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2019 BASEBALL PREVIEW : Cerritos, John Glenn old but new rivals for supremacy in 605 League

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

John Glenn High has spent the last four seasons being contenders for the Suburban League championship while Cerritos High has simply been looking to become playoff contenders. Now, those two are favorites to win the 605 League this season. Gahr High is no stranger to league championships, having won the San Gabriel Valley League four straight seasons and six out of the last seven while Valley Christian High and Whitney High are anxious for better seasons.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS

1-25 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place

Head coach: Michael Gaoghagen (17thseason, 132-282-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 21-106

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Key losses: Allen Castro, Josue Catzin, Oscar Esparza, Brian Soto (SR)

Projected lineup:

P-Brandon Azzato (JR)/Patrick Garcia (SO)/Adam Hollenback (SO)/Juan Rodriguez (SO)/Alex Soriano (SO)/Frankie Medina (FR)/Romeo Perez (JR)

C-Eric Lopez (SR)/Johnny Nunez (JR)

1B-Garcia/Soriano                                                     

2B-Medina

3B-David Zavala (SO)

SS-Joey Bryson (SO)

LF-Azzato                                                                              

CF-Darrell Miller (JR)

RF-Pablo Vega (SO)

The only way Artesia High can go is up after the Pioneers endured their worst season in over two decades. The lone win was a 7-6 win in nine innings in the eighth game of the season over Pioneer High, another new member of the 605 League. Artesia scored 51 runs last season and was shutout 13 times. This season, Artesia returns nine players, eight of whom are starters.

“We are still young as we have only one senior,” said longtime head coach Michael Gaoghagan. “So, our concerns are two-fold-one is that we mature as humans and as ball players as fast as we can. Secondly, [Mar. 1] marks the first time that I will have most players returning, so I am sure our ship will start veering in the right direction.”

Gaoghagan said that last season’s team learned that they were young and not very good, but he knew that going in. With a squad built mostly of sophomores and juniors, the prospects for improvement are out there. Junior Brandon Azzato and sophomore Adam Hollenback are slated to be the top two pitchers and are also good with the bat. Azzato, a member of the All-Suburban League last season, moves from center field to left field while sophomore Pablo Vega, who was at second base last season, is now in the outfield.

“Brandon Azzato is healthy, so I am able to use him more to be effective,” Gaoghagan said. “Our starting outfield, when healthy, is pretty impressive defensively. Many of them are improving, but are taking three steps forward, two steps back. So hopefully, that will be more consistent as they mature and trust the process.”

He added that despite the years of futility, he tries to focus on the ones who are here for the right reasons and knows that when players are freshmen and sophomores, there is a maturity factor that comes into play.”

Since 2007, which was the last time Artesia had a winning record and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, the program has reached double figures in victories just once.

CERRITOS DONS

18-11 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Oak Hills High 10-7 in the Division 4 first round playoffs

Head coach: Brooks Walling (sixth season, 75-67 in previous five as co-head coach)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 75-67

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

Key losses: Robert Aragon, Kaleb Ferrer, Eugene Luevano, Xavier Medina (JR)

Projected lineup:

P-Matthew Pinal (SR)/Evan Vazquez (JR)/Alex Manibusan (JR)/Jacob Guzman (JR)/Jayden Baerg (JR transfer from Los Alamitos High)/Rene Moran (SR transfer from Gahr)/Maxwell Shea (SO)

C-Jonathan O’Neill (JR)/Ethan Hanabusa (JR)/Aaron DeLeon (SO)/Owen Gott (FR)

1B-Jacob Delarosa (JR)/Guzman/Manibusan/Baerg

2B-Manibusan/Pinal

3B-Nick Hill (SO)/Manibusan/Vasquez/Pinal

SS-Vazquez/Pinal/Manibusan

LF-Bernie DeLeon (SR)Manibusan/Nathan Lopez (JR)/Brendan Reyes (JR)/Gott

CF-Raul Garcia (JR)

RF-Matthew Aguinaga (SR)/Pinal/Manibusan

Since former head coach Scott Parsonage and his assistant Brooks Walling took over the Cerritos program, the Dons had become relevant in the Suburban League, advancing to the playoffs a few times instead of finishing towards the bottom of the Suburban League. Now, the Dons are in the 605 League and Walling takes over as the new head coach with pretty much the same, experienced team as last year’s squad.

