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2020 BASEBALL PREVIEW : Gahr, Valley Christian, Whitney look to rebound while Cerritos aims for another 605 League title

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The 2019 baseball season was very kind to Cerritos High, which claimed the first 605 League championship and continued its success over the past several seasons. However, the 2019 season was less than desirable for area powerhouse Gahr High, which endured a rare losing season. But this season figures to be much better for Gahr, Valley Christian High and Whitney High, the latter two seeking playoff berths. La Mirada High is primed to win another Suburban League title while John Glenn High ushers in a new coach.

Returning players in italics


1-21 overall last season, 0-10 in the 605 League, sixth place

Head coach: Michael Gaoghagan (18thseason, 133-303-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 15-108

Last time made the playoffs: 2007

Key losses: Eric Lopez (JR), Adam Hollenback (JR)

Projected lineup:

P-Brandon Azzato (SR)/Patrick Garcia (SR)/Alex Perez (SR)/Romero Perez (SR)/Alex Soriano (JR)/David Zavala (JR)/Frankie Medina (SO)/Jaimie Saucedo (SO)/Richard Saad (FR)

C-Johnny Nunez (SR)



3B-Garcia/Perez, A.



CF-Darrell Miller (SR)

RF-Reggie Steele (FR)

Artesia High did not have any seniors on last season’s team, and it showed as the Pioneers again stumbled to another disappointing season. The program has two league wins in the past five seasons and the last time the Pioneers went to the playoffs was the last time the program had a winning record. However, longtime head coach Michael Gaoghagan, who has been to the playoffs four times with Artesia, said 2019 wasn’t as disappointing as it should have been.

“We’ve trimmed the fat, improved the infield defense and enhanced the pitching,” he said as far as the improvements the team has made for this season.

The backbone of the team lies in senior Brandon Azzato, the ace of the pitching staff who accounted for the lone win last season, and senior Patrick Garcia, another pitcher who can also play nearly every infield position.

The Pioneers return eight players, six of them being starters, and for the most part, the rest of the starting lineup is to be determined based on who is pitching. Sophomore Frankie Medina will be the new shortstop and should help the defense, according to Gaoghagan while senior Alex Perez can fill most positions when a position player is on the mound.

“We only focus on the next game and the rest will take care of itself,” Gaoghagan said. “We should be better in all three phases. It all depends on how much fight we have and how bad the players want it.”


21-8 overall last season, 10-0 in the 605 League, first place, lost to Riverside Poly High 3-1 in nine innings in the Division 3 first round playoffs

Head coach: Brooks Walling (seventh season overall, 96-75)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 87-57

Last time missed the playoffs: 2017

Key losses: Matthew Aguinaga, Bernie DeLeon, Matthew Pinal

Projected lineup:

P-Evan Vasquez (SR)/Demetrius Vizcarra (SR)

C-Owen Gott (SO)/Jonathan O’Neill (SR)

1B-Mathew Rezendez (JR)/Jacob Delarosa (SR)/Jayden Baerg (SR)

2B-Alex Manibusan (SR)/Jared Pugrad (JR)

3B-Nick Hill (JR)/Baerg


LF-Joseph Quibrantar (SR)/Brendan Reyes (SR)  

CF-Raul Garcia (SR)

RF-Pugrad/Baerg/Daniel Kim (SR)/Gott

The benchmark to a good baseball team is when it can win 20 games in a season. Cerritos did that last season for the first time in well over two decades and all indications are the Dons will reach that mark again in 2020. Head coach Brooks Walling says the growth of Cerritos baseball has come a long way, and this season, there are close to 60 kids in the program. 

“To win 20 games is definitely a goal I set for myself,” Walling said. “You win 20 games, you’re a really good team. This year will be tough. I backloaded our schedule so we play a lot of games late. Not being in a strong league has allowed me to do so. I think not having tough competition in league down the stretch hurt us in the playoffs [last year], not to take anything away from Oxford Academy or Glenn last year. They gave us a test.”

According to Walling, the Dons will be more physical and if there was any motivation for this season’s team, it was the work ethic they saw from Matthew Pinal, who is now at Long Beach City College. Offensively, Cerritos is bigger and stronger and anyone in the lineup is capable of hitting home runs compared to just a couple of guys last season.

Senior Evan Vasquez is the leader of the pitching staff and, as Walling says, has finally learned to swing the bat. When he’s not on the mound, he’ll play shortstop. Another senior, Raul Garcia, will patrol the outfield and is capable of hitting well over .400. Junior third baseman Nick Hill, who led Cerritos in runs batted in last season, will be slated in the middle of the lineup while sophomore Owen Gott slides into the starting catcher position.

