When Evan Chalmers became the baseball coach at Newport Harbor High in December, the first player he reached out to was Shaun Vetrovec. This wasn't Chalmers' first go around with the Sailors, yet he needed Vetrovec on his side.
The coach Chalmers replaced was the one Vetrovec grew close to during his first three seasons at the school. Patrick Murphy was the coach who taught Vetrovec how to be a man.
Now, it was time for Vetrovec to accept a new coach in his life, a coach who used to be an assistant at rival Corona del Mar. Chalmers returned to the job at Newport Harbor he lost five years ago.
Vetrovec bought into Chalmers' philosophy, and then he sold it to the rest of the team the best way he knows how. He led by example.
All the hard work and never taking a day off paid off for Vetrovec. His senior year proved to be the greatest of his high school career. The Sailors broke through, going from a last-place team in the Sunset League the past three years to one that made the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
Vetrovec played in his first postseason game and Chalmers managed in the playoffs for the first time as a head coach. Vetrovec's right arm made it all possible, and for that, he is the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year.
Vetrovec finished 7-4 with a 1.16 earned-run average and 100 strikeouts in 721/3 innings. He threw seven complete games, including two shutouts. In three of the seven-inning outings, he mowed down 14, 15 and 11 batters, respectively.
Down the stretch, Vetrovec, who earned first-team All-Sunset League and third-team All-Orange County honors, turned it on. With three league games left in the regular season, all must wins for the Sailors to secure an at-large playoff berth, Vetrovec started on the mound twice. He went the distance and won each time.
In the first game against Los Alamitos, Vetrovec threw a two-hitter with eight strikeouts in the Sailors' 4-0 win at home. Six days later, in a league finale, he allowed three hits and struck out six in a 4-1 victory at Marina. Vetrovec also drove in the game-winning run against Marina, sending Newport Harbor, the league's fourth-place team, on its way to its first postseason appearance in four years and its second in 24 years.
"I think all three of our last league games really meant a lot to us as a team," said Vetrovec, who helped the Sailors finish the regular season with a .500 overall record for the first time since 2010 and 6-9 in league. "Those were all win-or-go-home-type situations. We had to win each of those in order to have a chance to make [the] playoffs [because we had to post at least a .500 record to be considered for the playoffs as an at-large entry]. I was lucky enough to pitch two of those games and it was very special. I loved seeing how close and together we all were in those final three games."
The three straight triumphs in league put the Sailors in a wild-card game against Orange Lutheran. Leading up to the road game, Newport Harbor boasted two strong options to throw at the third-place team from the Trinity League, Vetrovec and Connor Seabold, who's headed to Cal State Fullerton.
The move to go with Seabold made sense. It was Seabold's turn in the rotation, and Vetrovec said the decision to save him for a possible first-round game was made by him, Chalmers and pitching coach Ryan Clear. Vetrovec started at first base, where he usually played when he didn't pitch.
"I had thrown a lot of innings in the season, especially in the back end," said Vetrovec, whose last six starts saw him go seven innings every time and average 111 pitches. "I had thrown [a season-high 125] pitches in the win against Marina, and it would have been on one less day of rest than I had been used to. We had no doubt that the game was in good hands with Connor. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who threw when [Orange Lutheran's Toby Dunlap] throws a perfect game."
The Sailors' 7-0 setback to Orange Lutheran would not be the last time Vetrovec represented Newport Harbor. He played in the Kiwanis Club of Greater Anaheim's 47th Orange County North-South All-Star Game and the Ryan Lemmon All-Star Game between the Sunset League and Century League.
Vetrovec, who batted .346 with 16 runs batted in, five doubles and 13 walks, said he would miss suiting up for the Sailors and playing in front of the home crowd. Fans can still watch him compete on the next level. He won't be too far away, as he's playing for UC Irvine next season.
"He has meant so much to this team," Chalmers said of Vetrovec, a three-time Dream Team selection who accounted for four of the Sailors' six wins in league play, a year after collecting all three of the team's league victories in 2013. "This season Shaun knew there would be some growing pains with so many new players in starting positions. However, he always continued to lead this team, showed great patience, and remained positive even through rough patches during the season. He always encouraged players to work hard and buy into the program and new techniques and philosophy that a new coach brings.
"He is one of the most competitive people I have ever met, and I have always told him and others that if I was starting a business of any kind, I would make Shaun Vetrovec my first hire."
The rest of the Dream Team, listed by position: