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2021 BASEBALL PREVIEW – Cerritos has something to prove while Gahr, Valley Christian looking to rebound

 

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

April 16, 2021

 

The Cerritos High baseball team had it all going last season before the pandemic cut short what could have been one of the program’s best campaigns. Now, the Dons have a chip on their shoulders and are out to prove that they are still the team to beat in the 605 League. Gahr High figures to be one of the top teams in Division 2 while Valley Christian High is hoping not to duplicate the slow start it had last season. Artesia High has a new head coach and Whitney High will not field a team this season.

Note: At time of press, player information from La Mirada High had not been received.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS

1-5 overall last season

Head coach: Jose Serrano (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 12-92

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Key losses: Brandon Azzato, Patrick Garcia, Darrell Miller, Johnny Nunez

Projected lineup:

P-Frankie Medina (JR)/Richard Saad (SO)/Jaimie Saucedo (JR)/Reggie Steele (SO)/David Zavala (SR)/John Ceballos (FR)

C-Medina/Juan Munoz (JR)

1B-Francisco Sandoval (SO)/Steele

2B-Michael Loera (JR)/Munoz

3B-Saucedo/Zavala

SS-Medina/Saucedo/Loera
LF-Brandon Garcia (SO)/Daniel Guardado (FR)/Andrew Serrano (JR)

CF-Saad/Garcia/Guardado/Serrano

RF-Garcia/Guardado/Serrano

After 18 seasons, there is a changing of the guard in the Artesia baseball program as former player Jose Serrano replaces Michael Gaoghagan as the head coach. Gaoghagan had gone 134-308-1 during his time with the Pioneers, reaching the quarterfinals in his first season (2003) and the playoffs three out of the next four seasons. After that, the Pioneers had one season of at least 10 victories. Serrano also spent some time on the varsity coaching staff under Gaoghagan.

“It was a roller coaster being coached and coaching with Gaoghagan for the past 18 years,” Serrano said. “We went from winning to losing throughout the years. To be honest, these past few months, it has been very difficult coaching, especially dealing with the pandemic and preparing for the season. It has been a goal and a dream of mine to take over the team for many years.”

Serrano, who graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills in 2011 and led the Toros with a .440 batting average in 2010, added that as a former Pioneer, he gave his heart as a player and will do the same as a head coach. While he may not have been the biggest or strongest player, he said he played the hardest than anyone else and that you have to love the game and you have to play with passion.

“As a coach, I will make sure my players play their hearts out with passion,” Serrano said.

The Pioneers will have a dozen players on varsity and Serrano has tabbed junior Frankie Medina as the top returner with junior Juan Munoz as the top varsity newcomer. Serrano also said that as of now, he doesn’t have specific starters to each position as he plans to move everyone around. But one thing Serrano plans to have to a positive attitude.

“Covid has affected many of us in different ways, from losing our jobs to losing our loved ones,” he said. “I want to make sure our players focus on the remainder of the season with a positive attitude and the desire to play their heart out the rest of the [season]. I want them to know that we came back to the field to win again for our school and for our families.”

CERRITOS DONS                            

5-3 overall last season

Head coach: Brooks Walling (third full season, eighth overall, 101-78)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 76-49

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

Key losses: Jayden Baerg, Raul Garcia, Jacob Guzman, Nick Hill (SR), Alex Manibusan, Jonathan O’Neill, Joseph Quibrantar (SR), Evan Vasquez, Demetrius Vizcarra

Projected lineup:

P-Jude Alfaro (SR)/Evan Geppert (JR)/Owen Gott (JR)/Edgar Lorenzo (SR)/Matthew Rezendes (SR)/Maxwell Shea (SR)

C-Gott/Aaron DeLeon (SR)

1B-Rezendes/DeLeon

2B-Carter Chi (FR)/Ethan Vo (JR)/Cifuentes (SR)

3B-Lorenzo/Cifuentes/Vo

SS-Jared Pugrad (SR)/Chi

LF-Paul Kim (SO)

CF-Nick Toney (SR)/Pugrad

RF-Johann Gibbs (FR)/Vo

Cerritos christened the 605 League’s first season with a league title, winning all 10 games in the circuit. The Dons then won five of their eight games played last season and had it not been for the pandemic, would have been on target to win 20 games for the second consecutive season. Cerritos was loaded with seniors last season who didn’t get a chance to win another league title and possibly go deeper in the playoffs. Now, the Dons are playing this season with a vengeance and are off to a 5-1 start.

