three sophomores, three seniors, and the first two players off the bench being sophomores.  Given the level some of the young players have competed at in summer ball, the learning curve might go faster than expected.  In particular, freshman shortstop Davis Diaz competed for the Team USA 15U this summer, which is an experience that can really accelerate a young player’s development.

Acalanes is a D3 size school but has petitioned up to play D1, which is a challenge in itself.  They play in a traditionally strong league with schools such as Clayton Valley, College Park, and Campolindo routinely in the mix for a section title.  Mix in a monster non-league schedule, featuring Vacaville, Monte Vista, Elk Grove, Clovis West, Archbishop Mitty, and Amador Valley, and the young Dons will learn a lot about themselves in a hurry.

Among the young talent, sophomore OF/3B/P Nick Kresnak is a standout.  He’s got size and present day ability, and is a returning starter from a year ago.  His power potential, both at the plate and on the mound, makes him capable of being a difference maker in multiple ways.  Another physical presence in the line-up will be 1st baseman (can also play corner outfield) Tommy Thrasher.  His power potential is pretty clear, it’s just a matter of when he can add some polish to the tools he has. 

The Dons have an experienced senior catcher in Tyler Whelehan, but there is great intrigue surrounding freshman Thatcher Hurd, who likely will back up Whelehan.  He’s already been getting recruiting attention, and given his ability as a receiver, thrower, and ability to drive the baseball, it’s pretty clear why.  However, there is something to be said for a young catcher learning from an experienced one, especially a senior like Whelehan, who has continually improved as he has gone through high school. 

The strengths of the team are speed and defense.  This is a young group but they are savvy on the bases and can cause problems for teams that don’t play catch as well as they should.  Up the middle the defense is anchored by Diaz, who is capable of making all the plays at shortstop, and also brings the type of intangibles and leadership skills not often found in players as young as he is.  With his energy and talents, it’s no wonder why college coaches are drawn to him.

On the mound the Dons will be led by senior Brian Merken.  On a team that has so many standout young players being recruited by D1 programs, Merken remains the team’s top uncommitted senior.  As the younger brother of a talented pitcher currently playing at the four-year level, look for Merken to get some late attention in the spring as programs are ALWAYS on the hunt for pitching, especially left-handers. 

Along with Merken, senior outfielder/infielder Nick Berry will be counted on, not just for his talents and what he produces on the field, but for his experience and leadership.  As the young players take a few lumps, the steady guidance of experienced and talented seniors is invaluable. And as he is headed off to Fresno State in the fall, it’s not like Berry isn’t a talent in his own right.

Even if the season doesn’t quite reach the lofty standards of the Acalanes teams of the past, or even meet the expectations that their talent suggests are possible, the Dons are set-up to be a contender in 2018 and beyond.  Let the games begin!


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California high school coaches can request a 2019 preseason questionnaire from Northern California Director of Scouting Blaine Clemmens at [email protected] or California State Director of Scouting Les Lukach at [email protected]

Note: The completion of a questionnaire does not guarantee we will be able to get it posted before the start of the season.