Alhambra earns area’s No. 1 preseason ranking
Above: Alhambra’s Noe Ramirez. (Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)
STAR-NEWS TOP 10
1. Alhambra (22-5)
2. Monrovia (24-6)
3. Arcadia (15-11)
4. Temple City (20-8)
5. San Marino (15-7)
6. Gabrielino (19-7)
7. Maranatha (15-11-1)
8. La Canada (10-11)
9. South Pasadena (8-14)
10. Pasadena Poly (24-2)
Others to watch
St. Francis, La Salle.
By Scott Galetti, Staff Writer
Success in high school baseball often depends on the arm of one position player – the pitcher.
Even with the departure of Monrovia graduate Eddie McKiernan and Pasadena Poly grad Rob Rasmussen, the West San Gabriel Valley still is rich in strong mound presence.
With the 2008 season set to begin and many teams eager to chase after a CIF-Southern Section championship, Alhambra High School appears to be armed and dangerous and opens as the Star-News’ No. 1-ranked team.
No. 1 ALHAMBRA
The Moors boast perhaps the most dominant pitcher in Cal State Fullerton-bound senior Noe Ramirez.
The hard-throwing right-hander posted a perfect 10-0 record last season with a 0.72 earned run average and 106 strikeouts.
“He is the best player I’ve ever had, and that includes the six years I was an assistant,” Alhambra coach Steve Gewecke said. “If you asked any of the players, they’d say he’s a great teammate. He makes the 16th teammate feel important.
“Having him back, we feel that we can beat anybody. He’s hungry and not playing like a kid with a scholarship.”
Ramirez also is the team’s top returning hitter with a .375 average, 10 doubles and 20 RBIs.
The Moors, who finished 22-5 and reached the second round of the CIF-SS Division III playoffs, did lose second-team All-CIF selection and team captain Bryan Davila to graduation, but they boast some talented hitters.
Senior outfielder Josh Devore, a two-year starter, hit .308 with 15 RBIs.
Devore was a first-team all-league selection as a sophomore and a second-team selection a year ago after missing the last seven league games and both playoff games.
Junior shortstop Aeric Allen has experience in the clutch and had game-winning hits in the CIF playoffs in two consecutive seasons.
Allen, a two-time all-league selection, hit .304 with 10 RBIs in 2007 and provides leadership at the plate and in the field.
“He’s just a very good baseball player,” Gewecke said. “He has good range, nice soft hands and is a solid line-drive hitter.”
The Moors also expect to get quality production out of junior third baseman/first baseman Cody Heaton (.291, 25 RBIs) and junior third baseman/first baseman Chris Rosario (.264, 10 RBIs).
A potential player to watch is freshman middle infielder Dante Flores, who played for Team USA’s 14-under team in the Pan American Games and is a left-handed hitter who can get around on the ball rather quickly.
Senior catcher/pitcher Rob Olivarez was 6-4 in 10 starts with a 2.07 ERA and 37 strikeouts while sophomore left-hander Jonathan Beltran went 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA and 19 strikeouts.
“We expect to be very good and in the top of our league,” Gewecke said. “If we don’t have a very good season, it would be very disappointing.”
No. 2 MONROVIA
It’s hard to imagine the Wildcats without McKiernan, the Star-News Player of the Year.
But the Wildcats (24-6), the 2006 CIF-SS Division V champions and 2007 runners-up, must find a way to compete for a title without McKiernan, who was 12-2 with a 1.44 earned run average and 113 strikeouts.
The cupboard is far from bare for Monrovia co-coaches Dave Moore and Brad Blackmore.
“We’re a pretty experienced team,” Moore said. “We have a pocket full of kids that have been through it all.”
Monrovia will rely on who Moore terms as the “red-headed left-hander,” Richard Kilbury.
The junior was 3-2 on the mound a year ago with a 2.85 ERA. He was also fourth on the team with a .368 batting average.
Senior right-hander Jeff Wallick also brings experience to the pitching staff. Wallick posted a 6-1 record with a 1.75 ERA.
Senior center fielder Curtis Cowell (.340, 24 RBIs, six triples) is the top returning run producer along with senior Patrick Greene (.330, 20 RBIs).
Senior catcher Rocky Tavera is another player expected to make a solid contribution after batting .250 with 15 RBIs a year ago.
