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2018 BASEBALL PREVIEW: Suburban League to be pitching dominant while Gahr hopes to do better in top division

High School Baseball Season Has Arrived. Read LCCN Sports Editor Loren Kopff’s 2018 Preview!

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

The key to winning the Suburban League this season will be pitching. Whoever has the best, and that’s still up for debate, has the best chance of claiming a league title. Most of the league has all, or virtually every one of their pitchers coming back from last season. And with five teams battling for four automatic spots, expect a lot of close, low scoring games. Gahr High has enough talent coming back to prove that it still belongs in Division 1 while Valley Christian High hopes to rebound from a disappointing season.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS

4-20 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place

Head coach: Michael Gaoghagen (16th season, 131-257-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 30-97

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Key losses: Max Anderson, Bobby Aragon (SR, transfer to Cerritos), Oscar Barragan, Mark Chavez (SR), Alex Covarrubias, David Licea, Francisco Moreno (SR), David Vasquez (SR)

Projected lineup:

P-Adam Hollenback (FR)/Brian Soto (JR)/Josue Catzin (SR)/Jonathan Juarez (JR)/Patrick Garcia (FR)/Juan Rodriguez (FR)/Alex Soriano (FR)

C-Oscar Esparza (JR)/Allen Castro (SR)/Eric Lopez (JR)

1B-Soriano/Hollenback

2B-Pablo Vega (FR)

3B-Garcia

SS-Soto

LF-Darrell Miller (SO)

CF-Catzin

RF-Lopez/Isaiah Cardenas (SR)

To say that the 2018 season will be another long one for the Pioneers and longtime head coach Michael Gaoghagan would be an understatement. Artesia could be headed for its 10th straight losing season and ninth with single digit victories during that time. Artesia returns five players from last season’s squad and two of them are seniors.

“Our starters graduated,” Gaoghagan said. “Our current pitching staff has very little varsity experience. Seven of the players are freshmen and sophomores.”

After Hollenback, who will definitely be one of the team’s starters, the rest of the pitching staff is undecided as to who will be the second, third, etc. in line. Senior catcher Allen Castro, who is currently injured, and junior catcher Oscar Esparza, have improved the most since last season and need to be counted on for leadership to the freshmen and sophomores.

Artesia was blanked in seven league games in 2017, including the final four, and scored more than five runs five times, winning four of them. Gaoghagan says his team is young and developing and the only direction to go is up. An 11th straight year of missing the postseason is very possible, but the growth of the young guys should make them California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoff contenders in 2019.

CERRITOS DONS

18-13 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fifth place

Head coach: Scott Parsonage (fifth season, 57-56)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 62-68

Last time made the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Jonathan Estrada, Trevor McInerney, Brett Wells

Projected lineup:

P-Evan Vasquez (SO)/Dee Vizcarra (SO)/Matthew Pinal (JR)/Robert Aragon (SR)/Kaleb Ferrer (SR)/Jacob Guzman (SO)/Eugene Luevano (SR)/Rene Moran (JR)

C-Jonathan O’Neill (SO)/Ethan Hanabusa (SO)

1B-Bernie DeLeon (JR)

2B-Pinal/Alex Manibusan (SO)

3B-Vasquez/Pinal

SS-Nick Hill (FR)

LF-Matthew Aguinaga (JR)

CF-Raul Garcia (SO)

RF-Xavier Medina (SO)/Vizcarra/Pinal/Manibusan

The up and coming Dons started six freshmen last season and came within a game of advancing to the playoffs for a second straight season. But identical 3-2 home losses to John Glenn High and La Mirada High thwarted any postseason opportunities. Still, head coach Scott Parsonage says the program is going in the right direction and the Dons are still a solid team.

“I think we had a good win total,” Parsonage said. “We played some quality teams. I think we just dropped a game against Bellflower that I thought we should have had, which ended up being the outcome [of missing the playoffs]. Then we lost that close one against Glenn and that kind of knocked us out after taking one from Mayfair.”

The Dons have won at least 14 games three straight seasons and could reach, and exceed, that total this season. The pitching staff is solid with sophomore sensations Evan Vasquez (6-5, eight complete games in 2017) and Dee Vizcarra (4-3) leading the way. Senior Robert Aragon, a transfer from Artesia High, and Rene Moran, a transfer from Gahr, must sit out the first 30 days of the season. Senior Eugene Luevano and junior Matthew Pinal give the Dons added experience on the mound.

