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2017 BASEBALL PREVIEW: Gahr upgrades to Division I while John Glenn seeks turnaround season

 

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

One of the more successful baseball teams in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section, Gahr High, finds itself running with the big boys this season as the Gladiators are now situated in Division I. Meanwhile, John Glenn High had a young team last season filled with freshmen and sophomores, but figures to get back in the thick of things in a competitive Suburban League. Cerritos High will be young after a breakout season while Valley Christian High brings in a new coach.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS

5-12 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place

Head coach: Michael Gaoghagen (15th season, 127-237-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 31-97

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Key losses: David Bravo, Nathan Guerrero, Anthony Larson, Eric Marquez, Tondre Neal

Projected lineup:

P-Max Anderson (SR)/Robert Aragon (JR)/Alex Covarrubias (SR)/David Licea (SR)/David Vasquez (JR)

C-Allan Castro (JR)

1B-Covarrubias

2B-Aragon

3B-Mark Chavez (JR)/Covarrubias

SS-Anderson

OF-Oscar Barragan (SR)/Brandon Azzato (FR)

OF-Vasquez

OF-Oscar Esparza (JR)/Francisco Moreno (JR)

Artesia High head coach Michael Gaoghagen has been around the Suburban League for a decade and a half and before last season, had never gone winless in the league. While it wasn’t his worst season with the Pioneers, it still resulted in continuing the league’s longest playoff drought.

“The object is to win, so ending up in last place was not ideal,” Gaoghagen said. “We had a few transfer students come to us right before [the] season [started]. That was a unique experience for us. So, it took us a while to find out what the “newbies” could and could not do and be able to blend it in with who was already here.

“We had too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” he continued. “Many of the chiefs had insufficient arrows. We have better Indians and fewer chiefs this year. Our village may be small, but we are a much better tighter group this year. We have fewer distractions and the experience is much better for all involved.”

While this may not be the most talented bunch in the league, according to the longtime Pioneers coach, he says the players this season are on the same page and that this is more of a good character group. He even predicts that they may do better than the talent shows. But on the flip side, the Pioneers need to improve their defense and to find enough energy to keep going, as well as shoring up the outfield.

The top five pitchers are all returning with senior David Licea and junior David Vasquez each picking up two wins last season. Junior Allan Castro will do the majority of the catching duties while senior Alex Covarrubias moves from third base to first base.

As far as ending the playoff drought, Gaoghagen says his team can compete with anyone in the league if it can do a complete turnaround with its defense, which was the worst in the circuit.

“Defense is always key for us,” he says. “If we play good defense, we will win. If we don’t, we won’t [win].”

CERRITOS DONS

14-14 overall last season, 7-5 in the Suburban League, tied for third place, lost to Rio Mesa 4-1 in the Division 2 first round playoffs

Head coach: Scott Parsonage (fourth season, 39-43)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 52-74

Last time missed the playoffs: 2015

Key losses: Tyler Beyer, Jason Prieto-Burnham, Erik Gomez, Jamriel Rodriguez, Saul Ruvalcaba, Kyle Suezaki, Nicholas Sur

Projected lineup:

P-Jonathan Estrada (SR)/Trevor McInerney (SR)/Eugene Luevano (JR)/Matthew Pinal (SO)/Evan Vasquez (FR)/Dee Vizcarra (FR)

C-Brett Wells (SR)/Jonathan O’Neill (FR)

1B-Bernie De Leon (SO)/Wells

2B-Estrada

3B-Estrada/McInerney

SS-McInerney/Vasquez

OF-De Leon/Matthew Aguinaga (SO)

OF-Estrada/Pinal/Raul Garcia (FR)

OF-Aguinaga/Garcia/Pinal/Vizcarra

By Cerritos High standards, the 2016 campaign was a dream season as the Dons advanced to the postseason for the first time since 1998 and had consecutive seasons of double digit victories since 1998 and 1999. But with a team mostly of seniors, the Dons are starting over as only four players return. Head coach Scott Parsonage says this season’s team will be young, scrappy and competitive with a lot of freshmen like John Glenn High was last season. While Cerritos may be building for next year, it won’t be looking by this year.

“Last season was the finish of what we had brought into the program from the star; from the previous couple of years of buying into what we were trying to teach them,” Parsonage said. “With the kids all being seniors last year, about eight of them, they bought into what we were trying to get going and that was our year to kind of shine. We were able to get to what our goal was, which was obviously to make the playoffs. That was kind of nice.”

