____________________________ RATES       _______________________________ ________________________ CCC

Socialize

2022 BASEBALL PREVIEW – Usual schools vie for a league title while Artesia, Valley Christian could make surprising moves

 

March 2, 2022

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

It’s no secret that Cerritos High, Gahr High and La Mirada High are favorites to win their respective leagues. But don’t sleep on Artesia High to break a long playoff drought or Valley Christian High, which has plans to supplant Maranatha High for the top spot in the Olympic League. John Glenn High hopes to get back to its winning ways while Norwalk High could make some noise in the final year of the Suburban League.

Returning players in italics

ARTESIA PIONEERS

3-10 overall last season, 2-6 in the 605 League, fourth place

Head coach: Jose Serrano (second season, 3-10)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 10-81

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Division 7

Key losses: David Zavala

Projected lineup:

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

C-Medina/Juan Munoz (SR)

1B-Victor Sanchez (FR)/Francisco Sandoval (JR)/Saucedo

2B-Michael Loera (SR)

3B-Saucedo/Steele

SS-Medina/Carbajal

LF-Phineas Shahon (JR)/Brandon Garcia (JR)

CF-Joshua Peck (JR)

RF-Jose Garcia (FR)

It was a rocky beginning to head coach Jose Serrano’s first varsity gig, taking over for former Michael Gaoghagen who had been at Artesia for the past 18 seasons. The Pioneers had 12 players on the team with one senior who joined the team late. Artesia did win a league game for the first time since 2017 and in fact, swept John Glenn to win two league games for the first time since 2014.

“I was okay with it because it was my first year taking over the program,” said Serrano. “I didn’t know the kids that well. So, getting to know them and understanding that their baseball knowledge was a little bit behind kind of made me focus on teaching them the baseball basics first and then we’ll play baseball. So last year, 3-10, I was okay with it. It didn’t hurt me; it didn’t bug me because I knew turning a program around takes time.”

If there is one area Serrano is pleased with, it’s the pitching staff under the tutelage of Chris Mink. Through the early part of the season, Serrano says the staff has gone from walking 10 batters a game to walking one. Through the first six games, the Pioneers went 3-3 and Serrano says the reason behind that has been the pitching with the three losses all coming by one run. Whine senior Frankie Medina is the ace of the staff, the number two guy will be freshman Daniel Carbajal. Senior Juan Munoz will anchor down the catching duties while the starting outfielders are all new to the varsity level.

“The chemistry is amazing; they play together and they act like a family now,” said Serrano. “Position-wise, we finally have a set lineup where I’m not playing the chess game.”

Although it’s getting better, Serrano says he’s still worried about the experience and the baseball knowledge from some of his players and thinks they’re still behind. But the energy level and the drive to win is there. Serrano also believes this is the year the program stops that 13-year playoff drought, Winning the 605 League may be a reach, but he is gunning for one of the other two automatic berths.

“If we don’t, it will be a disappointment to the team and to myself,” he said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs this year, and we should be there. I have that confidence in my team this year.”

CERRITOS DONS

18-5 overall last season, 8-0 in the 605 League, first place, lost to Hart High 5-2 in the Division 3 second round playoffs

Head coach: Martin Rodriguez (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 80-40

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

Division 3

Key losses: Jude Alfaro, Aaron DeLeon, Edgar Lorenzo, Jared Pugrad, Matthew Rezendes, Maxwell Shea, Nick Toney

Projected lineup:

P-Carter Chi (SR)/Evan Geppert (SR)/Max Meza (SR)/Anthony Rincon (SR)/Dylan Burton (JR)/Brandon Casas (JR)

C-Owen Gott (SR)/Meza/Ryan Martinez (JR)

1B-Casas/Rincon

2B-Dalton Chi (FR)

3B-Ethan Vo (SR)

SS-Carter Chi (SO)

LF-Raymond Sierra (JR)/Noah Gapuz (SO)

CF-Paul Kim (JR)/Gapuz

RF-Johann Gibbs (SO)/Gapuz

When Scott Parsonage and Brooks Walling took over the program in 2014, they changed the culture of Cerritos baseball. Now, Walling has moved on to family obligations and has turned the program over to former assistant Martin Rodriguez, who has always held that position wherever he has been but has always wanted to be a head coach. Rodriguez was the first hire Parsonage and Walling made in 2014 and the transition from assistant to head coach is one of the easiest anyone can have.

