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2014 BASEBALL PREVIEW Gahr to be tested with younger squad, John Glenn stocked with transfers

By Loren Kopff

Gahr’s baseball team has always been challenged but after losing over 60 percent of its offense to graduation, this season’s squad is hoping to overcome those high expectations of staying atop the San Gabriel Valley League. Thanks to transfer players from city rival Norwalk, John Glenn is banking on a high finish in the Suburban League. Artesia and Cerritos, hoping to rebound from disappointing seasons, just want to get out of the bottom half of the league.

The Norwalk, Valley Christian and Whitney previews will be in the next issue.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS (10-16 overall last season, 4-8 in the Suburban League, fifth place)

Head coach: Michael Gaoghagan (12th season, 111-176-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 38-87

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Key losses: Jerry Azzato, Tommy Corrales, Joseph Herrera, Roman Salazar (SR-transferred to Cerritos

Projected lineup:

P-Tyler Brown (SR)/Diego Castaneda (SR)/Abel Flores (JR)/Daniel Licea (FR)/Osbiel Montano (SR)/Javier Vasquez (JR)

C-David Montano (JR)

1B-Osbiel Montano (SR)

2B-Marcus Johnson (JR)

3B-Vasquez

SS-Matt Munoz (JR)

OF-Jesse Martinez/Ivan Rosales (SR)

OF-Diego Castaneda (SR)

OF-Jesus Vigil (SR)

Again, the Pioneers battled Norwalk for the fourth and final automatic playoff spot in the league on the final week of the season and again, longtime head coach Michael Gaoghagan’s hopes of going to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 were foiled. Now, Artesia has to regroup with an experienced squad, but also knowing that the league is getting tougher.

“I thought going into the last game we were sitting kind of pretty,” Gaoghagan said. “We had who we wanted to throw. We just couldn’t get anything going.

“Obviously you want to make playoffs whenever you can and each year is a little bit different,” he later added. “Obviously we don’t have the talent that we had in 2003. So, we basically have to find the most athletic kids we can and just coach them.”

Senior Tyler Brown, who pitched the final four road league games last season and went 3-6 overall, leads the pitching staff that will be deeper in numbers than in recent seasons. The infield is solid with senior Osbiel Montano and juniors Marcus Johnson, who was the catcher last season, Matt Munoz and Javier Vasquez. Senior center fielder Diego Castaneda is the leader of the outfield.

With the exception of tying Norwalk for fourth place in 2011, the Pioneers have finished in the bottom three of the league since last going to the playoffs. During that time, Artesia has five wins over Norwalk, two wins over Bellflower and none against La Mirada and Mayfair. Those four teams have been consistent playoff participants but John Glenn is expected to be much improved this season. Artesia definitely has its work cut out for 2014.

“I would say the top half is not as good as it was and I think the bottom half is probably better than they have been,” Gaoghagan said.

CERRITOS DONS (5-12 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place)

Co-head coaches: Scott Parsonage/Brooks Walling (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 30-90

Last time made the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Nick Lee, Jake Liang, J.T. Mars, Andrew Ortega, Omar Rodriguez,

Projected lineup:

P-Jacob Carter (JR)/Eugene Chang (SR)/Steven Chial (SR)/Justin Fujii (JR)/Ian Rosenburg (JR)/Dylan Statham (SR)

C-Roman Salazar (JR)/Kyle Suezaki (SO)

1B-Carter/Fujii/Nick Sur (SO)

2B-Alejandro Cabrera (JR)/Saul Ruvalcalba (SO)/Salazar  

3B-Aaron Hinds (JR)/Sur

SS-Cabrera/Hinds

OF-Cabrera/Juan Rodriguez (SR)

OF-Carter/Bobby Nam (SR)/Rodriguez

OF-Statham

There is a changing of the guard as former Gahr pitching coach Scott Parsonage and former Artesia pitcher Brooks Walling team up to try to rebuild a struggling baseball program. Parsonage graduated from Cerritos 20 years ago while Walling pitched for the Pioneers in 2001 and 2002. They replace Chris Aquino, who had been at the school the past three seasons.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to bring a great guy in to coach with me,” Parsonage said of Walling. “But I feel that we could have an opportunity to turn this program around back to how it was in the late 1980s when they won a CIF championship in 1989.”

Parsonage said Aquino left the program with a basic foundation of fundamentals and while the players aren’t advanced yet, the co-head coaches have already seen changes in the mental part of the game in a short amount of time.

The pitching staff is solid with senior Eugene Chang and junior Jacob Carter along with another junior, newcomer Ian Rosenburg. Junior Justin Fujii is the primary first baseman when not on the mound. However, the offense takes a hit as the top four hitters in league action all graduated.

Parsonage said he and Walling don’t have super high expectations for this season other than to build from game to game and not to take a step backwards.

“We’re going to turn it [around],” Parsonage said. “It’s going to take a little time, but we will turn it. I know we’ll turn it. It’s just the competitors that we are. We refuse to lose. We’re going to give these guys every bit of knowledge that we have in order to try to make them successful.”

