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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Gahr High’s baseball program has won the San Gabriel Valley League championship 24 times since its first title in 1971. John Glenn High, on the other hand, won the Suburban League last season for the first time since 1990. For either team to repeat, it will have to do so with younger and less experienced squads. Artesia High and Cerritos High could have long-awaited playoff trips snapped while Norwalk High hopes it can rebound from a disappointing 2015 campaign in the very tough Suburban League. Valley Christian High will also have a young squad as it tries to stay in the hunt for an Olympic League crown.
Returning players in italics
4-21 overall last season, 1-10 in the Suburban League, seventh place
Head coach: Michael Gaoghagan (14th season, 122-216)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 32-95
Last playoff appearance: 2007
Key losses: Abel Flores, Marcus Johnson, David Montano, Matt Munoz, Javier Vasquez
P-Todd Fahey (SR)/Anthony Larson (SR)/David Licea (JR)/Alejandro Mendoza (SR)/Tondre Neal (SR)/Matt Oropeza (JR)/David Vasquez (SO)
C-Allan Castro (SO)/Nathan Guerrero (SR)/Neal
1B-Max Anderson (JR)/Robert Aragon (SO)/Guerrero
2B-Aragon/Eric Marquez (JR)
3B-Alexander Covarrubias (JR)
SS-Oscar Barragan (JR)/David Bravo (SR)
OF-Gabriel Flores (SR)
Artesia had strong aspirations of getting to the postseason in 2015 but instead stumbled to near unchartered territory. Last season’s record was the worst for the program since 2008 when the Pioneers went 3-22-1 and the team finished in last place in the Suburban League for just the second time under head coach Michael Gaoghagan’s time at Artesia.
He says the Pioneers underperformed last season, the defense was subpar and the team didn’t step up and meet the challenges. But this season, he is pleased to have something he hasn’t had much of during his 14 seasons-depth.
“We feel we have much more talent and depth this year,” Gaoghagan said. “Last year we focused on reducing our walks allowed. This year, after our subpar defense, our motto is ‘it is all about the ‘D’.”
That depth begins on the mound with senior Anthony Larson, junior David Licea and sophomore David Vasquez, all of whom combined for 16 starts last season. Larson also had the lone league win, a complete game, six-hitter against Norwalk. Goaghagan says he has confidence that any of his seven pitchers can get the job done.
Junior Eric Marquez replaces Marcus Johnson at second base and has better speed. Senior Nathan Guerrero and sophomore Allan Castro provide a nifty platoon behind the plate, a luxury Gaoghagan has never had. However, don’t be surprised if senior newcomer Tondre Neal starts in that position. Guerrero figures to get most of the playing time at first base and in fact, the right side of the infield will have a lot of depth.
Not too long ago, Artesia was battling Norwalk for the final automatic playoff berth, and it would come late in the season. Gaoghagan feels this is the season his squad can break that eight-year playoff drought. One major change in Artesia’s schedule came early in the season when the Pioneers dropped the very tough Loara Tournament for the more prestigious Newport Elks Tournament and through the first five games of this season, Artesia has won three games.
“We should be much better,” he says. “While I have much respect for the programs in our league, I think we have an excellent shot to be a contender and make great strides this year.”
16-11 overall last season, 5-6 in the Suburban League, fifth place
Head coach: Scott Parsonage (third season, 25-29)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 44-78
Last playoff appearance: 1998
Key losses: Jacob Carter, Justin Fujii, Aaron Hinds, Ian Rosenberg
P-Tyler Beyer (SR)/Jason Prieto (SR)/Jamriel Rodriguez (SR)/Saul Ruvalcaba (SR)/Kyle Suezaki (SR)
C-Francisco Diaz (SO)/Erik Gomez (SR)/Suezaki/Brett Wells (JR)
1B-Nicholas Sur (SR)
2B-Jonathan Estrada (JR)
SS-Trevor McInerney (JR)/Suezaki
OF-Bernie DeLeon (FR)
When Cerritos bolted out to an unprecedented 6-0 start before winning four of its next five games last season, the Dons seemed primed to have a great season. In some aspects, 2015 was a great season for Cerritos and head coach Scott Parsonage. The 16 victories were the most in over 17 seasons and the fifth place finish in the Suburban League was the best league finish since 2008. However, the Dons barely fell short of the playoffs and even if the team did play its final game of the season, and win, a home encounter with Artesia which was cancelled because of unplayable field conditions, Cerritos would have lost the fourth place tiebreaker to Bellflower High.
“Over the years coming, we’re going to take our lumps at times, but then we’re going to grow and excel,” Parsonage said. “We’re going to continue to excel over time. That’s what happens when you build a program. People notice that we’re getting better.”