“I started coaching high school baseball over 20 years ago,” said Rodriguez. “I enjoyed the role of being an assistant. But as the past couple of years has transpired with coach Walling, I knew that there was going to be an opportunity for me to either take over, or step aside with him.”

Rodriguez says what he brings to the table is a different perspective on the high school baseball player and understands what the players are going through, dealing with school and their parents and what they’re going to do when they graduate, or in two or three years. As it relates to the current team and the program, he said he doesn’t plan to change what Parsonage and Walling began.

“Coach Walling left me with a pot of gold,” Rodriguez said. “Not just the rainbow to find it. Literally, he left me with a pot of gold here and if I can pick up that pot of gold and carry it for as long as I can, I’m going to do it.”

While the Dons have some talented returning players, Rodriguez says the team is young in age and in varsity experience. The pitching staff is solid with senior Evan Geppert and junior Dylan Burton leading the charge. After that will be a lot of guys who have already found starting spots in other positions. Senior catcher Owen Gott has the makings to be one of the best, if not, the best catcher in the area. Last season, Carter Chi started as a freshman and this season, his younger brother, Dalton Chi, will get the not while Carter moves to shortstop.

In the brief existence of the 605 League, no other school has been able to touch the Dons, who have won all 18 league games and have allowed 10 runs. Cerritos figures to be the favorites to win league again. The rookie coach admitted the kids want to have that target on their backs because it fires them up.

“The expectations are high,” said Rodriguez. “The athletic directors and the principal and the faculty, the alumni have all been gracious enough to stop by over the fall and winter to wish us luck and to tell us that they expect the ball to keep rolling. We’re ready for it.”

GAHR GLADIATORS        

16-14 overall last season, 7-5 in the San Gabriel Valley League, tied for second place, lost to Sierra Canyon 10-1 in the Division 2 second round playoffs

Head coach: Gerardo Perez (18th season, 311-176-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 69-60

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Division 2

Key losses: Josh Delgado, Matt Kurata, Demetrius Massey, Brian Munoz, Jonathan Nava, Jorge Renteria, J’amore Ward, Michael Williams

Projected lineup:

P-Cristien Banda (SR)/Andrew Garcia (SR)/Ethan Kang (SR)/Steven Thompson (SR)Noah Andrunas (JR)/Victor Morales (JR)/Noah Magallanes (SO)/Jaden Alba (JR)

C-Angel Cortez (JR)/Jose Perez (SO)

1B-Alahni Salcedo (JR)/Andrew Kirchner (SR)

2B-Kyle Panganiban (JR)

3B-Joe Tomassi-Ortiz (SR)/Mike Lee (SO)

SS-Cortez/Panganiban    

LF-Banda/Kirchner/Perez/Thompson

CF-Kang

RF-Banda/Alba

Gahr had it most losses in San Gabriel Valley League since 2008 and the 16 victories matched the total from the previous two seasons. Still, the Gladiators had enough talent to get to the second round of the Division 2 playoffs.

“I think a big part of our program is going through all the trials and the tribulations that we go through all year long,” said head coach Gerardo Perez. “Just the culture that we’ve created goes a long way for us.”

The later start to the season because of Covid was a challenge for Gahr because it has a set of structure and routines and obviously, that was disrupted last season and as Perez put it, ‘everyone had to fly by the seat of their pants’.

Senior pitcher Cristien Banda, who will be going to Long Beach State University and can throw in the 90s, is the ace of the staff who faced all the top clubs last season and went 4-1. Senior Steven Thompson is the number two guy in a very deep staff with juniors Noah Andrunas (5-4 last season) and Victor Morales anchoring down the front end. Perez says the staff is about nine or 10 deep. Behind the plate will be a tag-team effort between University of San Diego-bound junior Angel Cortez and sophomore Jose Perez. They will be asked to replace the graduated Matt Kurata.

Senior Ethan Kang patrols center field with a platoon of players taking over left and right depending on who is pitching while senior Andrew Kirchner is slated to be the primary designated hitter.

