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With his unbeaten baseball team trailing 3-1 in the bottom of sixth inning against Calabasas, senior shortstop Max Muncy of Thousand Oaks High stepped to the plate with the bases loaded knowing that the opposing coach in the dugout, Shaun Kort, was thinking long and hard what pitch to call.
"He knows how to pitch to hitters," Muncy said.
The pressure was on. Thousand Oaks was 19-0 and ranked No. 1 in Southern California. The Lancers had rarely trailed in any games, and now on a Wednesday afternoon in May at Calabasas, they were in trouble. Except Muncy came through.
"He left a curveball high and inside and I ended up hitting it out," he said.
Muncy's grand slam led to a 5-3 victory. Muncy would finish the 2021 season with 11 home runs, 49 RBIs and a .459 batting average for the 29-1 Lancers, who won the Southern Section Division 2 championship. He hit four grand slams.
Muncy has been selected The Times' baseball player of the year for his consistency and ability to deliver whenever the Lancers needed him. He put himself alongside former first-round MLB draft pick Kurt Stillwell and his coach at Thousand Oaks, former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson, among the best players in school history.
"Max was amazing this year," Wilson said.
Muncy signed with Arkansas and should be taken in next week's MLB amateur draft. Expectations have always been high because he played for Wilson, who challenged him every day in practice to improve.
"I think there’s expectations, but your expectations for yourself are so much higher," Muncy said.
Muncy was the key player in helping the Lancers record a 37-1 record over the last two seasons. At shortstop, a stronger arm helped him become more comfortable making defensive plays. His home-run barrage came as a surprise, but it showed his steady progress over a memorable four-year high school career.
"I couldn't have done it without the coaching staff," he said. "Jack was always pushing. I don't think there was anything more that I could have squeezed out."
During this COVID-19 season, Thousand Oaks was restricted to playing mostly teams from Ventura County until the Division 2 playoffs, and Muncy again delivered, hitting home runs in playoff victories over Mission Viejo and La Verne Bonita.
He was born on Aug. 25, 2002, the same date as the Dodgers' Max Muncy's birthday, leading to constant questions if he was related (no).
"It's pretty strange," he said. "I have to tell the story so many times."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.