Parsonage says pitching will be one of the strong points this season even though the Dons are young. Only senior Jonathan Estrada has a victory under his belt from last season with the remaining 27 decisions coming from graduated players. Senior catcher Brett Wells batted .426 last season and led the team with 43 hits, 27 runs batted in and three triples. Senior Trevor McInerney, who played in 12 games last season, still batted .304 and drove in six runs.

The burning question is can the returning players mesh with the freshmen and sophomores? If so, then the Dons could be a force to be reckoned instead of a one-year fluke.

“You have to be fired up and competing on everything you do out here,” Parsonage said of the younger players. “That’s where we need to get them. That’s our biggest issue right now; getting our freshman to understand that because our returners from last year understand that and see where it got us? I’m hoping that they can help coach the youngsters with us and get to that level.”

The Suburban League has been getting stronger and stronger over the past few seasons and Parsonage believes that one way or another, his team can still get back to the promise land. If so, then the Dons will be seeking their first playoff victory since winning the Division 4A championship in 1989.

“I think we can make the playoffs,” Parsonage said. “La Mirada is going to be one of the better teams in the whole area [and] Bellflower is well-coached. They always have a few guys on the mound and are defensively sound. They’re going to be competitive, and you have all of the guys from Glenn coming back who were freshmen last year.”

GAHR GLADIATORS

24-7 overall last season, 10-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League, first place, lost to Redlands East Valley 1-0 in the Division 2 second round playoffs

Head coach: Gerardo Perez (13th season, 242-116-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 108-47-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Chase Alvarado, Oscar Carvajal, Christian Corral, Jesus Salazar, Victor Salazar

Projected lineup:

P-Samuel Arizaga (SR)/Joel Casillas (SR)/Josh Haley (SR)/Anthony Moreno (SR)/William Roberson (SR)

C-Matt Estrada (SO)/Edward Morales (SO)

1B-Connor McKinney (JR)

2B-Delvan Gomez (JR)/Tyrese Turner (SO)

3B-Jayden Cruz (SO)

SS-Michael Perez (JR)

OF-Xavier Estrada (SO)/Anthony Diaz (JR)/Morales

OF-Je’Von Ward (SR)

OF-Gomez/Turner

The reward for Gahr High going undefeated in the San Gabriel Valley League, something the program hasn’t done in over 20 seasons, winning over 20 games for the fourth straight season and advancing to the second round of the playoffs is moving up to Division 1. The downside to that is the Gladiators will be relatively young, minus their pitching staff. As always, head coach Gerardo Perez has put together a championship-type schedule with the likes of fellow division foes Aliso Niguel, Corona, Dana Hills, El Toro, Esperanza, Hart, JSerra, J.W. North, Mission Viejo, Orange Lutheran, San Clemente, Santa Margarita and Tesoro high schools on the docket.

“It’s a difficult challenge before us,” Perez said. “We must be exact in our preparation and execution with our youth. We physiologically cannot make up for the lack of strength because we’re young or be collectively off. I do believe the challenging schedule will benefit us and make us stronger for the postseason.”

Gahr’s squad features seven players who have committed to NCAA Division I institutions but only three are seniors. The heart and soul of the team will come from the hurlers, led by senior Josh Haley (University of Arizona commit), who sported a 10-1 record and had an earned run average of 1.00 in 56 innings of work and struck out 67 last season. Haley was also the league’s Pitcher of the Year. Senior Samuel Arizaga was also solid in his 33-plus innings of work, striking out 26 and posting an ERA of 1.26 with a pair of saves while senior Anthony Moreno had a 2.12 ERA in 22 innings and walked six. Juniors Darius Garcia and Julian Sotelo are the top new pitchers.

“It has been a pleasure to coach these guys and see their development,” Perez said. “They are all so different in styles and approaches and personalities. The diversity is a blessing that will help opposing offenses from getting comfortable.”

The top returning hitter is junior shortstop Michael Perez, the reigning league most valuable player who has committed to the University of California, Los Angeles and batted .337 last season with 31 runs driven in and two home runs. Sophomore third baseman Jayden Cruz (California State University, Fullerton) was solid as a freshman with his .244 average, 17 runs scored and 13 RBI. Senior centerfielder Je’Von Ward (University of Southern California) is a transfer from Long Beach Poly High. The designated hitters will be shared by Diaz, junior Connor McKinney and sophomore Andrew Householder.