“Getting an opportunity to be in a group is a privilege, obviously,” Walling said. “Being with Scott for the past five years together has been an amazing. His kids are older now and he wanted to be a family guy and take care of them as we all should. But I felt I had an opportunity and wanted to keep leading the way with these kids. It’s a really good group.”

Walling says it’s easy to take over a group you already know, and experience goes a long way. However, complacency sometimes gets in the way. Walling plans to keep the practices ultra-competitive and says nobody’s job is safe. This season’s team will have six infielder’s, six outfielders and four catchers.

Walling also added that the one positive from last season was making the playoffs, which was a goal, and said with a younger group, they weren’t worried about a league title. They just wanted to make the playoffs. The one negative was not advancing farther. As it relates to this season’s team, the Dons will be paced by senior pitchers Matthew Pinal and Evan Vasquez, both of whom combined to go 12-6 in the regular season with 11 complete games. No other Cerritos pitcher went the distance last season. Pinal also hit .361 in the regular season to lead the team.

“I think they’re more physical,” Walling said. “They’ve put some weight on, their velocity is up, and their command is better. Their breaking stuff is tighter and obviously, they have the experience. Either one of those guys can keep us in any ballgame against anybody in the country, I believe.”

Junior center fielder Raul Garcia (.359, 28 hits, 21 runs batted in) and junior Alex Manibusan (.329, 26 hits, 16 RBI), who can play just about anywhere, are the other returning players that hit over .300. Sophomore Nick Hill (.293) moves from shortstop to third base while the outfield is even better with senior left fielder Bernie DeLeon, a first baseman last season, and senior right fielder Matthew Aguinaga. As for the newcomers to varsity, Walling says he has high expectations for junior first baseman Jacob Delarosa, who was very promising in the fall.

Now that they are in the new league, the Dons are expected to challenge Glenn for the top spot as both teams boast the best pitching tandems. While it may feel the same with Artesia and Glenn as league opponents, Walling admitted he will miss being in the Suburban League.

“We’re going to miss the rivals,” Walling said. “La Mirada…both teams respect one another. Obviously, you get up when you play La Mirada. If you don’t, you’re going to get embarrassed. I have a lot of respect for what [La Mirada head coach] Jimmy [Zurn] has done over there.

“Anyone we play, we create a rivalry,” he continued. “I was watching SportsCenter the other night and some hockey team had a shirt that said, ‘We’re a bunch of jerks’. That’s us; our guys are a bunch of jerks that want to win. They’re ultra-competitive and I think they’ll do anything it takes to win.”

GAHR GLADIATORS

22-9 overall last season, 9-1 in the San Gabriel Valley League, first place, lost to Orange Lutheran High 4-0 in the Division 1 quarterfinals

Head coach: Gerardo Perez (15thseason, 279-140-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 104-54-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Anthony Diaz, Xavier Estrada (SR), Darius Garcia, Delvan Gomez, Michael Perez, Brandon Shiota, Julian Sotelo

Projected lineup:

P-Jason Dressel (SR)/Joel Martinez (SR)/Christian Banda (FR)/Ethan Kang (FR)/Kevin Quiroz (JR)/JaMore Ward (SO)

C-Edward Morales (SR)/Jorge Renteria (SO)

1B-Diego Salazar (JR)

2B-Tyrese Turner (SR)/Matt Kurata (SO)

3B-Jayden Cruz (SR)

SS-Matthew Polk (SO)                                  

LF-Andrew Householder (SR)/Joey Lopez (SR)/Kurata

CF-Kang

RF-Matt Estrada (SR)

Despite alternating wins and losses through the first seven games last season and at one point was 5-6, Gahr turned it around to have another of the program’s famous 20-plus win seasons. The Gladiators went on winning streaks of five and eight games before falling to Orange Lutheran in the Division 1 quarterfinals. Longtime head coach Gerardo Perez said there was nothing to be ashamed of losing to Orange Lutheran and added that as far as 20 wins and goal setting, ‘there comes a time, but right now, our emphasis is doing the little things correctly and doing those things first’.