Now the Dons have to regroup and hope to have even a better season with half a dozen returners. Cerritos lost its top two pitchers to graduation but bring in senior Jamriel Rodriguez, a transfer from the east coast who is slated to be the No. 1 pitcher. Rodriguez, who moved to the United States from Puerto Rico in August, and senior Tyler Beyer, who struck out 24 in just over 18 innings pitched last season and went 3-0, should be a formidable weekly punch on the mound when league begins.
Parsonage has shuffled his personnel from last season as senior Kyle Suezaki will play more than just behind the plate as he could see time on the mound and at shortstop. Senior Erik Gomez moves from second base to catcher and will also play the outfield and senior Nicholas Sur vacates the outfield for first base. Suezaki was third on the team last season with a .385 batting average and led the team with 21 runs batted in. Sur batted .362 and drive in 18 runs. Junior Brett Wells, a transfer from Los Alamitos High, is slated to be the starting catcher.
“I’m a little concerned with all of the seniors because I’ve never had this many seniors on a team before,” Parsonage said. “I know that some things can’t go the way you want them to sometimes with seniors as in motivation and drive when you have a few younger guys, too.”
Parsonage has also beefed up his schedule even more, adding Carter High, Royal High and Temple City High plus the usual Newport Elks and St. Paul Tournaments to the docket. The Dons also began the season with a doubleheader at Corona. Once Cerritos comes back from spring break, it will play Mayfair High and La Mirada High in consecutive weeks.
“We’re going to lose some games because we have a much tougher schedule,” Parsonage said. “I did make sure we had some good non league games this year because going [9-1] to start the year…there’re some pretty good Division II teams just to be tested and ready for league.”
Parsonage added that he will be very surprised if team misses the playoffs and thinks some people will still think it’s the same old Cerritos. He wants those doubters to think that way because maybe they’ll take his team the wrong way. He continued by saying he thinks the Dons are going to continue to raise some eyes.”
21-12 overall last season, 8-2 in the San Gabriel Valley League, league champions, lost to Bonita 7-2 in the Division II second round playoffs
Head coach: Gerardo Perez (12th season, 218-109-2)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 103-49-1
Last time missed the playoffs: 1998
Key losses: Rafael Alvarez, Alberto Avila, Nicholas Cepeda, Joe Dressel, Leotis Johnson, Jorge Rivas, Paul Versteeg
P-Chase Alvarado (SR)/Sammy Arizaga (JR)/Oscar Carvajal (SR)/Joel Casillas (JR)/Christian Corral (SR)/Josh Haley (JR)/Anthony Moreno (JR)/William Roberson (JR)/Austen Teuerle (JR)
C-Casillas/Victor Salazar (SR)
1B-Alvarado/Jeremy Sifuentes (SR)
2B-Jayden Cruz (FR)/Jesus Salazar (SR)
SS-Michael Perez (SO)
OF-Xavier Estrada (FR)
OF-Casillas/Jonathan Vargas (JR)
Gahr won a third San Gabriel Valley League title in the last four seasons and went through its third straight 20-plus win season since 2004-2006. All of that came despite the team missing the services of pitcher Paul Versteeg, who was injured very early in the season. But in his absence came the emergence of senior Christian Corral and junior Josh Haley who plan to be a pair of aces in a deep pitching staff for head coach Gerardo Perez.
“We had to adjust and the blessing out of it is a more mature Josh Haley, who is now a University of Arizona commit,” Perez said. “We had 10 seniors last year and none of them were really like the [2014 graduate] K.J. Franklin big name kind of guys. But they had experience in the system. Even though they didn’t have a lot of experience going into the season, the experience of being around…they were able to win a [league] championship, make another playoff run and have a pretty good season.”
Perez took Haley from a relief role and transitioned him to a starter when Versteeg was injured. After a loss to Lakewood High, Haley won five straight games in the regular season and finished with an earned run average a little over 1.50. Senior Oscar Carvajal, who is committed to go to Fresno State University, will also be a main force on the mound while senior Chase Alvarado, the hardest thrower on the team, will serve as the closer. This is the deepest pitching staff Perez has had while the defense is also the best he’s had.
Of the players who return in 2016, Carvajal, senior baseman Jesus Salazar and sophomore Michael Perez, who has verballed to the University of California, Los Angeles, had over 25 at-bats. The longtime Gahr coach says Haley will be a challenge for anyone while Corral will be the most consistent pitcher and added that he was the most unassuming hurler last season with nine wins while not bringing attention to himself.