Even though the Gladiators went wire to wire in the circuit, outscoring their opponents 84-13, Gerardo Perez still maintains that the league will be tough again with one game separating the league champion from the rest of the crew.

“At the same time, our focus is us and if we do what we have to, we should be right there,” he said.

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

14-13 overall last season, 5-7 in the Suburban League, fifth place

Head coach: Jack Brooks (sixth season, 72-62)
Team’s record previous five seasons: 72-62

Last time made the playoffs: 2015

Key losses: Joe Gonzalez, Michael Hill, Sammy Lopez, Hector Sanchez

Projected lineup:

P-Joseph Angulo (SO)/Humberto Chiquito (JR)/Joseph Figueroa (SO)/Jose Llamas (JR)

C-Alexis Martinez (SO)

1B-Sergio Sandoval (SR)

2B-Alex Alcaraz (JR)

3B-Angulo/Raphael De Avila (JR)

SS-Chiquito/Figueroa

OF-Bobby Acosta (SR)

OF-Figueroa/Chris Munoz (JR)

OF-Llamas

If Cerritos was the surprise team in the Suburban League last season, then all eyes might be on John Glenn High this season. Even though the Eagles finished above .500 last season, they finished just short of the playoffs with a team built mostly of freshmen and sophomores. Head coach Jack Brooks believes his young talent is experienced enough to put the team in the playoffs and even challenge for a league crown.

“It was very disappointing but I still think it was a very good season last year,” Brooks said. “We were above .500 overall and we started four to five freshmen every game. The team that went to the playoffs, Cerritos, we beat two out of three times. But we have everybody back and we’re excited about giving it another run this season.”

In addition to beating Cerritos, the Eagles lost a pair of one-run games to Bellflower High, including a 1-0, nine-inning affair. The key components of last season’s pitching staff return and were a combined 13-13 with over 172 innings of work between them. Sophomore Joseph Angulo and junior Humberto Chiquito each had at least 50 strikeouts and had earned run average’s less than 2.15. Junior Jose Llamas had an ERA of 1.89 making this one of the best pitching staff’s Brooks has had while at Glenn. It might even be compared to the one of two seasons ago when Glenn won the league title behind the tandem of Luis Rojas and Victor Sanchez plus Jake Carr.

“It’s great to have some experience back on the mound,” Brooks said. “But look, I don’t want to take anything away from that Suburban League championship team I had. I had two pretty good starting pitchers and a closer named Jake Carr who was pretty damn good. But these kids are working to get to that level.”

When he’s not pitching, Angulo will most likely be at third base. He’s the leading returning hitter as he batted .427, had 35 hits, drove in 17 runs and hit 11 doubles in 2016. Senior first baseman Sergio Sandoval batted .400 last season and Figueroa, who will share the shortstop duties with Chiquito, hit close to .300.

Senior Alfredo Hernandez and junior Sergio Burgos will most likely be the designated hitters.

The outfield is less experience than the infield, but if the Eagles were close to making the playoffs last season, then it should be completely different in 2017.

“These guys battled the whole year and competed the whole year,” Brooks said. “As a team, 90 percent were first-year varsity players. They did a great job of buying in and competing for the three and a half months of the regular season.”

Brooks said the program is definitely going in the right direction but his focus is in the present and not what the team will look like or be like in 2018 and beyond.

NORWALK LANCERS

7-17 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, sixth place

Head coach: Bill Wenrick (third season, 13-31)

Team’s record previously five seasons: 44-67

Last time made the playoffs: 2013

Key losses: Alex Aguilar, Francisco Flores, Antonio Guerrero, Matt Lopez, Andrew Martinez, Adrian Nunez, Adan Orozco, Julio Sanchez

Projected lineup:

P-Adrian Perez (JR)/Isaiah Rojas (SR)/Mark Gil (JR)/Anthony Gonzalez (JR)/Isaiah Villa (JR)

C-Manuel Martinez (SR)/Matthew Lybarger (JR)

1B-Rojas

2B-Perez/Efren Franco (SR)/Jacob Medina (SR)

3B-Villa

SS-Kevin Ramirez (JR)

OF-Richard Lozano (JR)/Caleb Baca (SR)/Julian Galvez (SR)/Michael Serna (JR)

OF-Lalo Sosa (JR)

OF-Lozano/Baca/Galvez/Serna

Norwalk High had a decent start to the 2016 season and head coach Bill Wenrick expected more from a squad that had a lot of seniors. But once Suburban League play started, the Lancers stumbled and were only able to sweep last place Artesia. Wenrick said he doesn’t feel like the program is where it needs to be and says the players have more talent than what they’re showing on the field. They have to trust what the coaches are teaching them and need to change their ways. Still, the overall win total was better than the previous season.