Gahr has reached the 20-win plateau in five of the last six seasons and nine times with Perez as the head coach. Plus, Gahr always schedules tough with a lot of Division 1 opponents to be prepared for not on the San Gabriel Valley League, which it has won four straight seasons and six out of the last seven, but also for the playoffs. As for 2019, the Gladiators will have a lot of returners back, but not a lot of experience in the roles that they’re playing as people and as young men.

“Every year you kind of go through your bumps and everything else like that and reflecting back on last year, I’m very proud of what we did,” Perez said. “I’m very proud of the guys, I miss the guys, it was a good group of guys; [there was] good chemistry. I thought they represented the four letters on their chest on the front [of the jersey] very well. I’m very proud of the efforts at the end of the day.”

Gahr lost a lot of pitching and the team will rely a lot on seniors Jason Dressel and Joel Martinez for, as Perez puts it, “a lot of leadership and very important innings for us”. Martinez went 9-2 last season while Dressel, despite a 5-1 mark with the lone loss coming to Orange Lutheran, was the ace of the staff with 44 strikeouts and an earned run average of 1.60. Peres says Dressel and Martinez may be the top two pitchers, but not necessarily the top two starters.

Senior Jayden Cruz moves from first base back to his traditional third base position while sophomore Matthew Polk (.361, 26 hits, 26 runs scored) moves from the outfield to shortstop.

Senior second baseman Tyrese Turner is another one who batted over .300 and seniors Andrew Moreno and Michael Stephens will be used as designated hitters and/or pinch hitters. Look for freshmen pitchers Christian Banda and Ethan Kang to get valuable minutes.

While Gahr is off to one of its slowest starts in recent memory, Perez is chasing down 300 victories and could reach that milestone either this season or early next season.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Perez said of reaching 300 wins. “I tend to focus on us. I really try to make sure we’re executing things right. I think we have enough talent to repeat as league champions, which is one of our goals. But as far as the team is concerned, even though we have a lot of returners, they’re not really accustomed to leading the way through the doors or being in a leadership position. That’s kind of new for the old guys.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

20-9 overall last season, 9-3 in the Suburban League, second place, lost to Windward High 4-1 in the Division 4 second round playoffs

Head coach: Jack Brooks (eighth season, 108-83)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 86-54

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Alex Alcaraz, Humberto Chiquito, Rafael De Avila, Damone Hale (SR), Jose Llamas, Jalen Ringwood (SO)

Projected lineup:

P-Joseph Angulo (SR)/Joseph Figueroa (SR)/Jacob Hernandez (SO)

C-Alexis Martinez (SR)/Jose Reyes (SR)

1B-Hernandez/Gerardo Vargas (SR)

2B-Figueroa/Javier Llamas (FR)

3B-Angulo/Christian Leon (SR)

SS-Angulo/Figueroa

LF-Eric Rodarte (SR)

CF-Julian Marrujo (SR)

RF-Vargas

Despite not playing a home game on its own campus, plus other distractions, Glenn was able to post a school record 20 victories in 2018. Head coach Jack Brooks was hoping to move into his new digs this season, but unfortunately, the Eagles will have to spend another season playing in its home away from home at Rio Hondo College.

“Last year was a great year,” Brooks said. “We were basically a couple of at-bats away from another Suburban League title. We had a great group of guys and obviously [pitcher] Humberto Chiquito had one of the greatest seasons this school has ever seen. He’s now the number two starter at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

“But it was a great year,” he continued. “We put in a lot of work. The kids did a great job of overcoming this situation of not having a field, not having bullpens, not having cages, playing every game on the road. We were outright second place in the Suburban League.”

