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2013 BASEBALL PREVIEW: Gahr hoping to finally get to the promise land with another stacked team

PLAY BALL!

High School Baseball Season Has Arrived.  Read LCCN Sports Editor Loren Kopff's 2013 Preview!

High School Baseball Season Has Arrived. Read LCCN Sports Editor Loren Kopff’s 2013 Preview!

 

 

 

By Loren Kopff

If it sounds like a broken record player, then it probably is. But once again, Gahr’s baseball team has the talent to get past the semifinal jinx and advance to a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section championship game. Valley Christian is hoping to make it back to back Olympic League titles with another experienced unit while Artesia and Cerritos anticipate much better results. Norwalk brings in a new coach with familiar ties while John Glenn aims to get back to the playoffs.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS (5-20 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, seventh place)

Head coach: Michael Gaoghagen (11th season, 101-160-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 31-93-1

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Key losses: Cesar Esparza, Jeremy Gaskin, Efrain Huizar, Carlos Ramirez, Gary Smith, Cesar Soto, Guadalupe Soto

Projected lineup:

P-Jerry Azzato (SR)/Tyler Brown (JR)/Tommy Corrales (SR)/Joseph Herrera (SR)

C-Corrales/Marcus Johnson (SO)/David Montano (JR)/Roman Salazar (JR)

1B-Osbiel Montano (JR)

2B-Matt Munoz (SO)/Salazar

3B-Brown/Javier Vasquez (SO)

SS-Herrera/Munoz

OF-Azzato/Ivan Rosales (JR)

OF-Julian Mendoza (SR)/Jesse Vega (SR)

OF-Diego Castaneda (JR)/Brendon Taylor (JR)

After competing with Norwalk for the Suburban League’s fourth and final automatic playoff berth the past two seasons, the Pioneers regressed and finished in last place for the first time since 2008. Artesia began the season with six straight losses, five coming in the always tough Loara Tournament where the team was outscored 44-6. The team ended the season on an 11-game slide but lost by one or two runs five times during that stretch.

“I don’t think we played to our potential,” said Artesia head coach Michael Gaoghagen. “I think we were a mid-pack team that if we played well, we could have made the playoffs. But we didn’t play very well during the Easter break and it kind of continued when we got back into league play.”

Coming into this season, the two concerns will be in the pitching department and the infield defense. But Artesia has depth behind the plate, something that the program hasn’t had in quite some time. The Pioneers return only five players and Gaoghagen says he has guarded optimism for 2013 as the team is still growing. Seniors Jerry Azzato and Tommy Corrales lead the pitching staff and combined to go 3-5 last season.

“We’re looking for big things from Tommy Corrales,” Gaoghagen said. “He’ll be pitching, catching and wherever we need him. He’s looking to make amends for last year.

“We don’t have any guys who blow 90 [miles per hour],” Gaoghagen continued. “We never do. But as long as our guys throw strikes, which they’re doing a lot better job of and our infield just makes routine plays, we’ll be alright.”

Junior first baseman Osbiel Montano and sophomore third baseman Javier Vasquez anchor the infield and will have to guide the newcomers in the middle. Junior Roman Salazar is a transfer from Cerritos. Although the offense may not be among the best, Gaoghagen says filling out his lineup card will be harder this season.

“In the past, it was pretty easy to make a lineup because there was a big difference between No. 11-16,” Gaoghagen said. “This year, it’s a lot closer. It will be harder to make a lineup but it will be nicer because that means it will push everybody.”

CERRITOS DONS (8-19 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, sixth place)

Head coach: Chris Aquino (third season, 14-37)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 32-97

Last time made the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Kevin Anderson, Jacob Carter, Brian Diaz, Mitch Hacecky, Will Lee, Jonathan Mura, Keenan Parra, Brandon Thomas

Projected lineup:

P-Jacob Carter (SO)/Eugene Chang (JR)/Justin Fujii (SO)/J.T. Mars (SR)/Andrew Ortega (SR)/Omar Rodriguez (SR)

C-Jake Liang (SR)/Mars

1B-Carter/Chang/Fujii

2B-Alejandro Cabrera (SO)/Aaron Hinds (SO)

3B-Omar Rodriguez/Mars

SS-Ortega/Omar Rodriguez

OF-Nick Lee (SR)

OF-Juan Rodriguez (JR)

OF-Carter/Aaron Carver (JR)

Head coach Chris Aquino hasn’t had much to smile about in his first two seasons. But he began to see a slight turnaround last season and said the team became fundamentally better, as well as the togetherness of the players and the hitting across the board. Aquino said he knew the season was going the other way when his team visited Glenn in its Suburban League opener.