“I was impressed; I really was impressed by how they handled themselves and just getting thrown in with the wolves and having some success,” Parsonage said of his two sophomore hurlers. “Evan’s breaking ball has gotten tighter with more velocity. He’s developing on the mound and as a player physically. Dee is just a strong dude. He’s just still raw and he can throw ball hard. We just have to work on the secondary pitches and get a little more command of the pitches to be a little more successful, I think.”

For Cerritos to be successful, the offense has to pick up a lot. With the exception of their two games against Norwalk High, the Dons scored 21 runs in 12 of their last 14 games. Junior first baseman Bernie DeLeon hit .364 in 12 Suburban League games last season and will be one of the offensive threats, along with junior left fielder Matthew Aguinaga and Vasquez.

“Their minds are not quite as open as I wish to instruction,” Parsonage said. “And until they open their minds a little more to instruction and the wiseness to my coaches and myself, I think we’re going to take a few lumps until they mature a little bit and realize that they don’t know everything.”

GAHR GLADIATORS

15-15 overall last season, 8-2 in the San Gabriel Valley League, 1st place, lost to Foothill 5-1 in the Division 1 second round playoffs

Head coach: Gerardo Perez (14th season, 257-131-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 104-51-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Joel Casillas, Josh Haley, William Roberson, Je’Von Ward

Projected lineup:

P-Darius Garcia (SR)/Julian Sotelo (SR)/Jason Dressel (JR)/Joel Martinez (JR)

C-Edward Morales (JR)

1B-Mike Stephens (JR)

2B-Tyrese Turner (JR)

3B-J.J. Cruz (JR)

SS-Michael Perez (SR)

LF-Xavier Estrada (JR)/Andrew Householder (JR)

CF-Brandon Shiota (SR)

RF-Matthew Polk (RF)

Gahr’s move to Division 1 last season was as predictable as head coach Gerardo Perez stated prior to its season opener against Tesoro High. The Gladiators played stiff competition, again, and after winning their first two games, proceeded to lose eight straight before reeling off six straight victories. Gahr failed to win 20 games for the first time since 2012, but took home the San Gabriel Valley League title for the fourth straight season and sixth in the last seven.

“I think it was definitely a different set of circumstances, outcomes and challenges than years past,” Perez said. “The level of difficulty creates a mentally tougher player that was better prepared for the next level like never before.

“We have always been process-oriented with the emphasis on growth, player development and the journey-together,” he continued. “The winning takes care of itself.”

The Gladiators return experience in every position except right field where freshman Matthew Polk (verballed to University of California, Los Angeles), whose speed and athleticism should fit in with the spacious right field at Tom Bergeron Field, will be the primary starter. The rest of the primary starters had at least 24 at-bats last season, highlighted by senior shortstop Michael Perez, another UCLA signee who batted .406, scored 16 runs and drove in 15. Junior third baseman and future California State University, Fullerton standout J.J. Cruz (.307, 16 RBI) gives Gahr as solid of a left side of the infield around.

On the mound, seniors Darius Garcia (verballed to University of California, Irvine) and Julian Sotelo (verballed to Fresno State University) combined to go 4-4 last season but the program has had a history of producing top quality hurlers. Gerardo Perez says one of the greatest surprises was the development from junior catcher and Long Beach State University signee Edward Morales.

“Team-wise, we became an exceptional defensive team with the development of J.J. Cruz and [junior] Ty Turner alongside Mike [Perez],” he said.

Gahr’s record last season was the worst the program had seen since 2008 when it had its only losing record in over 20 seasons, but still advanced to the postseason. The plethora of experience the Gladiators have this season is good enough to win another league title, a deeper run in the playoffs and possibly a trip to the finals for the first time for the first time since 1994.