Of the top newcomers to varsity, Walling projects junior first baseman Mathew Rezendez and junior second baseman Jared Pugrad, both of whom are transfers, to make the biggest impacts.

“Well, I think it’s going to be interesting,” Walling said of this season. “I really believe we can play with anyone in the country this year. I mean anyone, Orange Lutheran or Artesia. I’m hoping this group comes together, having so many seniors, and they enjoy their last years of playing together and can make a run. Offensively, we can swing it with anyone and defensively, we can pick it. On the mound, we have two really good guys leading us. As long as we stay the course and believe they can do it, we will be just fine. Dons are all in.”


13-16-1 overall last season, 8-2 in the San Gabriel Valley League, first place, lost to Palm Desert High 8-3 in the Division 1 first round playoffs

Head coach: Gerardo Perez (16thseason, 292-156-2)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 95-59-1

Last time missed the playoffs: 1998

Key losses: Jayden Cruz, Jason Dressel, Matt Estrada, Andrew Householder, Joey Lopez, Joel Martinez, Edward Morales, Andrew Moreno, Tyrese Turner

Projected lineup:

P-Christien Banda (SO)/Rigo Gutierrez (SR)/Ethan Kang (SO)/Jael Leal (SR)/Kevin Quiroz (SR)/Diego Salazar (SR)/JaMore Ward (JR)/Angel Zepeda (SR)/Noah Andrunas (FR)/Victor Morales (FR)

C-Jorge Renteria (JR)/Josh Delgado (JR)

1B-Brian Munoz (JR)

2B-Matt Kurata (JR)

3B-Kyle Panganiban (FR)

SS-Angel Cortez (FR)

LF-Alahni Salcedo (FR)

CF-DJ Massey (JR)/Kang

RF-Steven Thompson (SO)

It was an unusual season for Gahr last season as it had its worst record since 2008 when that team went 13-16. But the Gladiators won their fifth straight San Gabriel Valley League title, however had their earliest exit from the playoffs since 2009. Gahr was situated in the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 1 with some of the best high school baseball teams in the country and went 2-9-1 against non-league Division 1 opponents.

“Last year, I challenged us early with our schedule,” said longtime Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “Everybody knows that. We had J.J. [Cruz] hurt [and] we had Tyrese [Turner] hurt for most of the season. Those are two [NCAA] Division 1 guys who are starting as freshmen. I think it’s real difficult to replace four four-year starters going to Gahr High School playing a Division 1 schedule.”

He says this season’s team is not overly physical because “we don’t have a moustache”, referring to the youth and it will not be uncommon for Perez to use 15-20 players in a game. The pitching staff is extremely solid with a lot of returners who did not get much, if any, playing time last season. But now, they are being thrown into the mix. Junior JaMore Ward is slated to be the number one pitcher in the rotation, but is sidelined with a broken right ankle and senior Jael Leal will the first one out of the bullpen, according to Perez, who believes he has the right makeup for his pitching staff.

Gahr will have a senior backup at every position except catcher and sophomore Ethan Kang is the defensive replacement in the center as well as the number three starter in the rotation or the set-up pitcher with freshman Victor Morales slated to be the team’s closer. Offensively, sophomore Beau Manuel will be the designated hitter

Perez says the most improved players are four senior pitchers-Rigo Gutierrez, Diego Salazar Angel Zepeda and Leal and calls them the nucleus of the team because three of them are converted players. Perez added that they all provide a lot leadership. The Gladiators will start four freshmen with freshman shortstop Angel Cortez, who Perez says is very advanced, hitting third in the lineup. 
“No one really feels sorry for us, ever, especially in our league,” Perez said. “We’ve faced just about everybody’s number one [pitcher] or number two, which has been a real good experience for us. 

One major change for Gahr will be the demotion from Division 1 to Division 2. However, the Gladiators will still have one of the most competitive non-league schedules again and when it comes time for league play, it will still be a four-team race along with Downey High, Paramount High and Warren High.

“Division 1 is a gauntlet, Division 2 is solid,” Perez said. “So, when it comes down to playoff time, we’ll see. But it should be more favorable for us in the playoffs. This year looks to have a more conservative approach. The team will go as far as its execution and mastery to make up for any lack of physicality due to youth. However, a big edge is that the college-bound guys are on the rise. Gahr can fall in the ‘under the radar’ perception of the big players in Division 1.”


