Two of the top baseball programs in the Stanislaus District are under new leadership this spring.
Former Oakdale High skipper Nathan Gregory has joined Zeb Brayton's staff at Modesto Junior College, ushering in the Chris Henry era at the perennial Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section power.
From 2007 to 2013, the Mustangs won six Division IV titles.
Further south, East Union graduate Andy Walker takes over for John Acha at Pitman High, the 2006 Division I south champion.
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"The one thing I've always admired about John is that he had a high level of energy around his players and his coaches," Walker said, "and he brought to practice and the games every day. He was big on playing the game with class and respect, and always representing your school in a positive way. I think those are similarities we both have."
Acha, who averaged about 19 wins in five seasons, was forced to step down when he took an administrative role at the high school. Acha (94-54-1) is the assistant principal in charge of curriculum. Per Turlock Unified School District policy, administrators are prohibited from coaching.
Athletic director Dave Walls didn't have to look far for Acha's replacement.
Walker was on campus and itching to get back into high school coaching after a short hiatus. Walker served as a lower-level and assistant varsity coach until 2011, when he stepped away to be closer to his young family.
"I always knew I'd always be back at some point," said Walker, who also assisted East Union's Dan Triglia. "It was just a matter of time really. As my kids got older, I missed being out there. I missed the competition and the speed of the game. I'd been around baseball my whole life, so it was something I missed. There was this void."
Henry is an alumnus of Oakdale High who played at Oklahoma University and was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2004. He replaces Gregory, who was 79-34 in four seasons and served as a pitching coach during the Mustangs' string of consecutive section titles.
A 1997 graduate of East Union High in Manteca, Walker said his tenure will emphasize pitching. Makes sense: Walker was a right-handed pitcher at Stanislaus State, where he baffled hitters with the knuckle ball.
Walker has implemented a new throwing and weight program, and will focus on developing the necessary arms to compete in the Central California Conference and beyond . The Pride joins the Central California Athletic League for all sports in the fall.
"We have a lot of similarities in style, but I'm my own person and have my own way of doing things," said Walker, who won his varsity debut, an 11-3 victory over Modesto. "I have a strong pitching background that I'll bring into this position. It's going to be about development, the mental and emotional side of pitching, the philosophical side of it. All of that is what I'm trying to establish here."
More importantly, Walker wants Pitman to remain a player's program.
The program has 13 consecutive winning seasons, a streak that began in 2004-05, and has won at least 20 games four times. In 2006, the Pride captured the Sac-Joaquin Section South championship, but was swept by Elk Grove in the final.
In all of those years, under pioneering coach Mick Tate and Acha, the focus has been on the talent, not the coaching. That won't change, Walker says.
"It's like I've told the kids, I've been coaching for almost 20 years and I've done a little bit of everything. I don't feel any pressure, because it's not about me," he added. "It's about them (the kids), our school and this program. I'm not here to make a name for myself."