“[We are] determined and motivated to make a better run than a year ago but Division 1 is different,” Gerardo Perez said. “I think we have had to adapt and become better individual coaches as a result. And like every year, I humbly expect to play our best baseball at year’s end and make a run.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

16-12 overall last season, 7-5 in the Suburban League, tied for third place, lost to Alhambra 5-3 in the Division 4 first round

Head coach: Jack Brooks (seventh season, 88-74)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 77-60

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Bobby Acosta, Sergio Sandoval

Projected lineup:

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

C-Alexis Martinez (JR)/Jacob Broz (SR)

1B-Alex Alcaraz (SR)/Sergio Burgos (SR)

2B-Figueroa/Alcaraz

3B-Angulo/Chiquito/Raphael De Avila (SR)

SS-Angulo/Chiquito

LF-Julian Marrujo (JR)/Jalen Ringwood (FR)/Llamas

CF-Damone Hale (JR)

RF-Gerardo Vargas (JR)/Llamas/Marrujo/Ringwood

Glenn’s problem last season was not its pitching, nor was it its defense. The Eagles, despite finishing in a tie for third place, had a hard time in the offensive department, batting .292 when the season had ended with only four home runs by four different players. This season, the Eagles are still stocked with the same four pitchers as last season. Head coach Jack Brooks says the team needs to improve offensively while pitching and defense should remain the strengths.

“We have the majority of our key players back and we had some really tough games in league play where [the outcome] could have swayed either way,” Brooks said. “We played everybody pretty tough. We had a tough first round CIF game where we just didn’t play our best; we faced a pretty good arm. But we’ve got some good players back and I’m looking forward to seeing what this season brings.”

Senior pitcher Humberto Chiquito and junior pitcher Joseph Angulo remain the top two aces on the mound and combined to go 13-7 last season with eight complete games. Both had earned run averages of less than 1.25 and combined to start 22 games. Senior Jose Llamas and junior Joseph Figueroa are the other two hurlers, and each had 24 strikeouts last season.

Senior Alex Alcaraz moves from second base to first while the only newcomer to get a starting spot is junior left fielder Julian Marrujo. Angulo and Chiquito were the only hitters to bat over .300 last season. The last seven games of 2017, in which the Eagles went 3-4, were decided by three runs or less and Glenn played in nine one-run games and four two-run affairs.

“We have to execute more, we have to hit with runners in scoring position and we have to hit at quality pitching,” Brooks said. “If we’re going to win the league…we’re going to have to be able to score some runs against quality arms.”

Glenn will be playing its home games at Rio Hondo College while construction on a new field is under way. Brooks said it’s going to be an adjustment but will never make any excuses for that. Still, Glenn is one of five teams that have a legitimate shot of one of the four automatic playoff berths from the Suburban League. If Glenn can hit, maybe it can win a league crown.

“The parity in the league is great, with obviously La Mirada being what they are and having the pitching that they have coming back,” Brooks said. “But Mayfair is a dogfight, Bellflower is a dogfight, Cerritos is a dogfight and obviously, I’ll put my club up against anybody’s club. We’re going to stand up and fight, I’ll tell you that. And, if you do not show up against Artesia and Norwalk, you’re going to get bit. If you lose one of those games, it’s going to be really tough for you to make the playoffs.”

NORWALK LANCERS

9-13 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place

Head coach: Bill Wenrick (fourth season, 22-44)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 41-75

Last time made the playoffs: 2013

Key losses: Caleb Baca, Julian Galvez, Manuel Martinez, Jacob Medina

Projected lineup:

P-Adrian Perez (SR)/Mark Gil (SR)/Anthony Gonzalez (SR)/Isaiah Villa (SR)/Juan Salazar (SR)/David Urzua (SR)

C-Andrew Arriola (JR)

1B-Alex Varela (SR)/Gonzalez/Salazar

2B-Perez/Isaac Aguilar (SR)

3B-Villa/Gil

SS-Kevin Ramirez (SR)

LF-Urzua/Michael Serna (SR)

CF-Lalo Sosa (SR)

RF-Richard Lozano (SR)/Serna

The one problem that plagued Norwalk High two seasons ago came back to haunt the team last season-the big inning. Although the Lancers got out to a respectable 5-2 start last season, they couldn’t keep up with the powers of the Suburban League. In addition, head coach Bill Wenrick saw his squad yield at least four runs in an inning 17 times. While Norwalk will have 12 seniors out of 14 players in 2017, Wenrick says the seniors need to play like seniors and the team needs to be more confident.