From time to time, Perez will compare this season’s team to the one he had in 2005 that went 23-6 and advanced to the quarterfinals, or the 2018 squad that went 22-9 and advanced to the quarterfinals. Once again, the Gladiators have one of the toughest schedules around, playing a slew of Division 1 and Division 2 opponents. Through the first five games of this season, the outcome has been decided by one run. Dominguez is not competing this season, thus giving Gahr extra games against quality opponents that will prepare the team for the playoffs.

This will also be the final season of the league as the Gladiators will be part of a conference that will have the best of the SGVL and Suburban League face each other. A preview to that will be the final game of the season when Gahr hosts La Mirada.

“It’s exciting for us because [La Mirada head coach Jimmy Zurn and I] share a common belief for foundation,” said Perez. “If you want your kids to move on and be successful in college, which is kind of what we’ve established…you need to play the better teams.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES        

0-10 overall last season, 0-8 in the 605 League, fifth place

Head coach: Gabriel Guzman (second season, 1-14)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 50-46

Last time made the playoffs: 2019

Division 7

Key losses: Jacob Hernandez, Anthony Lira, Carlos Valdez, Zoey Williams, Adrian Zamora

Projected lineup:

P-Joseph Chavez (JR)/Marcos Orizaba (SO)/Francisco Rodriguez (SO)/Ivan Vera (SO)/Angel Aguilar (FR)/Brandon Rivera (FR)

C-Orizaba/Andrew Guerra (JR)

1B-Isaac Hernandez (SR)/Vera/Roy Cancio (FR)

2B-Guerra/Rodriguez

3B-Anthony Carmona (SO)/Aguilar/Rivera

SS-Chavez/Orizaba

LF-Andres Cortez (SR)/Carmona/Aguilar

CF-Esteban Ramirez (SR)

RF-Gabriel Salcido (JR)/Santos Hernandez (FR)

It was rough going for head coach Gabriel Guzman, which played two games beyond its league schedule because of the scaled down Covid season. Glenn failed to win a game for the first time in over two decades and scored less than 20 runs. Guzman said he wished his team had played more games in the rushed year with limited time to practice and also said he had a lot of players that had individual mentalities and wanted to perform more for their families and loved ones than themselves and as the season went on, the team began to play together

“We weren’t sure if we were going to have a season,” said Guzman. “So, everything was at a standstill. And when we finally got the green light, we had maybe four or five weeks to prepare, which in my opinion, is not enough for at least somewhat competitive play, going up against teams that have been established for some time.”

The pitching staff is very young with junior Joseph Chavez and sophomore Marcos Orizaba in the hunt to be the team’s number one guy. Still, Guzman isn’t too concerned because he’s had some of them even before high school and he knows what they can do at the competitive level.

Since 2008, the program has been up and down, getting to the postseason seven times. But when the Eagles haven’t landed a playoff spot, they have either struggled to win, or flirted with a .500 record. Strange as it may seem, but Glenn went through eight straight seasons of at least 11 wins.

“More hard work; more dedication, not that my guys haven’t done it,” said Guzman as far as being successful this season. “You can never have too much of it. My philosophy has always been practice makes perfect. I feel that we’re on a very good path this season. Our chemistry is a lot more into one another opposed to last season. I feel we’re ready for competition.”

LA MIRADA MATADORES

19-12 overall last season, 8-0 in the Suburban League, first place, lost to Bishop Amat High 8-2 in the Division 1 second round playoffs

Head coach: Jimmy Zurn (eighth season, 141-54-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 101-31-1

Division 1

Key losses: Joe Garcia, Christian Gutierrez, A.J. Nimeh, Josh Perez, William Ruiz, Vincent Segovia

Projected lineup:

P-Ryan Coppock (SR)/Eric Jeon (JR)/Benjamin Kim (JR)/Jeremiah Sotelo (JR)/Paul Dominguez (FR)

C-Andrew Pyle (SR)/Jacob Celiz (FR)/Donald Murray (FR)

1B-Maverek Russell (FR)/Pablo Hidalgo (JR)/Cameron Portillo (SR)

2B-Aiden Haller (JR)/Aiden Aguayo (FR)/Fabian Ochoa (SO)

3B-Jeon

SS-Noah Rodriguez (SR)

LF-Nick Barron (SR)/Jakob Ortega (SO)

CF-Rudy Gonzales (SR)

RF-Kim/Derek Cruz (SR)

For La Mirada to go 19-12 last season, playing the schedule that it did, was an accomplishment for head coach Jimmy Zurn and his team. The Matadores were stilling at .500 when Suburban League p-lay began, allowed three runs in the eight league games, blanked West Ranch High in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Bishop Amat High for the second time in nearly three and a half weeks.