“I think that we’ll be a little better, offensively this year,” Moore said. “Pitching-wise, I think we’re going to be good, but I think the jury’s still out.
No. 3 ARCADIA
The Apaches, fresh off a 15-11 season and second-place finish in the Pacific League, enter 2008 ready to once again compete for the league title.
Even after the graduation of nine players and with just four returnees this season, second-year coach Nick Lemas is optimistic.
Having junior pitcher/second baseman/designated hitter Bryce Rutherford back is enough to make any coach feel good.
Rutherford was Arcadia’s ace a year ago with a 10-3 record and 1.51 ERA. He struck out 59 batters in 69
“He brings leadership to the pitchers, and being a sophomore last year and doing what he did it leads them in a way that says it’s possible for them to do the same thing,” Lemas said.
Sophomore Garrett Tuck (1-0, 2.40 ERA) and juniors Allen Kim, A.J. Smouse and David Huntzinger also will have a chance to shine on the hill.
Tuck had a .270 batting average with 10 RBIs in 2007.
Junior catcher Mike Nigolian and sophomore outfielder/second baseman Jon Larson could be key factors for the Apaches at the plate.
“Even though it’s the first year on varsity for the majority of the team, they’ve grasped the philosophy quickly,” Lemas said.
No. 4 TEMPLE CITY
The Rams (20-8) finished second behind Monrovia in the Rio Hondo League before advancing to the Division V semifinals.
Temple City must find players to take over the hitting void left by the departure of Mike Mendoza, Kyle McDonald and Matt Moreno.
What the Rams do have on their side is the return of senior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Brian Dearth.
Dearth was 7-4 with a 1.87 ERA, striking out 97 batters in 67
“He’s going to be our No. 1 pitcher, and we’re going to rely very heavily on Mr. Dearth,” Temple City coach Barry Bacon said.
Dearth also is the Rams’ top returning hitter after posting a .358 batting average with 24 RBIs.
Sophomore shortstop Dusty Sanderson will be the Rams’ leadoff man after batting .293 with 11 RBIs a year ago.
Senior Williams Do provides power at the plate and speed on the basepaths. Do hit .261 with one home run, 13 RBIs and seven steals.
Junior third baseman/left fielder Brandon Pultz is a player Bacon considers the brightest newcomer.
Bacon will rely heavily on Anderson, along with sophomore Justin Smith and junior left-hander Patrick Munroe on the mound.
Monroe was Temple City’s top junior varsity pitcher before he broke his leg last season.
“With Brian on the mound, and if Patrick and Justin do what we think they can do on the mound, we can definitely challenge anybody in the Valley,” Bacon said.
No. 5 SAN MARINO
Old habits are tough to break.
The Titans have a new head coach, Mack Paciorek, after the retirement of Mickey McNamee, who guided the team for 44 seasons with five CIF championships.
Paciorek, an assistant for McNamee, isn’t concerned about taking over for an area legend nor is he putting any extra pressure on himself to succeed.
“It doesn’t do me any good to worry about it because nobody will ever match what he did,” Paciorek said. “If I can do half of what Mickey did and had half the respect and character, I’ll be a pretty darn good coach.”
Paciorek has the building blocks necessary to get off to a good start following a 15-7 record and third-place finish in 2007.
Senior right-handed pitcher/third baseman Nick Wilson is one of the top pitchers in the Rio Hondo League. He was 6-3 with a 1.93 ERA in 2007.
Shortstop Steven Wright returns after batting .363 with 26 RBIs.
Junior third baseman/first baseman Dylan Bensinger (.333, four RBIs) also could be a key component.
Joining Wilson on the mound will be junior Woody Clark (4-1, 1.77 ERA), Chevy McGinley and junior Andrew Sloan.
“The parity in our league is so great, I think it’s a five-team race for five (playoff) spots, and a sixth team that’s improving every year,” Paciorek said.
No. 6 GABRIELINO
With 10 of their 14 players returning from a team that won its first-ever Mission Valley League title and advanced to the second round of the CIF playoffs, the Eagles (19-7) could be the area’s most experienced team.
Gabrielino also boasts one of the area’s top pitchers in right-hander Angel Cabral, a first-team All-CIF Division V selection in 2007.
Cabral was 8-1 with a 0.67 ERA. He also batted 288 with 12 RBIs.
Senior outfielder Matt Izumida hit .488 with a home run and 18 RBIs en route to second-team All-CIF honors.