“I think it was after the first John Glenn game,” Aquino said. “We had a 2-0 lead and they played their hearts out and we lost in extra innings 3-2. That’s what hurt them the most; if they put 110 percent effort into the game, and they lose from it, it’s really hard for them to recover the next game. Our momentum was struggling to come up until our last six games when we won four in a row coming into La Mirada.”

The Dons are still very experienced but will have a varsity rookie as their No. 1 pitcher. Junior Eugene Chang, who allowed one run during fall league, gets that call. Sophomore Jacob Carter and senior Andrew Ortega will follow Chang in the rotation. Sophomore Justin Fujii figures to be a long-inning pitcher while senior Omar Rodriguez is slated to be the closer.

The catching duo of seniors Jake Liang and J.T. Mars is solid while senior Nick Lee, who was a catcher last season, will add some punch to the outfield as he moves to left. Another move to the outfield comes from junior Juan Rodriguez as he moves from shortstop to center. The eight victories last season were the most since Cerritos won nine in the 2006 season.

“This year we’re going to compete for that fourth spot,” Aquino said. “I’m really, really excited.”This year’s seniors are hungry. They’re hungry to win and they have a fire that I’ve never seen before in the last two years with the [previous] seniors. They are willing to guide these younger guys.”

GAHR GLADIATORS (19-11 overall last season, 11-4 in the San Gabriel Valley League, tied for first place, lost to Bonita 3-0 in the Division III semifinals)

Head coach: Geraldo Perez (ninth season, 153-80-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 91-56

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Alonso Casillas, Hayden Humphreys, Hector Partida, Freddy Perez, Anthony Rodriguez

Projected lineup:

P-George Castillo (JR)/Andrew Encinas (SR)/Valentin Flores (JR)/Larry Gannon (JR)/Greg Humbert (SR)/Paul Versteeg (SO)

C-Humbert/Victor Salazar (FR)

1B-Daniel Gomez (SR)

2B-Edgar Morales (SR)

3B-Joe Dressel (SO)/Kevin Franklin (SR)

SS-Adonis Morrison (SR)

OF-Albert Perez (SR)/Oscar Reyna (SR)

OF-Jaime Estrada (JR)/Morrison

OF-Dressel/Franklin

For the second time in the past three seasons, Gahr’s long-awaited bid to reach the championship was cut one game short. But don’t mention going to the title game to head coach Geraldo Perez, who has continued to build the Gahr program to be one of the best in Southern California.

“I don’t have enough time to think about all of that stuff, to be honest with you,” Perez said. “Every team is different. Every team is unique. [Former Gahr] coach [Tom] Bergeron put it in perspective. In my first year here, I thought we had a phenomenal team that year and we got eliminated in a nine-inning game that year out in Temecula after we went out there twice. We went to Paloma Valley first, then to Temecula Valley and we lost in the quarterfinals. Tom said, ‘don’t feel bad. I coached for 33 years and I only made it to the finals twice and the semifinals twice’. We’re Gahr High School, so I’m very proud of what the kids that we’ve had here have come together to do.”

Perez added that he hopes the kids don’t think about going to the title game, but instead wants them to enjoy their time together as Gahr baseball players. He said last season, the kids responded and picked each other up when things didn’t go their way and that they became independent.

This may be one of Gahr’s best returning group of seniors ever and is definitely the best under Perez. Gahr’s pitching staff had an earned run average of 2.03 last season and it got even better with the addition of senior Greg Humbert, a transfer from Mayfair. Senior Andrew Encinas, who will be going to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is still the ace of the pitching staff and had an ERA of 0.83 last season with 65 strikeouts in 73 innings. Perez says Humbert ‘has been a good fit and he’s one of us’.

“They have experience; they have some mileage underneath them,” Perez said of the pitching staff. “I do feel comfortable in that.”

