A relaxed and somewhat casual practice held by the Flintridge Prep baseball team Friday afternoon at the Glendale Sports Complex seemed to showcase a confident squad.
The Rebels appeared calm and loose, like a team making a second consecutive trip to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs, rather than a squad advancing as far for only the second time in 16 years.
"I love a relaxed atmosphere for one big reason," Flintridge Prep second-year skipper Guillermo Gonzalez said. "The more relaxed we are, the less we'll be thinking about the game. As long as our guys are having fun and getting work in, that's great. This is a kid's game after all."
Prep League runner-up Flintridge Prep (15-7-1) is one of two local baseball teams still alive and will travel to Malibu for a second-round tilt on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.
"We know Malibu is a great program that has a real strong player that carries them," Gonzalez said. "I know they like to play small ball, but other than that, we don't know that much and we're just going to approach the game with a pitch-by-pitch strategy."
The host Sharks own a 16-12 record and punched their ticket to the second round with a 17-1 thumping of visiting Arrowhead League third seed California Lutheran on Thursday.
Malibu finished in a five-way tie for the Frontier League title. The Sharks took the league's No. 1 seed after a series of tiebreakers including a coin flip and play-in game victory.
Malibu boasts a bona fide draft prospect in 5-foot-11, 175-pound Chase Lambert, who signed with nearby NCAA Division I Pepperdine University.
Lambert, who plays at second base and was the team's closer last season, is the reigning league MVP and has played in 20 games this season after recovering from Tommy John surgery last spring.
Lambert is batting .486 with two homers, eight doubles, 19 RBI and 15 runs scored, but did not pitch this season for precautionary reasons.
"Through my father's friends I know a few of those players and I know Lambert is really good," Rebels ace Brendan McKiernan said. "This is a team that can hit for power and contact and we'll see what they can do."
McKiernan, who is 5-3 with a 1.53 earned run average, will receive first-hand knowledge Tuesday as Gonzalez has assigned him the start after the senior picked up two outs in the seventh inning of the Rebels' 4-0 win against New Community Jewish on Thursday and notched a save.
"We were holding him back for this game," Gonzalez said of McKiernan. "I know he'll be ready."
While the Rebels are uncertain who they'll face on the bump Tuesday, at least one player said the team's strategy doesn't change.
"We have certain skill sets, so when we come out, we're going to have to play our game," Rebels senior Michael Weinstein said. "We're going to have to come out and keep working regardless of who we'll face."
While the Rebels' offense has struggled to produce in consecutive games, Flintridge Prep is hoping to welcome back a solid bat in senior shortstop Cole Rademacher, who missed the first-round playoff win with a throat infection.
Rademacher is hitting .365 with 27 hits and 21 runs in 20 games.
As for Tuesday, a victory would vault the Rebels into Friday's quarterfinals against either No. 1 seed Irvine Crean Lutheran (23-4-1) or Desert Mountain League No. 2 team Acton Vasquez (13-5).
"It's been a nice run so far and I told the guys that this is their story and they're writing it," Gonzalez said. "They don't seem anxious to be in the playoffs and that's a good thing. Hopefully, they're like that on Tuesday."
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.