“The boys got better,” Wenrick said. “As you know, the league is a tough league and we couldn’t stay away from the one bad inning. Even in non-league games, we would have one inning where everything would fall apart. Errors, walking guys, hitting guys, giving up big hits…and I felt last year if we could minimize that big inning, we would have been more successful.”

As for this season, the Lancers won’t have a true number one pitcher. Only junior Adrian Perez has a decision from last season. Junior Kevin Ramirez moves from second base to shortstop while juniors Richard Lozano and Lalo Sosa should keep a somewhat inexperienced outfield on their heels.

“It seems like when we get in a game, we’re either freezing up or lacking a little self-confidence and then we get away from what we were teaching in practice and we’re reverting back to our old habits which wasn’t successful,” Wenrick said.

Wenrick says if Norwalk can get to .500 in league, that would be an exceptional season. The program has not been .500 in league since 2013 and the last time the Lancers had a winning league campaign, they went 8-4 in 2005.

“This team here, we seem to be hitting the ball a little better,” Wenrick said. “So, I expect us to score more runs. What we need to work on is staying out of the big inning and playing some defense; making the routine plays.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS

15-12 overall last season, 4-8 in the Olympic League, fourth place

Head coach: Roger Penticoff (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 72-64

Last time made the playoffs: 2015

Key losses: Roger Ramos, Jesse Smith, Jarod Trader

Projected lineup:

P-Christian Bosse (SR)/Travis French (SR)/Brett Garcia (JR)/Zach Krosschell (SR)/R.J. VanKampen (SR)/James Stirton (SO)

C-Bosse/Van Kampen/Ryan Lasiter (FR)

1B-Krosschell/Wyatt Keller (SO)

2B-Stirton

3B-Lucas Koenig (SR)

SS-French

OF-Brent VanMeeteren (SR)

OF-Garcia/Van Kampen

OF-Kyle Bowie (SR)

Despite not having a losing record the past three seasons, Valley Christian High decided to go in a new direction by hiring former Long Beach Jordan High head coach Roger Penticoff. He had been at Jordan the past three seasons and before that, coached at St. Anthony High for eight years and Brethren Christian for three years before that. In fact, he had quit at Jordan before finding out about the opening. Penticoff said he knew about the V.C. program because his previous schools had played the Crusaders and knew that the school had a nice facility, which, as he stated, is ‘always a plus’.

“It’s definitely a step up for me,” Penticoff said. “To be back coaching at a Christian school is huge for me. I just love the atmosphere here. It’s so much different.”

Penticoff inherits a team that has a lot of experience, especially with the pitching staff. Senior R.J. Van Kampen and junior Brett Garcia are tabbed as the top two pitchers while senior Christian Bosse will most likely be the closer. Garcia went 5-1 last season and had an earned run average of 1.50 while Bosse and Stirton pitched quite well in limited action.

“The pitching is a strength,” Penticoff said. “We are very senior heavy; I have nine seniors on this year’s squad. Next year will be a challenge. But so far this year has been a pleasant surprise.”

Offensively, the Crusaders are stacked with Garcia (.392, 29 hits, 23 runs batted in, eight doubles), Van Kampen (.373, 28 hits, 23 runs, 17 RBI) and senior first baseman Zach Krosschell (.242, 15 hits, 13 RBI) leading the charge. Senior Lucas Koenig anchors third base while senior Brent VanMeeteren is a solid left fielder.

“It’s nice for this year,” Penticoff said of all the seniors. “This year so far, the guys have played fairly decent defense and the hitting is finally starting to pick up. If we play our game, we can beat anybody. It’s just a matter of playing catch.”

The new coach’s expectations are to get better and to make the playoffs. He has already put a lot of new stuff in that they hadn’t been taught before. Still, he believes the Crusaders can not only get to playoffs, but win a very tough Olympic League.

“In my opinion they do,” Penticoff said. “If they play to their ability, they can. Right now, with all the rain we’ve gotten, we’ve been up and down. We’ve played some very good games and we’ve played some very bad ones. I’m trying to instill in them to believe in themselves because I don’t think they did. Now is the time to step it up. I understand this is a tough league.”

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