When speaking of the infield, Perez simply stated that, ‘it’s not hard this year’. Senior first baseman Daniel Gomez, senior second baseman Edgar Morales, who will be going to the University of California, Riverside, senior third baseman Kevin Franklin (Arizona State University) and senior shortstop Adonis Morrison (UC Riverside) are hard to beat. Morrison was an outfielder last season while junior Jaime Estrada (University of Oregon) moves from shortstop to center field. .The returning infield starters all batted no worse than .360 last season

Gahr went 11-4 last season in the San Gabriel Valley League, good enough for first place which once again proves that this is one of the toughest leagues around. Gahr’s league title last season was its first since 2006.

“Warren is a team that could come up and bite anybody,” Perez said. “They are much improved. Downey perennially always has talent and Paramount is always tough and gritty. Any way you slice it, you’re going to have to show up and you’re going to have to play one pitch at a time for seven innings.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES (11-14 overall last season, 5-7 in the Suburban League, fifth place)

Head coach: Jack Brooks (second season, 11-14)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 53-72

Last time made the playoffs: 2009

Key losses: Ronaldo Acuna, Jesse Gutierrez, Robert King, John Lemos

Projected lineup:

P-Cesar Arzate (SR)/Devin Galindo (SR)/Rene Gaytan (SR)/Luis Rojas (SO)/Victor Sanchez (SO)

C-Abel Landa (SR)/Arturo Loera (SR)
1B-Arzate/Frank Rodarte (SR)

2B-Ricky Padilla (SR)

3B-Angel Chavez (SO)/Gaytan/Martin Sandoval (JR)

SS-Rosas

OF-Ryan Rodriguez (SR)

OF-Loera/Rodarte/Sanchez

OF-Galindo

With only 25 guys in the entire John Glenn program last season, it was definitely a trying campaign for Jack Brooks. However, after a 2-7 start, the Eagles turned it around in the last month and a half and just fell short of the playoffs. This season, Brooks looks for much better results, especially with a strong pitching staff.

“It was a season of growth and a season of change program-wise,” Brooks said. “A lot of young guys got a lot of big time experience. We lost three seniors who were a big part of the offense last year. But I like our club and I like how we’re working.”

Senior Cesar Arzate and sophomore Victor Sanchez will pace the pitching staff, which is deep with three other returning players. Senior Arturo Loera, who was the team’s center fielder last season, is the new catcher while senior Rene Gaytan moves from first base to third base and sophomore Luis Rosas shifts from third base to shortstop. Brooks says the key to this season is executing on the offensive side.

Of the seven league losses, one was by a run, one by two runs and another by three runs and two league games went into extra innings, both resulting in 3-2 victories.

“The expectation level was No. 1, commitment is 1A and the numbers have grown,” Brooks said of this season. “We’ve grown about 10 kids in the program. That doesn’t seem huge but coming from 26 in the program to over 30 is big for us.”

NORWALK LANCERS (12-15 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Upland 22-2 in the Division II wild card)

Head coach: Ruben Guerrero (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 56-70

Last time missed the playoffs: 2009

Key losses: Matthew Ortega, Jacob Salas, Jose Sandoval, German Vasquez

Projected lineup:

P-Andy Caro (SR)/Fernando DeLuna (JR)/Miguel Castaneda (SR)/Carlos Garcia (JR)/Anthony Gonzalez (SR)/Jesse Rodriguez (SR)

C-Joseph Borjorquez (SR)

1B-Faustino Colon (JR)

2B-Castaneda/Manuel Garcia (JR)

3B-Caro/DeLuna

SS-Jesse Rodriguez (SR)/Manual Garcia

OF-Jacob Carr (SO)

OF-Trino Romero (JR)

OF-Gonzalez/Tyler McCalman (SR)

A blast from the past comes in as the new Norwalk head coach as Ruben Guerrero replaces Ruben Velasquez, who took the Lancers to the playoffs the last three seasons. Guerrero previously coached at Norwalk as well as John Glenn and graduated from Norwalk in 1993.

“I’m very excited and looking to just continue the success they’ve had here,” Guerrero said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s been a very easy transition,” he continued. “Early on in my career, I started here at Norwalk High School and then transitioned over to John Glenn High School. So I’m pretty familiar with the Suburban League and the value of competition that it brings.”

