Kachel, Romero are all heart

Cougars guard Travis Romero has been key in the team's success this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Andrew Kachel and Travis Romero grew up playing sports together, forming a strong bond and creating a wealth of memories in the process. They share plenty in common, but most notably this: They go into every game with a chip—check that, a boulder—on their shoulders.

The Christopher High juniors are two-sport standouts in baseball and basketball, and they flat-out compete.

“I’m not at a disadvantage playing center at all,” the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Kachel said. “I feel like I’m one of the most physical guys out there, and I think my stats show it. I play with a lot of heart, which is more important. Heart gets you rebounds and loose balls. Height only gets you so much. Height doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t play with heart. The guys on the other team don’t expect me to get any rebounds, but I’m out here getting rebounds all over these guys. I shock them—I shock myself sometimes.”

Said Romero: “We like to do the dirty work, whether it’s taking charges or fighting for rebounds. The greatest challenge I’ve overcome is my height (Romero is 5-6), understanding my role and turning that into my strength. People don’t expect me to do things with how small I am. They don’t expect me to jump high, to run fast or how hard I play on the inside.”

Kachel and Romero’s mentality of having something to prove every time they step on the court has helped the Christopher High boys basketball team to four straight wins entering Wednesday’s Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division game against Pajaro Valley. The Cougars (13-9 overall, 6-4 league) are seemingly peaking at the perfect time, as evidenced by an 82-63 win over rival Gilroy last Friday.

Cougars senior Dean Tognetti had another monster game, finishing with a game-high 33 points. If Christopher manages to beat North Salinas in its regular-season finale on Friday, they will have avenged all four of its league losses in succession—quite a remarkable feat.

Grit is Christopher’s talent, and the Cougars have it in abundance. It’s no wonder coach Derek Jensen raves about players like Kachel and Romero.

“Every time Andrew steps on the floor, he is ready to bang and compete,” Jensen said. “He is a difference maker. There is no other way to put it. He does all the little things right. He rebounds extremely well, he passes well, he can finish inside and out, he is a great defender and he is, just like Travis, an extremely unselfish player that really understands the game.”

Jensen noted the players’ grind-it-out mentality, and how that manifests on the court. It’s no wonder Jensen feels great about his team.

“Kids like Travis are extremely rare,” Jensen said. “Kids that want to win more than see themselves put up big stats. Kids that care more about the team than themselves. Kids that are humble, want to learn and improve from it. Our defenses and offenses all start with Travis. He does not care if he gets a steal on defense or if his teammates get it; he just wants the steal. … He is such a fierce and unselfish competitor. Anytime we have a team issue, I go to Travis first. He is such a great kid with such a great head on his shoulders.”

Even though the Cougars are in the midst of a season that could include a strong Central Coast Section playoff run, their chances would’ve been hindered had Kachel ultimately decided not to play. That was actually a reality last summer—for about a week. That week seemed like an eternity for Jensen, who tried his best to convince Kachel that playing basketball again would be beneficial in a variety of ways.

After Kachel had made up his mind last summer that he was going to forego basketball to focus on baseball—the sport he will potentially play in college—Jensen figured he would be one key player short come hoops season.

“Thank goodness for us (that Andrew changed his mind),” Jensen said.

It was actually another childhood friend—teammate Anthony Burns—who is largely responsible for Kachel playing on the team this season.

“Anthony made a bet that if I played basketball, he would try out for the baseball team even though he hadn’t touched a bat or ball in six years,” Kachel said. “I love Anthony, and I’ve known him since rookie league. I’m glad he did that, because I’m not regretting my decision to play basketball again.”

Kachel, who is second in the MBL in rebounding and fourth in steals, has been particularly strong lately, averaging 13 rebounds, 13 steals and 3 steals in a sizzling three-game stretch, all victories. Romero did nothing but work in the off-season, a big reason why his game has made tremendous progress in that time.

A year ago, Romero averaged 2 points per game. This season, the point guard is averaging 10 points a game. Romero has a keen eye for the game, a big reason why Jensen will go to him to talk about important matters regarding the team.

“As a point guard, my role is to be the coach’s eyes on the court, the second set of eyes,” he said. “I know I don’t score a lot, but I contribute to the team by moving the ball, setting up plays and creating chances for everyone.”

Kachel and Romero have shared plenty of memorable moments over the years, and they plan on creating more this season. There is no doubt Christopher can win a game or two—and if everything breaks right, possibly more—in the playoffs. And it all begins with a certain type of dogged attitude that Kachel and Romero display daily.

“How could I not play with a chip on my shoulder? I’m 5-11 going up against centers above 6 feet,” Kachel said. “Our season has been defined by us having more heart than anyone. Someone has to earn the win against us; we won’t give it to them.”

Of that, there is no doubt.