If Glenn is to have another 20-win season, or better, and advance deeper in the playoffs, it will have to rely on its pitching again. Seniors Joseph Angulo and Joseph Figueroa were half a four-team staff for the most part in 2018 and were very successful. Angulo went 6-2 with a 1.53 ERA and 35 strikeouts while Figueroa, in nearly 15 innings, won a pair of games and threw a one-hit shutout at Artesia. Sophomore Jacob Hernandez will also be asked of to pick up a lot of innings.

Figueroa also batted .378 with 31 hits and 19 RBI, tops of all returning players while Angulo hit .304 with 24 hits. Senior catcher Alexis Martinez (.329, 23 hits, 16 RBI) is another key offensive player coming back and had one error last season.

“They’re going to have to be the leaders of the team, not just the pitching staff,” Brooks said of his two seniors. “I have three four-year starters back. We’re expecting them to carry the load offensively and Figgy and Angulo will obviously…we’re expecting them to cover the load on the mound.”

The other three returning players combined for 12 hits, but Brooks is pleased with what he has seen thus far out of his new varsity players.

“Christian Leon has had some great at-bats and he’s played solid defensively at third base,” Brooks said. “Javier Llamas has played well defensively. Eric Rodarte and Gerardo Vargas are returners but didn’t get a ton of time last year.”

Brooks said that not having the new field ready, not being able to run summer camps and not being able to have more people come to the games has affected the program in not having a junior varsity team. So, there are 13 players on varsity this season. With that said, the Eagles have enough to contend for a 605 League title with Cerritos and Oxford Academy.

“We have to get better,” Brooks said. “To start the year, we’ve been in a lot of tight, close games. “We have about two and half weeks before league play starts, and we just have to get better and worry about ourselves. If we are able to get to a point where we can do the routine stuff, we’re going to be okay and be able to compete.

“In terms of the league, Cerritos is going to be very good,” Brooks added. “Oxford is going to be very good. I know Cory Williams very well at Oxford; he’s a very good coach. And, Cerritos has everybody back. They probably have the most veteran team in the 605 League and they’re going to be tough.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

11-16 overall last season, 2-10 in the Olympic League, fifth place

Head coach: Matt Dahlenburg (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 69-66

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

Key losses: Hank Brown, Brett Garcia, Danye Nichols (SR), Pete Tagle (SR)

Projected lineup:

P-Ryan Bloom (SR)/Wyatt Keller (SR)/Ryan Lasiter (JR))/Ben Allen (SO)/Diego Avina (JR)/Andrew Diaz (JR)/Brayden Garner (JR)

C-Matthew Bean (SO)/Allen                                      

1B-Keller/Allen

2B-Ryan Zamarripa (FR)/Brett Evenhouse (SR)

3B-Gardner

SS-James Stirton (SR)

LF-Colby Barnes (JR)/Allen

CF-Lasiter/Allen/Evenhouse

RF-Bloom/Allen/Evenhouse

For the fifth time in the past eight seasons, Valley Christian has made a coaching change and the new guy in town is just down the street from the school. Enter Matt Dahlenburg, who was an assistant coach at Mayfair High under Joe Magno from 2011-2014. He took the V.C. job in late September and this is his first head coaching job anywhere. Dahlenburg inherits a team that has seen its record decrease the past four seasons and has alternated playoff trips during that same time.

“Some people I knew…they wanted me to come in and coach the j.v. team because the younger levels are really good,” Dahlenburg said. “So, they asked me to come in and do that. I came in and talked to Dan [Leffler], who is our A.D.; sat down and talked to him. I came out to come to a practice and the next thing you know, he said, ‘here you go, we’re going to give you the reigns’.”