“It’s great to be back, obviously,” Walling said. “Having four practices and then having to scrap up for a real CIF event is a little tough, after graduating [15] guys with [senior] Nick Hill transferring to Fullerton. Other than that, it’s definitely exciting to be back.”
Walling has had to change his coaching staff a bit with Jose Serrano taking the Artesia job and Walling’s dad, Grant, moving to Arizona. But Martin Rodriguez is Walling’s right hand man among the five assistant coaches. Walling said he had big hopes for the 2020 team, but you can’t look back; you have to look forward and it’s about the 2021 class now in which Cerritos returns only half a dozen returners, including two transfers who didn’t play in any of the eight games. Still, the pitching is experienced enough with left-handed senior Maxwell Shea from the left side, who throws anywhere from 82-86 miles per hour, senior Edgar Lorenzo, who throws 82-84 mph. and junior Evan Geppert, who Walling said had a good junior varsity season and seems promising. Look for senior first baseman Matthew Rezendes and junior Owen Gott, the starting catcher, to get some time on the mound. Starting second baseman Carter Chi and starting right fielder Johann Gibbs are up and coming freshman who could be the faces of the programs in the next few years.

“As long as you can perform, you’re going to start,” Walling said. “I don’t care if you’re a freshman or a senior. [Chi and Gibbs] walked into camp and in four days, earned a [starting] job. They’re legit.”

The 605 League will be five instead of six this season as Whitney isn’t fielding a team and Cerritos figures to be the favorites again. Walling says he likes his chances to repeat the same success of 2019 and to build off what could have been from last season’s team.

“I have a super strong group coming back,” Walling said. “The pitching staff is going to throw strikes. We don’t have an overpowering guy, but you never know. Guys will step up and that’s what high school baseball is all about.”

GAHR GLADIATORS                       

3-6 overall last season

Head coach: Gerardo Perez (17th season, 295-162-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 77-53-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Kevin Quiroz, Diego Salazar, Angel Zepeda

Projected lineup:

P-Noah Andrunas (SO)/Christien Banda (JR)/Josh Delgado (SR)/Andrew Garcia (JR)/Ethan Kang (JR)/Noah Magallanes (FR)/Victor Morales (SO)/Steven Thompson (JR)/J’amore Ward (SR)

C-Jorge Renteria (SR)/Matt Kurata (SR)

1B-Brian Munoz (SR)

2B-Angel Cortez (SO)/Kyle Panganiban (SO)

3B-Kurata/Panganiban

SS-DJ Massey (SR)/Alex Hernandez (JR)

LF-Banda/Thompson/Beau Manuel (SR)/Alahni Salcedo (SO)/Michael Williams (SR)

CF-Kang/Massey

RF-Andrew Kirchner (JR)

The more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to the Gahr baseball program. Experienced or not, longtime head coach Gerardo Perez puts his team through one of the toughest battles early on, which gets them ready for the San Gabriel Valley League and then the playoffs. Last season was no different as the Gladiators were shutout in their first three games before winning three of their next four games. The season was halted before league was to have started, but Gahr still had 10 more non-league games on the slate, including a Mar. 25 tilt at Cerritos.

“I thought we started to come together right when Covid hit,” Perez said. “When you play the schedule that we do, you really learn how to deal with adversity right away in the season. And I thought we started to do a better job of being consistent, which is very important in handling…I believe we started five freshmen last year. I thought we were hitting our stride.”

The Gladiators, who are in Division 2 this season, are off to a 5-5 start with the first five games coming against Division 1 teams. This past Wednesday’s win against Lynwood was the 300th for Perez at Gahr. Through the first seven games, Gahr went 3-4 but Perez felt his team could have been 7-0 as it lost a one-run game to Santa Margarita High, a one-run, ten-inning affair to Cypress High and a one-run, eight-inning game to Corona Del Mar High.