13-11 overall last season, 6-4 in the 605 League, third place, lost to West Torrance High 4-0 in the Division 3 wild card playoffs

Head coach: Gabriel Guzman (first season)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 81-54

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Key losses: Joseph Angulo, Joseph Figueroa, Christian Leon, Javier Llamas (SO), Alexis Martinez, Julian Marrujo, Eric Rodarte, Gerardo Vargas

Projected lineup:

P-Jacob Hernandez (JR)/Anthony Aguilar (JR)/Abraham Casillas (JR)/Joseph Chavez (FR)/Andres Martinez (FR)

C-Micah McNeil (FR)/Anthony Lopez (SR)

1B-Andrew Arballo (SR)/Hernandez/Carlos Valdez (JR)




LF-Chavez/Andrew Guerra (SO)/Casillas/Valdez

CF-Alejandro Rizo (SR)/Casillas/Guerra/Valdez

RF-Ryan Baker (SR)/Jesus Perez (SR)/Casillas/Guerra/Valdez

After taking Glenn to the playoffs for the third straight season and fifth time in the last six season, former head coach Jack Brooks is gone and at La Habra High. Enter Gabriel Guzman, who was the junior varsity coach for the past two seasons. Guzman, who has either played or coached baseball since the age of four, says taking over the program is a huge step for him. 

It will be a completely different team than the one that finished in third place in the 605 League last season as the Eagles return only four players.

“The challenges I see this season is the competition we will be facing,” Guzman said. “I have a whole new group and I need them to start working as one team and not individual players.”

Junior Jacob Hernandez is the lone returning pitcher while senior Alejandro Rizo moves from left field to center and senior Anthony Lopez goes from center to second base.

While Guzman says all four returners have improved, freshman Joseph Chavez is the one newcomer to keep an eye on. He came on board just to fill a spot in the outfield and has excelled tremendously, Guzman says. 

“He has come a long way and has no sign of slowing down as he continues to keep working hard to improve his game.”

As far as this season is concerned, the only thing Guzman expects is for the players to have fun and keep improving their game. He added that he is looking forward to a great 2020 season.


26-7 overall last season, 9-0 in the Suburban League, first place, lost to Cypress High 1-0 in the Division 1 semifinals

Head coach: Jimmy Zurn (sixth season, 116-40-1)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 116-40-1

Key losses: Ryan Hernandez, Caleb Jung, Darius Perry

Projected lineup:

P-Jared Jones (SR)/Memo Pacheco (SR)/Jacob Sharp (SR)/Michael DeHaro (SR)/Matt Wilson (SR)/Tristan Lancaster (SR)/Vincent Segovia (JR)/Christian Gutierrez (JR)/Alejandro Diaz (FR)/Jeremiah Sotelo (FR)

C-Emilio Morales (SR)/Andrew Pyle (SO)/Sharp/Matt Vargas (JR)

1B-Josh Perez (JR)/Alex Flores (SR)/Eddie Ferraro (SR)/DeHaro

2B-Dominic Martinez (SR)/Miguel Santos (JR)/Diaz

3B-Eugene Jeon (SR)/Jonathan Uriarte (JR)

SS-Jimmy Blumberg (SR)/Noah Rodriguez (SO)/Diaz

OF-Jones/Sharp/Rodriguez/Tanner Salazar (SR)/Christian Gonzalez (SR)/A.J. Nimeh (JR)/Sotelo/Jonathan Shupe (SR)/Santos

The good keeps getting better and right now, the La Mirada baseball program continues to be one of the best in the Southland. The 2020 installment of the Matadors is loaded with seniors and juniors with enough experience to field at least two teams. Leading the pack is senior pitcher and outfielder Jared Jones, who head coach Jimmy Zurn says is as special a young man as they come.

“He deserves every amount of success he has received thus far due to how hard he works at his craft,” Zurn said. “In terms of what I can hope to expect from him this year, just the continued competitive fire he brings to our team. He will be successful on the field, but he has the ability to make his teammates around him better by the energy and passion he plays with.”

Junior first baseman Josh Perez a left-handed hitter whom Zurn says is as good a defender that the program has had, is slated to be one of the new starters in the lineup. The veteran coach adds that Perez handles the ball extremely well and will be relied on heavily. Junior outfielder A.J. Nimeh, another left-handed hitter, has a lot of projectability, tremendous size and the potential to be a really good hitter for the Matadors. 

Zurn continues to say that the sky is the limit on how good junior left-handed pitcher Vincent Segovia can be. He has a three-pitch mix that he commands very well. Look for freshmen Alejandro Diaz and Jeremiah Sotelo to be in line for the next stars at La Mirada.