“Last season was interesting,” said head coach Jimmy Zurn. “We actually started our season last year still on Zoom. The kids were doing distant learning, then coming for practice. Then obviously with all the regulations, particularly with us being in Los Angeles County was challenging. We’re coming off a really, really good 2020 graduating class with guys that are going off to [NCAA Division] 1 schools. So, we didn’t know what to expect. We’re big on the weight room, so we didn’t have that access. We were doing Zoom workouts.

In that second game with Bishop Amat, the Matadores were tied 2-2 going to the bottom of the fifth inning before allowing six runs. To go from what could have been a CIF championship team had the 2020 season continued to winning 19 games with a young, inexperienced group was more than Zurn could have asked for.

As for this season, Zurn is going to count on senior Eric Jeon, a Columbia University commit, to be the ace of the pitching staff. Jeon went 4-1 last season with the lone setback coming in a 3-2, 10-inning affair to Villa Park High in the 18th game. Zurn says he runs his fastball in the upper 80s, throws three pitches at any time and gives the team a chance every time he’s on the mound. Look for freshman Paul Dominguez, who has already set his eyes on Long Beach State University, to make a heavy impact at once. He throws in the mid-80s and Zurn admits the program is going to blessed to have him for four years. Another LBSU commit, senior Andrew Pyle, is the top catcher with two of the team’s five freshmen backing him up.

The team will have a good mixture of first-time varsity players and experienced guys who are going to Division 1 schools, including senior shortstop Noah Rodriguez, who is going to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Look for freshman Aiden Aguayo to slide into the shortstop position before he leaves La Mirada. Senior Rudy Gonzalez is the best defensive center fielder Zurn has seen who will hit in the middle of the order.

This will be the final year of the Suburban League and even though the Matadores have been the dominant team for a good chunk of the past two decades, Zurn said there will be some sentimental value in winning the league this season. They are the favorites and could still face arch-rival Mayfair High in league competition beyond this season.

“I’m a Suburban League product,” said Zurn. “I’ve been a part of this league for 20-plus years from as a player to when I first started coaching with [former head] coach [Kim] Brooks to then now. I hated seeing it split up, originally when the 605 League was created to now. I love [the Suburban] League, but it’s out of our control and we’ll go where they put us.”

NORWALK LANCERS         

5-6 overall last season, 3-5 in the Suburban League, fourth place

Head coach: William Wenrick (eighth season, 45-86)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 32-55

Last time made the playoffs: 2013

Division 6

Key losses: Adam Aneste, Christian Johnson

Projected lineup:

P-Kaleb Nakano (JR)/Caden Barnhill (JR)/Gabriel Cancino (JR)/Angel Gonzales (JR)/Adrian Martinez (SR)

C-Angel Rosales (SR)/Michael Castaneda (JR)/Cancino

1B-Nakano/Noah Urbina (SR)

2B-Adan Rodriguez (SR)/Ricardo Guzman (JR)

3B-Cancino/Rosales/Martinez

SS-Barnhill/Kevin Carrillo (JR)/Jonathan Guzman (JR)/Guzman, R.

LF-Castaneda/Rodriguez/Urbina

CF-Randy Martinez (JR)

RF-Castaneda/Rodriguez/Urbina

Norwalk was young last season and that youth, plus the experience gained in just 11 games should make the Lancers a prime candidate to finish in the upper half of the Suburban League and end a seven-year playoff drought, not including the 2020 season. Head coach William Wenrick said he wished he could have had more games but was still pleased with where the team was after 11 games.