“It’s a complement to our players who want to go out and they want an opportunity to face the better kids,” Perez said. “We kind of feel like you’re going to find out who you are and you’re better prepared for college.”

Sophomore Noah Andrunas, junior Christien Banda, a Long Beach State University commit, and freshman Noah Magallanes would be the starters prior to league play. Once senior J’amore Ward, another LBSU commit comes back, he would be one of the starters while Magallanes would be one of the relievers. Juniors Ethan Kang and Steven Thompson are slated to be on the back end of the pitching staff

“We have some depth, but we’re also young,” Perez said. “We’re really good this year; we’re pretty strong. In 2022, it should be close to similar to 2018 as far as strength across the board.”

Gahr is also very stacked behind the plethora of arms as the entire infield are returners, including senior third baseman and backup catcher Matt Kurata, who will be going to California State University, Bakersfield, and senior shortstop DJ Massey, whom Perez says is ‘an electric defensive player’.

“He can really jump start our offense every time he gets on base,” Perez said. “He’s really improved greatly over the course of the past month. He’s going to find himself playing for a while.”

Perez added that freshman Jose Perez and sophomore Alahni Salcedo could find themselves as the top two designated hitters. Pertaining to the depth the Gladiators have this season, Perez said Gahr is deeper across the board but is still in the process of trying to develop some of the players and continued to say that Banda, Kirchner, Kurata and Munoz, who will be batting cleanup, will be spearheading the offensive attack.

“We’re not your typical Gahr team,” Perez said. “We can actually swing the bat with some authority. It’s very interesting. We’re a really good defensive team; we can generate some runs just by hitting. We just need to become a little more detailed with the pitching staff.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

1-4 overall last season

Head coach: Gabriel Guzman (second season, 1-4)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 64-49

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Andrew Arballo, Ryan Baker, Alejandro Rizo

Projected lineup:

P-Jacob Hernandez (SR)/Carlos Valdez (SR)/Adrian Zamora (SR)/Joseph Chavez (SO)

C-Zoey Williams (SR)/Marcos Orizaba (FR)

1B-Valdez/Isaac Hernandez (JR)/Jacob Hernandez

2B-Francisco Rodriguez (FR)/Andrew Guerra (SO)

3B-Zamora/Anthony Carmona (FR)

SS-Chavez/Orizaba

LF-Guerra/Anthony Lira (SR)/Manuel Sigala (SO)

CF-Andres Cortez (FR)/Ivan Vera (FR)

RF-Alex Renteria (SO)/Gabriel Salcido (SO)

John Glenn High head coach Gabriel Guzman didn’t get an opportunity to see his team much last season before it was abruptly shut down. The Eagles played in only five games for their new coach, who had replaced former head coach Jack Brooks. Guzman, who had been Glenn’s junior varsity coach, was hoping to continue the playoff tradition that saw the program play beyond the regular season five times from 2014-2019.

“In the first five games from last season, I’ve learned that the game is way more intense compared to junior varsity, from the very first inning to the end,” Guzman said. “My boys last season learned to leave it all out on the field and play every bit of it as it was their last game.”

Guzman said the long offseason was definitely too long and although his players made adjustments and improvements, it doesn’t compare to working together as a team. Of the adjustments made during the offseason, the biggest adjustments the Eagles made were in the pitching department.

Senior pitcher Jacob Hernandez is tabbed as Glenn’s number one hurler with senior Adrian Zamora as a middle reliever and senior Carlos Valdez as the closer while senior Zoey Williams, formerly of Artesia, comes over from the softball team to become one of the catchers.

“The outlook for the 2021 season should be fun,” Guzman said. “I’m very pleased with my team this season. All players are on the same level as a team and ready to compete this year.”