GAHR GLADIATORS (22-6 overall last season, 13-2 in the San Gabriel Valley League, first place, lost to Diamond Bar 5-3 in the Division III quarterfinals)

Head coach: Gerardo Perez (10th season, 175-86-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 100-46

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Andrew Encinas, Kevin Franklin, Daniel Gomez, Greg Humbert, Edgar Morales, Adonis Morrison, Albert Perez

Projected lineup:

P-George Castillo (SR)/Valentin Flores (SR)/Nick Guerra (SR)/Octavio Lara (SR)/Jorge Rivas (JR)/Paul Versteeg (JR)

C-David Balboa (SO)/Joe Dressel (JR)/Victor Salazar (SO)

1B-Balboa/Salazar

2B-Dressel

3B-Jesus Salazar (SO)

SS-Jaime Estrada (SR)

OF-Leotis Johnson III (JR)

OF-Alberto Avila (JR)

OF-Nick Cepeda (JR)

For the fifth time since taking over the Gahr program, head coach Gerardo Perez won at least 20 games. However, his teams have yet to reach the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional finals despite having one of the top programs in Southern California. Now, Gahr has to try to duplicate the success that power hitters Kevin Franklin (.448, 39 hits, 37 runs batted in, 33 runs, 10 doubles last season), Daniel Gomez (.384, 28 hits, 21 RBI), Edgar Morales (.345, 29 hits, 23 RBI) and Adonis Morrison (.353, 30 hits, 28 RBI, 23 runs).among others, left behind.

“Every year is unique to the players,” Perez said. “Last year’s guys are gone, obviously, and it was a [San Gabriel Valley League] title we shared in and we were able to hopefully gain some positive experience from another good playoff run and another league title. But all that being said, that was last year. This year’s team has a different emphasis, a different focus and a different culture to its own.”

The Gladiators will be young this season and Perez says the emphasis will be on getting back to the fundamentals of defense. The pitching staff is very experienced and will make up for the lack of power from last season. Senior George Castillo went 5-0 last season as the third option behind Andrew Encinas and Greg Humbert, both of whom combined to go 15-2. Castillo and senior Octavio Lara, who didn’t start pitching until last February, have signed to go to Central Arizona University. According to Perez, senior Valentin Flores might have the most upside out of everyone on the pitching staff.

The core of the Gahr culture, Perez says, will be senior shortstop Jaime Estrada (.479 last season), also going to Central Arizona University, junior catcher and second baseman Joe Dressel (.327) and sophomore third baseman Jesus Salazar, who was an outfielder last season. Junior left fielder Leotis Johnson III (.317) and sophomore catcher David Balboa, who was primarily a designated hitter last season, also bring some offense with them.

Junior center fielder Alberto Avila is a transfer from St. John Bosco while junior right fielder Nick Cepeda might have the best arm Perez has seen in his 10 seasons at Gahr.

“While we might not have the [hitting of] K.J., Edgar, Adonis, where they all had their share of home runs, I do think we have the potential to hit a lot of doubles,” Perez said.

Perez added that outsiders should not sell this group short and that they are gritty and fundamentally sound. The league has altered its schedule to where all six teams will now play 10 league games instead of 15. That leaves room for Perez to schedule more, and tougher, non league opponents as well as pick up a third tournament. The Gladiators, who have already played Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei in the Newport Elks Tournament, will also have doubleheaders against Long Beach Poly and Loyola and will participate in the National Classic and Redondo Tournament. Cathedral, Long Beach Wilson and Serra are pool play opponents in the Redondo Tournament.

“Our non league schedule has to be up there with just about anybody’s,” Perez said. “This is our most difficult schedule we’ve ever had. Here we go; hang on to your horses. It’s going to be a fun ride.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES (11-15 overall last season, 3-9 in the Suburban League, sixth place)

Head coach: Jack Brooks (third season, 22-29)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 49-76

Last time made the playoffs: 2009

Key losses: Cesar Arzate, Deven Galindo, Ryan Gaytan, Arturo Loera, Ricky Padilla, Frank Rodarte, Ryan Rodriguez

Projected lineup:

PFernando DeLuna (SR)/Carlos Garcia (SR)/Luis Rosas (JR)/Victor Sanchez (JR)

C-David Correa (SR)

1B-Faustino Colon (SR)/Erick Galindo (JR)

2B-Angel Chavez (JR)/Rosas

3B-Chavez/DeLuna/Garcia/Martin Sandoval (SR)

SS-Jacob Carr (JR)/Rosas

OF-Alex Barajas (SR)/Sammy Lopez (SO)

OF-David Perez (SR)/Sanchez

OF-Raymond Ochoa (SR)

After a pair of 11-win seasons, head coach Jack Brooks feels this is the season that the Eagles get back to the playoffs. With the addition of four players who transferred from city rival Norwalk, plus half a dozen established experienced players, the timing couldn’t be better for John Glenn.

“It was tough,” Brooks said of last season. “We didn’t play very well in league. We didn’t play well offensively in league and we lost a lot of close ball games. We had a few guys pitch very well, but if you don’t score runs, you have to play perfect. Hopefully we’ll rebound and have a great year this year.”

Junior Victor Sanchez, who was the team’s secondary pitcher in league games last season, will be the top hurler this season with seniors Fernando DeLuna and Carlos Garcia, both from Norwalk, and junior Luis Rosas battling for the No. 2 spot. Brooks says he is excited to see what Sanchez, who could be one of the better players in the area, can do

Junior catcher David Correa is a transfer from Chicago while senior first baseman Faustino Colon and junior shortstop Jacob Carr are also from Norwalk.

“I was excited for this season no matter what,” Brooks said. “We’re still in the rebuilding process here. We’re just trying to get our numbers up so we can compete with much bigger schools.

“Carlos Garcia and Fernando DeLuna and Faustino Colon have been great,” he later added. “They have great attitudes. We’re very lucky to have them and we’re excited to see what they can bring to the table this season.”

Despite getting the transfers and already knowing that the league has been dominated by La Mirada and Mayfair recently, Brooks isn’t automatically giving his squad the league title, especially since the Eagles haven’t beaten Mayfair since 2007 and have one win over La Mirada since at least 1999.

“Basically our goal, what we’ve discussed with this team, is to go out there and compete and play well every day,” Brooks said. “If we worry about ourselves and play like we’re capable of, it’s going to be an exciting year. We just want to play better, make our school proud, make the city proud and go out there and play an exciting brand of baseball.”