“This year it’s going to be the opposite,” said Wenrick. “We have the full 28-game [schedule], we’re back in the St. Paul Tournament, everybody wants to come here, everybody wants to play.”

The Lancers got a late start and didn’t get to practice until January because their new field turf facility wasn’t quite done. But now, Norwalk will be able to play some home games under the lights.

Junior Kaleb Nakao is slated to be the team’s number one pitcher with junior Gabriel Cancino having a chance to be the next pitcher in line, although junior Caden Barnhill is more than capable of being the No. 2 hurler.

“Last year’s team was good because we had two good starters when I had Adam [Aneste] and Caleb,” said Wenrick. “We knew what we were going to get. There was not going to be a question who was going to be one and who was going to be two. Going into this year, I thought our hitting was going to be a lot better and our fielding was going to be a little better. I had good hopes for the team when we ended last year and that hasn’t changed at all.”

Norwalk won’t be a pushover in league and proved last season it can compete with a pair of playoff teams. It led Mayfair 7-1 going into the sixth inning before falling 10-7 and three days later was on the short end of a 4-2 decision. A few weeks later, the Lancers split with Bellflower High with the loss coming in a 2-1 affair after they had they had the bases loaded in the top of the seventh but came up empty.

“We didn’t know how bad at the time the Mayfair game was going to bite us,” said Wenrick. “But it did. I was just thinking about that; how we can get to 5-3 instead of 3-5 which we did last year.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

18-6 overall, 10-2 in the Olympic League, second place, lost to Barstow High 12-6 (10 innings) in the Division 6 first round playoffs

Head coach: Matt Dahlenburg (fourth season, 34-23)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 59-53

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

Division 5

Key losses: Bo Adkins, Matt Bean, Connor Gerdes, Austin Horio, Jared McDaniel

Projected lineup:

P-Colin Abrahams (SR)/Conner Messman (SR)/Carson Slager (SR)/Austin Wilkinson (SR)/Ryan Zamarippa (SR)/Evan Sawai (JR)/Kenneth Hoogerheide (JR)

C-Jacob Smith (JR)/Ben Carter (SR)

1B-Jesse Perez (SR)/Jeremy Gallagher (JR)/Hoogerheide

2B-Nolan Lynott (JR)/Carter/Sawai

3B-Slager/Smith/Carter

SS-Carter/Sawai/Zamarippa

LF-Dylan Barnes (SR)/Armand Rizo (SR)/Wilkinson/Major Brown (JR)/Quinn Unfried (JR)

CF-Barnes/Rizo/Wilkinson/Brown/Unfried

RF-Barnes/Rizo/Wilkinson/Brown/Unfried

Not including the 2020 season when that team won three of five games played, the 2021 V.C. Defenders had the program’s best record since going 23-10 in 2003. The 10-2 mark in Olympic League play was the best since V.C. won the league in 2012. But head coach Matt Dahlenburg was not satisfied with second place and taking one of three games with champion Maranatha High. He wanted to win all 12 games and believes the Defenders can accomplish that this season.

“It was a huge success because we brought back [eight] juniors who are now seniors and [we] made the playoffs for the first time [since 2017],” said Dahlenburg. “But it was a big growth for us and now they know what to expect.”

As far as the personnel and who is slated to be the primary player in each position, Dahlenburg says he doesn’t do projections. Instead, he will go with matchups on a game by game basis based off watching film. The pitching staff is probably the most experienced position on the team as Abrahams, Sawai and Slager all had complete games last season with Sawai’s coming against Maranatha. Juniors Kenneth Hoogerheide and Quinn Unfried are transfers from Los Alamitos High. The outfielders are all interchangeable while senior Ben Carter and junior Jacob Smith provide a good tandem behind the plate.

“We should be pretty good if we can figure out how to play baseball again,” said Dahlenburg. “We’re really talented but we’re playing tough teams right now. We’re playing Palos Verdes, Cerritos, Mayfair, Ontario Christian, Bellflower. We’re playing tough teams to get ready for league and for a playoff run.

“I think they realized they can compete with [Maranatha] and beating them one time last year was a big step in the right direction,” he continued. “It’s not like we’re going to flip it overnight and say we’re better than them because they’re a good baseball team. Confidence always wins most of the time.”

Have a comment?