First baseman/pitcher Nick Hovermale, an All-Mission Valley League selection last season, will be the Eagles’ No. 2 starter after posting a 2-1 record and 1.59 ERA.
He also was a force at the plate with a .333 average and 12 RBIs.
The Eagles boast a pair of returning second-team all-leaguers in senior shortstop Zack Tadian and senior right fielder Greg Osborn.
Osborn also will get an opportunity to pitch, along with juniors Calvin Chambers and Jon Rodgers.
“We want to do what we did last year with a better record,” Gabrielino coach Joe Laski said. “We’ve set our goal to have a better record in league and win the league again, and we’ve also set a goal to get all the way to the Division V final.”
No. 7 MARANATHA
The Minutemen got a year of experience under their belts in Brian DeHaan’ s first season as coach.
This season DeHaan, now the school’s athletic director, has brought in Kiko Garcia as co-head coach. Garcia was an assistant coach at Temple City.
After finishing 15-11-1, and 7-1 in Delphic League play a year ago, the Minutemen have an unusual combination of youth and experience for 2008.
At the top of Maranatha’s talent pool is sophomore pitcher/center fielder Dylan Covey, a first-team all-league selection who batted .408 with three home runs and 27 RBIs.
Junior pitcher/third baseman Cory Popham, an all-league selection, is another dependable performer.
All-league catcher, senior Myles Neimeyer, returns, while sophomore Erik Johnson (.339, 20 RBIs) has a steady bat.
Sophomore Danny Beckwith also figures to be a important figure in the lineup after batting .289 with 11 RBIs.
DeHaan expects freshman Mark Jebbia to make a solid contribution on the mound as well.
No. 8 LA CANADA
No question about it, the Spartans are young with juniors expected to take up six of the nine starting spots.
“They’re the best junior group we’ve had in the six years that I’ve been here,” coach Dennis Ballard said. “They’re all very seasoned and excellent ballplayers that can play at an upper level after high school.”
Junior Eric Smith is the top returnee. He hit .540 with nine doubles and 20 RBIs in 2007.
Center fielder John Ondrejcka was a first-team All-Rio Hondo League selection after batting .413 with three homers, five doubles and 22 RBIs.
Junior left fielder/left-handed pitcher Jeff Oechsel, 6-foot-4, 210-pound first baseman Max Russell, and 6-foot-3, 220-pound right fielder/third baseman Brian Collins should provide extra pop in the lineup.
Oechsel, Wyatt Murphy (3-2, 3.84 ERA) and Pete Williams (1-0, 3.60 ERA) to figure to bring stability to the Spartans’ staff.
No. 9 SOUTH PASADENA
Ask any coach in the Rio Hondo League which team was the biggest thorn in his team’s side, and more than likely the Tigers would be near the top of the list.
South Pasadena has had a year to get used to coach Rob Hertel after an 8-14 season in 2007 (3-12 in RHL).
Seniors Michael Glazier and Will Smiland are the top returning hitters.
Glazier, a second-team all-league selection, batted .362 with 18 runs batted in while Smiland, a shortstop, hit .324 with 16 RBIs.
Senior right-handers Eugene Kim (1-4, 4.25 ERA) and Casey Feldmeth (2-5, 5.36 ERA) are the top returning hurlers.
Junior Julian Nicholson and freshman Derek Eisen also are expected to get their share of innings.
No. 10 PASADENA POLY
Perhaps the team with the most work to do is the Panthers, who lost eight starters from last season’s 24-2 squad that went undefeated in Prep League play.
The biggest loss was the graduation of Rasmussen (12-0).
Stanford University-bound senior A.J. Talt (4-0, 1.78 ERA) is expected to be one of the area’s top pitchers once he returns from an ankle injury he suffered in a basketball game against Flintridge Prep on Jan. 19.
Talt batted .275 with 12 RBIs.
Seniors John-Michael Pennington and Eric Chalifour are expected to get the brunt of the starts until Talt’s return to the lineup.
Pennington also batted .294.
Torry Ellis, catcher Simmons Borchert, Matt Meyerowitz and Jason Kerns are other key returnees.
Newcomers Charlie Baxter and Andrew Ellingsen are new Panthers to watch for.
“We’re rebuilding, but once we get A.J. back, we think we’re going to be a good team,” coach Wayne Ellis said.