Old-school coach has given new life to South City baseball team 

Recent history will tell you that South San Francisco High School is a nonfactor when it comes to baseball.

But this season -- thanks to a coach who's been around the game for an eternity -- the Warriors have ignored the past.

Playing in the Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division, South City (8-9, 6-0) has recovered from a 2-7 start to vault into a first-place tie with San Mateo. Coincidentally, San Mateo is the last place South City's Jesse Velez coached at.

The 70-year-old Velez, who grew up in San Francisco and attended Galileo High School, has infused old-school habits into a program that's struggled with consistency. He took last year off after spending the previous five years at San Mateo, and overall, has spent over 20 years with six schools coaching in the PAL.

Last season, South City finished 9-16 overall and 6-8 in league play.

"My philosophy when I got here was I'm old-fashion," said Velez, who once assisted at USF with legendary coach Dante Benedetti. "I believe in basic fundamentals, I believe in work ethic and I don't care if you're the best player on the ballclub, if you don't work hard and set an example, you're playing time will be diminished."

In the early stages of this season, Velez struggled to stick to a lineup, but halfway through league play, he finally settled on one.

Senior outfielder James Felix is the Warriors' leadoff hitter, and he's done his part, batting .407 with 24 hits, and seven stolen bases.

Senior infielder-pitcher Bryan Ortiz, who hits third, has been a big part of the offense with a .327 average.

In addition, the Warriors wouldn't be anywhere without the play of junior Jesus Jimenez and freshman Carlos Solis. Jimenez has been productive with his bat and arm. He is hitting .323 with eight RBIs, but on the mound, he has a sparkling 1.87 ERA, striking out 39 batters in 30 innings.

Solis has raked since he's been inserted into the cleanup spot, hitting a staggering .468 with an OPS of 1.124.

"It was a lot of different lineups early on this season, but once we got closer to league play, we got settled," Velez said. "We're not an overpowering team, but we get hits at the right time, make pitches at the right time and it has helped us win some ballgames."

One of the highlights during this turnaround season came on March 25, when South City trailed Jefferson 8-3 going into the fifth inning. The Warriors rallied back to score seven runs in the final three frames to win 10-8. It's that type of fight and scrappiness that Velez has instilled into the South City program.

"Half of our games, we've had to come from behind to win," Velez said. "This is a team you just can't count out."

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Bonta Hill

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