The new coach said he didn’t know much about the program last season, but remembered when he played at Mayfair, they were competitive. The pitching is solid and experienced, especially with senior Ryan Bloom being tabbed the No. 1 guy and juniors Ryan Lasiter or Andrew Diaz, a newcomer to varsity, the second one in the rotation. Senior Wyatt Keller will probably close some games, according to Dahlenburg. Senior James Stirton, who played some time at catcher last season, moves over to shortstop and is the team’s leading hitter from 2018 (.341, 30 hits). Dahlenburg is comparing this team to the group he had at Mayfair that won the Suburban League three years in a row (2011-2013).

“I’m really confident; these kids are a bunch of smart, smart kids,” Dahlenburg said. “Our whole emphasis is little things. If you do the little things right, we’re going to win baseball games. Just by taking to the seniors and picking their brains and asking they have done in the past…us coming in, our big point is defense, defense, defense.”

Dahlenburg knows it will be an uphill battle to win the Olympic League. Since 2012, the last time the school won a league title, only Maranatha High (2013, 2018) and Village Christian High (2014-2017) have taken home the top spot. But V.C. has also occupied the other four positions in the past four seasons.

“I know the Olympic League is a really tough league,” Dahlenburg said. “It’s probably one of the toughest around because of Maranatha, Village [Christian] and then Whittier [Christian] and Heritage [Christian]. They’re all really good schools. I like being the underdog. That’s my whole point. I tell these kids, if you’re the underdog, all you can do is go up.”

WHITNEY WILDCATS

5-13 overall last season, 2-10 in the Academy League, sixth place

Head coach: Jason Tani (third season, 15-22)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 19-70

Last time made the playoffs: 1988

Key losses: Sean Chen, Angel Gomez, Matt Lacayo (SR), Kaiser Lin

Projected lineup:

P-Rudy Lopez III (JR)/Jason Shin (JR)Jedi Hernandez (JR)/Jayden Tani (FR)

C-Michael Campos (SR)/Min Kim (JR)

1B-Lopez III

2B-Aden Gomez (SO)

3B-Hernandez

SS-Shin/Hernandez

LF-Sergio Benavides (JR)/Martin Macaraeg (JR)

CF-Tani

RF-Benavides/Macaraeg

The Whitney baseball program has struggled for over two decades with one winning record since at least 1998. But despite a five-win campaign in 2018, which came after the Wildcats went 10-9 two seasons ago, head coach Jason Tani still found some positives.

“The team as well as the coaching staff learned that the little details make all the difference,” Tani said. “Also, the team began to adapt to, and accept, my coaching style near the end of the season. Lastly, the team and returning players understood that my assistant coach, Jason Mizoguchi, and I are here for the long haul with near-term and long-term plans and goals for the baseball program.”

Tani said the nine returning players on a team of 11 spent a lot of time in the weight room during the offseason with most players gaining 10-15 pounds of muscle. Junior Jason Shin returns as the team’s top hurler and when he is not on the mound, will be at shortstop. Shin batted a team-high .404 last season with 21 hits and scored 11 times. According to Tani, Shin is the probably the school’s best hitter over the past decade, at least. Senior Michael Campos, who saw some time on the mound last season, will be behind the plate again and is another solid hitter (.350, 14 hits, 11 runs). Junior Jedi Hernandez is normally the team’s starting third baseman but could spend more time at shortstop. Also, look for big things early on in his career from freshman center fielder Jayden Tani, who will also provide the Wildcats with some valuable innings on the mound.

The Academy League disbanded after last season and Whitney has found a new home in the 605 League, along with longtime rival Oxford Academy. The Wildcats also have finished in fifth or six place every season since 1999. Could this be the season the ‘Cats make a move towards an automatic playoff berth?

“We will miss the great relationships established over the past 10+ years with the schools, administrations, coaches and teams,” Jason Tani said. “Each and every school treated our team and coaching staff with the utmost respect and hospitality every time they hosted us at their field. Fortunately, we will continue to compete against our main rival, Oxford Academy, as both teams move from the Academy to the 605.

“Our team has one goal this season, ‘One More Game’,” he continued. “We want to play at least one more game after the season by making the CIF playoffs by surprising everyone by sneaking into one of the top three spots in league, or possibly earning an at-large berth in the Division 7 playoffs.”

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