“Our league is really tough; Glenn is tough, Mayfair and La Mirada are always tough,” he said. “We just didn’t step it up. We always have a problem with big innings. We just couldn’t stay away from giving the other team a big inning, and our hitting wasn’t where it should be to win those types of games.”

Just like the teams Wenrick mentioned, the Lancers too are experienced in pitching with seniors Mark Gil and Adrian Perez as the top two when it came time for league play. Seniors Isaiah Villa and David Urzua will be used as spot starters while senior Juan Salazar is expected to chew up lots of innings.

Wenrick says he feels more comfortable with the pitching staff but the team doesn’t have that lockdown ace. Senior Anthony Gonzalez has improved the most since last season and is keeping the ball down and hitting his spots. Offensively, Wenrick says Gil is hitting the ball better while Perez is possibly the best defensive player. Senior Kevin Ramirez might be the league’s most underrated shortstop while the outfield should be solid with seniors Richard Lozano, Michael Serna and Lalo Sosa patrolling that area. But once again, the concern will be getting out of the innings with three outs.

“Just the same thing that’s been going on for the last four years with this group,” Wenrick said. “They have to believe in themselves; they have to know that they can do it. They have to know that they can be able to play with these guys and when things don’t go our way, they have to keep good body language; have the fight and the spirit to know that we’re in every game.

“It’s going to be a tall order for us; it definitely is,” he added as far as a trip to the playoffs. “I have no illusions of going into the season. I’ve had this group since they were freshmen. Are they capable of doing it, a 5-7 or 6-6 [league record]? Sure. They just have to be able to do it.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS

14-14 overall last season, 4-8 in the Olympic League, tied for third place, lost to Segerstrom 14-3 in the Division 4 first round playoffs

Head coach: Roger Penticoff (second season, 14-14)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 70-66

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Christian Bosse, Kyle Bowie, Travis French, Lucas Koenig, Zach Krosschell, R.J. Van Kampen, Brent VanMeeteren

Projected lineup:

P-Brett Garcia (SR)/Danye Nichols (JR)/Wyatt Keller (JR)/Ben Allen (FR)

C-Ryan Lasiter (SO)/James Stirton (JR)

1B-Keller

2B-Stirton/Brett Evenhouse (JR)

3B-Pete Tagle (JR)

SS-Hank Brown (SR)

LF-Allen

CF-Nichols/Cooper Bennett (SO)

RF-Ryan Bloom/Jared McDaniel (FR)

Last season was not what Roger Penticoff expected, especially with the number of seniors he inherited when he took over as Valley Christian’s ninth head coach in 20 seasons. While it was good enough to get to the playoffs, he said the pitching was decent, but the team wasn’t making the plays. This season, the Crusaders will have three seniors, two of which are starters, which means the future looks good, but it has to start this season.

“We were, as a group, disappointed because we were senior heavy,” Penticoff said. “With the talent we had, I think that they came in thinking that it would be easier than what it was. But, it is what it is and that’s past. Now, we’re trying to go.”

One of those seniors is pitching ace Brett Garcia, who went 8-4 last season with an ERA of less than 2.50. He’s also the team’s leading returning hitter as he batted .518 with 43 hits, 30 RBI and 11 doubles. Juniors Wyatt Keller and Danye Nichols return as pitchers to complement Garcia, but each appeared in one game last season.

“Brett Garcia back is obviously a big plus,” Penticoff said. “But after that, it’s a lot of untested j.v. players because we’re very young this year.”

The Crusaders return seven players and not all of them got a lot of at-bats outside of Garcia and junior catcher and second baseman James Stirton. Penticoff says it’s a concern, but it’s also an opportunity.

“It’s a big opportunity for these young kids to step up and earn that spot,” he added. “But it’s also a big opportunity for the guys who are on the j.v. team right now to move into a spot if these guys don’t step up.”

Penticoff said he doesn’t expect to win a league title but expects to make the playoffs. What would make this season awesome in his eyes would be if the Crusaders were to win a game or two in the playoffs.

“Absolutely we’re thinking about the future,” Penticoff said. “That’s why I have some of these freshmen up. I’ll bring other freshmen up during tournament time because realistically speaking, this year we’re strictly playing for third place and hopefully get into the playoffs. Again, we’re going to go out there and play our best. But then next year, with the returners we’re going to have, these guys will have a year of varsity under them, which I think will help.”

 

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