Offensively, Michael Perez and Salazar are slated to bat first and second in the lineup. Salazar batted .412, scored 29 runs, had 42 hits and smacked 11 doubles while Michael Perez hit .396, scored 25 runs and had 21 RBI.
“The biggest question is going to be, possibly, the middle of the order guys; who are we going to settle in there,” Gerardo Perez pondered. “But in exchange I think we probably have the top two guys, probably as good as when we had Eddie [Murray] and Joe [Park] back to back. They’re able to do some things.”
If last season was the toughest schedule Gahr had, then this season will be even tougher as the Gladiators play seven of the top 10 California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division I ranked teams and the team will definitely be challenged. As far as league, Gerardo Perez thinks it will be status quo as Gahr, Downey High, Paramount High and Warren High all finished within two games of each other.
“I expect the usual,” he said; “I expect Paramount to be gritty and tough and highly competitive. I expect Downey to have some talented pitchers as they traditionally have. I expect Warren to be a real physically mature group that we’ll have to play well [against]. And you can never sleep on Lynwood, especially at Lynwood.”
JOHN GLENN EAGLES
18-9 overall last season, 10-2 in the Suburban League, league champions, lost to Royal 2-0 in eight innings in the Division II first round playoffs
Head coach: Jack Brooks (fifth season, 58-49)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 64-68
Last time missed the playoffs: 2013
Key losses: Jake Carr, Angel Chavez, Erick Galindo, Luis Rosas, Victor Sanchez, Tony Varoz,
P–Joseph Angulo (FR)Humberto Chiquito (SO)/Joseph Figueroa (FR)/Michael Gill (FR)/Michael Hill (FR)/Jose Llamas (SO)
C-Angulo/Alexis Martinez (FR)/Hector Sanchez (SR)
1B-Martinez/Sergio Sandoval (JR)
3B-Angulo/Raphael DeAvila (SO)
SS-Chiquito/Sammy Lopez (SR)
OF-Robert Acosta (JR)/Ryan Hernandez (FR)/Chris Munoz (SO)
OF-Joe Gonzales (JR)/Llamas
Not only did John Glenn win the Suburban League title, the Eagles had consecutive trips to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-2009. After the team was stunned by Royal High at home in the first round in the playoffs, the motto during the offseason was work. Head coach Jack Brooks says the team doesn’t use excuses about last season and it doesn’t talk about last year. Instead, Brooks wants to use last year as a learning tool and adds that he hopes the young guys will continue writing the book to Glenn’s success. The Eagles are not looking to go backwards; they’re looking to ‘keep this thing rolling’.
“It was a spectacular season,” Brooks said. “We had a great group and a really good coaching staff. The kids played really hard. Baseball is…you can have a great season and come up short. Everybody wants the league title but it was so much more than the league championship. It was just a really enjoyable year in all aspects.”
The Eagles lost a lot of starters to graduation, including their top two pitchers, but return the leading hitter in senior catcher Hector Sanchez (.353). Three other players return-senior shortstop Sammy Lopez, who was an outfielder last season, junior Joe Gonzales and sophomore pitcher Humberto Chiquito, who pitched in less than seven innings last season. If the Eagles do stumble this season, it will only set up what proves to be a bounce back 2017 season as the 2016 pitching staff consists of four freshmen and two sophomores. In fact, Lopez and Sanchez are the only seniors.
“I’m really excited about our young players,” Brooks said. “I think, with any young team, we’re all curious to see how they react. I don’t care how good of a winter or fall you have, when you suit it up for real and you’re keeping stats and you have two umpires…I think we have enough to compete.”
Brooks says his schedule a solid one with the same tournaments as that of last season. Glenn will be playing all of the local powers including La Serna High and Santa Fe High. And anticipates the Suburban League to be what the Suburban League is, which is tough.
6-14 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, sixth place
Head coach: Bill Wenrick (second season, 6-14)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 52-72
Last playoff appearance: 2013
Key losses: Hector Amaya, Gabriel Anaya, Pete Hernandez, Bryan Villalobos
P-Francisco Flores (SR)/Adan Orozco (SR)/Adrian Perez (SO)/Julio Sanchez (SR)
C-Daniel Martinez (JR)/Orozco
1B-Flores/Isaiah Rojas (JR)
2B-Alex Aguilar (SR)/Sanchez/Kevin Ramirez (SO)
3B-Antonio Guerrero (SR)/Perez
OF-Adrian Nunez (SR)/Richard Lozano (SO)
OF-Paul Jauregui (SR)/Lalo Sosa (SO)
OF-Matt Lopez (SR)/Andrew Martinez (SR)
Last season wasn’t the one that Bill Wenrick had anticipated, becoming Norwalk’s fourth head coach in as many seasons. The Lancers had a decent non league session, although they played in eight games with half of them being doubleheaders.