Guerrero inherits a very experienced team that is hoping to get out of that fourth/fifth place spot it has held since 2008. Senior Anthony Gonzalez and junior Carlos Garcia will be the two primary pitchers with the latter posting an ERA of 1.50 last season. When he’s not pitching, senior Andy Caro (.341 last season) is a solid third baseman. The rest of the infield is just as strong with senior second baseman Miguel Castaneda, senior shortstop Jesse Rodriguez and junior first baseman Faustino Colon the likely starters. Junior Trino Romero anchors the outfield with sophomore Jacob Carr returning in left. Sophomores Hector Amaya and Pete Hernandez will be battling for a roster spot.

The Lancers batted .238 last season but with the 13 returning players, this has the makings of a .300-plus hitting tram that can challenge the likes of La Mirada and Mayfair for one of the top spots in league.

“As a group, we’ve sat down and analyzed the very topic of [league placement],” Guerrero said. “We just want to go out and do the best we can and play with a lot of confidence and intensity. As a club, we think that’s one area we need to improve on and we do have a goal of winning a league title for Norwalk High School. It’s been about 17 years.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS (16-12 overall last season, 10-2 in the Olympic League, first place, lost to Woodcrest Christian 2-1 (8 innings) in Division V second round)

Head coach: Sean Buller (third season, 23-30)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 58-77-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

Key losses: Dylan Algra, Brian Burgin, Anthony Nocera, Shane Stillwagon

Projected lineup:

P-Liam Bestian (SR)/Troy Craddock (JR)/Clayton Granch (SR)/Tyler McLurg (SR)/Nico Morandini (SR)

C-Granch/McLurg

1B-Brian Bischoff (JR)/Craddock/Granch/Morandini/Mitchell Torres (JR)

2B-Bestian/Kevin Sainz (SO)

3B-Patrick Avila (SR)/Jack Struiksma (SO)

SS-Avila/Sainz

OF-Cody McKittrick (JR)

OF-Bischoff /Morandini

OF-Aaron Kirchner (JR)

Valley Christian’s slow start to 2012, which included a tough doubleheader loss to Gahr, paid off in the end as the Crusaders dominated the Olympic League and won their first league crown since 2006. Gone is former head coach Erick Streelman and back in the saddle again is Sean Buller, who guided the Crusaders in 2010 and 2011.

“Last season was a special season with a special group of guys,” Buller said. “That group of seniors that we had just put in a lot of their time and effort and heart and soul. We started off in a rough patch playing up in competition to prepare ourselves for league.

“It’s different because last year was definitely a different role to be able to just take a step back and humble myself with these guys and realize the importance of what coaching is,” Buller continued. “But it’s the same because this is my fourth year. My freshmen that I came in with are seniors this year. It’s an extra special year with these guys.”

Pitching was a key part of V.C.’s success last season and figures to be strong again but in a different way. Buller will utilize more of a major league style where guys will throw one or two innings at a time. The Crusaders graduated their top two pitchers but seniors Clayton Granch, Tyler McLurg and Nico Morandini bring over 35 innings of experience on the mound. On the days that Granch or McLurg catch, they won’t pitch. Junior Troy Craddock will assume the role as the closer. Granch also has a hot bat as he hit .391 last season.

V.C. will have to find a way to recover from two significant injuries as senior Connor Buckley, who batted .419 last season, is done for the season, and senior third baseman Patrick Avila, a .360 hitter in 2012, is recovering from an ACL injury. Sophomore Kevin Sainz will replace Avila for the time being.

With Avila and Buckley out of the lineup, the offense has to pick up and Buller is hoping junior first baseman Brian Bischoff and junior left fielder Cody McKittrick can pick up the slack.

In terms of repeating as league champions, Buller knows the target is definitely on his team’s back. But with another tough non-league schedule, the Crusaders should be up for the challenge.

“[Former V.C. and current Whittier Christian head coach] Brent Lavoie and I are really close friends and we’ve talked all offseason and he’s really excited for the year to come gunning for us,” Buller said. “Returning league champions are always going to have that tag to come after. We have the league title, it’s us to defend it and we’re up for the task to defend it.”

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