Powerhouse Franklin Wildcats baseball team rooted in arms, experience and tireless Coach K
Somehow, between myriad tasks on campus and the baseball diamond, Bryan Kilby found time to get married.
It happened 18 months ago with bride Krystle still charming her way into having some quality time with a man of many hats and roles.
Kilby may well run on solar power. He is a tireless sort who won’t dispel rumors that he might have a cot stashed in the back of a room on the Franklin High School campus to sneak in a nap amid 100-hour weeks. He is the head baseball coach for the top-ranked team in the Sac-Joaquin Section, the opposite of a raging Earl Weaver/Mike Ditka-type coach. Kilby leads with a calm approach. He teaches the game and mentors eager freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors without having to rip their self esteem to shreds.
The Wildcats include a lot of star power in stout, big-bodied aces Nic Abraham and Nolan Stevens. They sport grade-point averages much higher than their earned run averages. Those arms are flanked by a lineup of quick and skilled players.
Franklin is 26-4. The Wildcats went 17-1 in the tough Delta League and have won 12 consecutive games heading into their best-of-three Division I semifinal series against Lincoln of Stockton, which starts Monday.
The team is bolstered by a stellar coaching staff, young, old and older. And Kilby isn’t afraid to do the heavy lifting, either. So there he is regularly grooming the baseball field, mowing it and studying it to make sure he didn’t miss anything. The pride sprinkles down.
Wildcat pitchers work over their pitching mound after every practice and home game. It is their baby and their project. They rake it, they pat the dirt and rake some more. They water it and manicure it, and maybe even chat with it, like a kid fawning over a puppy.
“They love their mound,” the 41-year-old Kilby said at a recent practice, looking at a bin full of rich green grass clippings. “And I don’t mind mowing. It relaxes me.”
Kilby is also in his element as activities director for the Elk Grove Unified School District school. Only the school custodian has a larger wad of keys than Coach K. One of the largest enrollment schools in the region means about 2,800 tasks to meet the needs of some 2,800 students. Kilby and his leadership class work year round to coordinate campus events that last a lifetime, including homecoming, senior ball, junior prom, powder puff football, awards ceremonies and graduation.
Kilby is also the public address voice for basketball games, and he’ll mention throughout a game over the mic the appearance of an alum and the spirited sounds of the band. Kilby pours himself into all of this because the students give back with effort.
“I’ve got great kids in class and out here, kids who do well, who make a difference,” Kilby said. “I’m writing letters of recommendation to Harvard and Stanford for students. I love it.”
Mark Benton is the public address voice for Franklin baseball, a man who can appreciate longevity. He’s missed one Wildcats baseball game in 17 years, because of a wedding. It wasn’t Kilby’s wedding. Kilby was married in November, in between seasons and maybe held on a school holiday to be able to pull it off.
“Bryan Kilby is a great baseball coach,” Benton said, “and he’s a genius activities director.”
Kilby downplays that. His players do not.
“Everybody on campus knows who Mr. Kilby is — everyone,” Stevens said. “He’s the man.”
Kilby insists he’s just a coach, leading an experienced team. He will insist that he is no more valuable than any of his assistants: Will Baer, Dave Kilby (his father), Eric Lapachet, Brian LoForte and Ryan Tobey.
LoForte goes by “The Professor,” Kilby says, because no one compiles scouting reports like he does. LoForte coached McClatchy High to the Division I section championship 25 years ago, then watched like a proud pop as son Hank became an all-time program great at Franklin, an infielder who went on to excel at Fullerton.
Dave Kilby is a recent retiree of the California Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re easing him into retirement by having him coach,” Bryan Kilby said with a laugh.
It always starts with pitching in this sport, and Franklin has an abundance of it. Abraham, a 6-foot-4 junior, is 8-0 with a 0.55 ERA. He is a national recruit. Stevens, a 6-2 senior, is 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA. He has signed a letter of intent with powerhouse Mississippi State, inspired and influenced by older brothers Grant, a pitcher at Pacific, and Carson, a catcher at Cal Poly.
“I grew up on this field, watching them,” Stevens said. “I was a freshman here when Chase Davis was a senior here (and now stars at the University of Arizona), so I saw what it looks like at the varsity level, what it takes.”
Stevens and Abraham said they embrace their role as leaders. Both are fine students who lead with action and in their studies.
Senior infielder Derek Pham is batting a team-best .403 and has nine doubles and 20 RBI. Jordy Lopez, a junior outfielder and a scholarship verbal commit to Cal, is batting .338. He belted a home run in an 8-0 second-round playoff win over Oak Ridge.
Stevens, a four-year varsity starter, is batting .333 with 18 RBI, eight doubles and 29 runs. Freshman infielder Dylan Minnatee is batting .321 with 16 RBI, and senior infielder Dom Giusti is batting .312 with 24 RBI.
In a 17-0 win over Stagg of Stockton in the first round of the playoffs, senior Zac McCargar drove in three, Giusti four and Stevens two.
Sophomore Dylan Wood is 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA for a staff that has a 1.84 ERA. Abraham struck out six, and he combined with relievers Connor Blackburn and Tyler Cody to toss a no-hitter against Stagg in the playoff opener.
Dave Kilby reminded the Wildcats a day before the game that he graduated from Stagg 50 years ago, and this game meant a bit more for him, so compete. They competed.
Cody is the son of Mike Cody, Franklin’s athletic director and longtime former baseball coach. He marvels at his son’s poise as a sophomore and especially his 4.3 GPA and love for mathematics and engineering.
“He’s smarter than the old man,” Mike Cody said.
The smart money is on Franklin to win this tournament, but this team is too experienced to gloat and make predictions. Stevens handled it admirably when he said, simply, “We want to win the section championship. We have the guys to do it.”