12-10 overall last season, 4-8 in the Olympic League, fourth place

Head coach: Matt Dahlenburg (second season, 12-10)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 69-64

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

Key losses: Ben Allen (JR), Diego Avina (SR), Ryan Bloom, Brett Evenhouse, Wyatt Keller

Projected starting lineup:

P-Andrew Diaz (SR)/Collin Abrahams (SO)/Ryan Lasiter (SR)/Brayden Garner (SR)/Cayden Plooster (SR)

C-Matthew Bean (JR)/Lassiter/Ben Carter (SO)                                                                   

1B-Caden Vandesteeg (JR)/Garner/Carson Slager (SO)                             

2B-Austin Horio (JR)/Plooster/Garner                                                                       


SS-Colby Barnes (SR)/Horio  

LF-Ryan Zamarripa (SO)/Jared McDaniel (JR)/Abrahams


RF-Armand Rizo (SO)/Plooster/Conner Gerdes (JR)

It wasn’t the season that Matt Dahlenburg had hoped for when he took over the Valley Christian program in terms of record, performance on the field and league placement. But it was also a learning experience and now that he has a season under his belt as a head coach, he is looking for a much better campaign that can send the Defenders to the postseason for the first time in two seasons.

“I learned that it’s a different atmosphere,” he said. “The kids are so smart; I’m just trying to deal with how smart the kids actually are. Also, just learning from just being the head coach to where I was an assistant at Mayfair is just a whole different game.”

Seniors Andrew Diaz and Ryan Lasiter are the only two returning pitchers who picked up a decision last season and both went a combined 4-1 with a save. However, Dahlenburg says the most improved returning player would be senior Cayden Plooster when he’s pitching while the top newcomers will be sophomores Colin Abrahams and Ben Carter. Dahlenberg has already tabbed Abrahams as V.C.’s number two pitcher behind senior Andrew Diaz.

V.C.’s pitching should be better in 2020 and Dahlenburg believes his team can make the playoffs by the time May begins.

“We have a young, talented group of guys, which is really good,” he said. “And we have a couple of seniors that mix in and help out really well. But we’re just young and I always hope for first place, but our league is so tough. But just to make playoffs…we should make playoffs.”


7-10 overall last season, 2-8 in the 605 League, fifth place

Head coach: Jason Tani (fourth season, 22-32)

Team’s record previous five seasons: 25-62

Last time made the playoffs: 1988

Key loss: Michael Campos

Projected lineup:

P-Jason Shin (SR)/Jedi Hernandez (SR)/Rudy Lopez III (SR)/Jayden Tani (SO)

C-Min Kim (SR)

1B-Lopez III

2B-Aden Gomez (JR)

3B-Martin Macaraeg (SR)


LF-Sergio Benavides (SR)/Jesiah Hernandez (FR)/Carl Estrella (SR)/Jibin Jiju (FR)


RF-Benavides/Jesiah Hernandez/Estrella/Jiju

Whitney head coach Jason Tani isn’t shy about what he expects for his team this season. He emphatically says there are no more excuses and the success of this season will rest on the shoulders of the seniors. Last season, the Wildcats bolted out to a good start but stumbled in 605 League play. Now, with an experienced squad, Whitney has put itself in great position to claim one of the top three positions and automatically qualify for the program’s first playoff appearance in 32 seasons.

“The players, especially our seniors, conducted themselves with a lot more maturity during the preseason practices,” Tani said. “They were more focused than the prior two seasons. This season will be the best opportunity for the baseball program to make a run at a CIF playoff berth due to most of the team being made up of seniors.”

Tani encouraged everyone to play higher levels of travel baseball during the summer and fall and Tani’s son, Jayden, a sophomore, plus seniors Jason Shin and Jedi Hernandez and freshman Jesiah Hernandez took the coach’s advice. 

Jayden Tani has made the biggest leap since the end of last season and all aspects of his game have improved dramatically, from his arm strength and throwing velocity to his hitting power and bat exit velocity, speed, defensive ability and hitting for contact against a multitude of different pitches, according to Jason Tani. He will move to the second spot in the lineup, up from the number six or seven spot that he was in last season. 

The Wildcats will have just 11 players this season, but that’s not a concern to Jason Tani. He says they just need nine to compete and he expects everyone to be ready and adjust to the position if they need to fill a spot or be ready to play if someone gets injured or sick.

“I expect to play competitive baseball against everyone in our league and make the playoffs for the first time in recent memory,” Jason Tani said. “I expect the players, especially the seniors, to seize the opportunity this season and take everything that they have learned over the past four years and apply it to making history with a winning record and a berth to the CIF playoffs. The seniors will step up and earn a berth into the playoffs or they will waste this incredible opportunity. The choice and their destiny is in their hands.”