LA MIRADA MATADORES

6-2 overall last season

Head coach: Jimmy Zurn (seventh season, 122-42-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 105-27

Key losses: Jimmy Blumberg, Eugene Jeon, Jared Jones, Dominic Martinez, Emilio Morales, Memo Pacheco, Jacob Sharp, Matt Wilson

NORWALK LANCERS

4-4 overall last season

Head coach: William Wenrick (seventh season, 40-80)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 34-66

Last time made the playoffs: 2013

Key losses: Thomas Aneste, Joseph Casillas, Kevin Gomez, Aaron Lopez, Osvaldo Sosa

Projected lineup:

P-Adam Aneste (SR)/Caden Barnhill (SO)/Christian Johnson (SR)/Kaleb Nakano (SO)

C-Angel Rosales (JR)

1B-TBD

2B-TBD

3B-TBD

SS-TBD

LF-Randy Martinez (SO)

CF-TBD

RF-TBD

Head coach William Wenrick has coached Norwalk High longer than any of its previous coaches since the 1998 season but has yet to advance to the postseason during that time. After a slow start to last season, the Lancers went on a brief three-game winning streak and Wenrick says everyone was feeling ‘pretty good about ourselves’ and the players were buying in on what they were trying to accomplish.

This season will be tougher for the Lancers as they will play all their games on the road and practice at a middle school little league field while their new digs are still under construction. Wenrick, who admitted the program is ‘really behind’, just determined his varsity and junior varsity teams this past Monday and although most of the positions aren’t settled yet, he did say that sophomore left-handed pitcher Kaleb Nakano, a varsity rookie, will get significant innings and that junior Angel Rosales, another newcomer to varsity, solidifies the catching position.

“As most coaches, [we’re] just happy that we are on the field again,” Wenrick said. “With our current situation, we’re looking to get stronger, be competitive, and improve throughout the season and into the summer.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

4-7 overall last season

Head coach: Matt Dahlenburg (third season, 16-17)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 56-59

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

Key losses: Colby Barnes, Andrew Diaz, Brayden Garner, Ryan Lasiter, Cayden Plooster

Projected lineup:

P-Colin Abrahams (SR)/Jared McDaniel (SR)/Austin Horio (SR)/Carson Slager (JR)/Austin Wilkinson (JR)/Ryan Zamarippa (JR)

C-Matt Bean (JR)/Jacob Smith (SO)     

1B-Slager/Smith/Jesse Perez (JR)

2B-Ben Carter (JR)/Nolan Lynott (SO)/Evan Sawai (SO)/Perez

3B-Slager/Carter/Smith

SS-Horio/Carter

LF-Armand Rizo (JR)/Dylan Barnes (JR)/Bo Adkins (SR)

CF-Zamarippa/Adkins/Barnes/Wilkinson

RF-Connor Gerdes (SR)/Abrahams/McDanielAdkins

Despite the slow start to the short season, V.C. head coach Matt Dahlenburg was looking forward to a better second season, considering the experience he had from his first season. The Defenders, who lost three games by one run and another by two runs, still return a lot from that 11-game season of 2020 and are primed to challenge for one of the top three spots in the Olympic League.

“I was definitely thinking we’re getting to age now where we can compete with the juniors and seniors that everybody is throwing out there [in the Olympic League] because we’re going to be that [team].” Dahlenburg said. “The outlook is really good.”

Dahlenburg said he doesn’t have a true number one pitcher, but seniors Colin Abrahams and Jared McDaniel and junior Austin Wilkinson figure to be starting pitchers. Senior Austin Horio and junior Ryan Zamarippa are two other pitchers who figure to make an impact, especially in relief.

“If our guys, like Zamarippa and Horio and Wilkinson are locked in, I think we have a chance to beat Maranatha,” Dahlenburg said. “If we [play defense] really well and don’t give up any runs, we have a real good chance of winning. That’s how we take it.”

All but three players are either seniors or juniors, thus making it easier for Dahlenburg to get the program back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Maranatha High won the league in 2018 and 2019 with Village Christian claiming the title the previous four seasons before that.

“For me, I’ve had these juniors out here pretty much…they’ve been with me pretty much since they were freshmen,” Dahlenburg said. “We’re just getting up to the point where they can get the experience and now everything is starting to click.”

 

 

 

 

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