“Last season, again, was just getting a familiarity,” Wenrick said. “I hadn’t coached in a couple of years. The seniors last year had four different head coaches, so last year was getting everybody on the same page; getting everybody used to me. And I think we achieved that. We would like to build on that.”
Norwalk’s offense hit around .230 last season and only five players return. Despite the high number of seniors, the outfield is very inexperienced at the varsity level. The four pitchers have a tall task in filling in the shoes left behind by the graduated Hector Amaya, Pete Hernandez and Bryan Villalobos. Senior Julio Sanchez had a decision in three games. The middle infielders will rotate a lot throughout the season.
“The biggest thing for me for this year is I have a solid coaching staff,” Wenrick said. “Last year I got hired so late, it was almost placed for me. This year I was able to pick my guys, so that’s making me feel real comfortable. As far as talent goes, we’re hitting the ball better this year. But we’re still striking out a lot.”
Norwalk has had only two winning seasons since 2007 and has had consecutive six-win seasons. It may be another long season for the Lancers, who don’t figure in any league title conversations. But if the seniors can help the rest of the team reel off double digit victories, it can make some noise in the playoff talk come early May.
“Every coach wants to be optimistic going in,” Wenrick said. “And if things bounce our way and go the right way, we can be a playoff team. A league title might be a stretch with the powers in our league and the other teams that are improving. We have to try to get there too. I still think we’re a little behind.”
VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS
17-12 overall last season, 5-7 in the Olympic League, tied for second place, lost to Santa Ynez 4-2 in the Division V second round playoffs
Head coach: Michael Dunk (third season, 29-24)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 73-63
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Jared Algra, Aaron Kirchner, Nathan O’Toole, Tyler Radecki, Kevin Sainz, Jack Struiksma
P-Christian Bosse (JR)/Travis French (JR)/Brett Garcia (SO)/Zach Krosschell (JR)/Jesse Smith (SR)/Jarod Trader (SR)/R.J. VanKampen (JR)
2B-French/Brent Van Meeteren (JR)
3B-Lucas Koenig (JR)
SS-Kyle Bowie (JR)
OF-Trader/Ian Silva (SR)
OF-Daniel Jurado (SR)/Roger Ramos (SR)
Over the past four seasons, Valley Christian has been all over the Olympic League standings, except last place. The Crusaders went from fourth place two seasons ago to a second place tie. Now, head coach Michael Dunk wants a league title, which will be the first for V.C. since 2012 and fifth since 2000. The 17 victories were the most since 2007 when the Crusaders won 20 but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
“I thought last season was a pretty good success,” Dunk said. “We did finish 5-7 in league and knowing how tough our league is, we actually tied for second place with Whittier Christian. Just to be 5-7 in league and come in second place just shows how strong our league is. There’s never a guaranteed win, no matter who you’re playing against. The last place team, Heritage Christian, beat us two out of three times. That only fuels us for this upcoming season.”
The strength for V.C. this season could come from its pitching corps where sophomore Brett Garcia, who went 6-2, had an ERA of 2.18 and went the distance four times, and junior Zach Krosschell are expected to be the top two pitchers. Senior Jesse Smith is the only other returning pitcher in terms of time spent on the mound.
Offensively, the Crusaders barely crossed the .300 mark last season and Garcia led the team with a .389 average and had 28 hits last season. He’ll also be the only varsity-experienced player in the infield. The outfield lost a key component when junior R.J. VanKampen went down with inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He could come back in time for league competition to play in the outfield or even pitch as he did last season. For the time being, Dunk will use him as a designated hitter.
“R.J. is one of our all-around guys,” Dunk said. “He was looking to possibly push Brett Garcia to be our No. 1 guy this year. He just had a wonderful summer, both with us as well as his travel ball organization. He comes in with an unfortunate injury. It’s going to hurt us in our pitching depth, but he’s able to swing the bat; there’s no holding him back on the swinging.”
On paper, this looks like a younger team that might have trouble staying close to the top of the league. But wins are created on the field, not paper, and Dunk is quick to remind many that the juniors this year went 20-1 on the junior varsity team two seasons ago last year they finished in second place in league. Two games separated second place and fifth place in league last season.
“This is a team where we’re not going to hit for extreme power,” Dunk said. “But we are really going to influence the small ball game with our team. These guys can hit for high averages. We’ve really worked hard on the bunting game, stealing bases and just getting guys over and putting pressure on the defense.”
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