Above: Garrett Tuck, Tim Smoley and Bryce Rutherford will lead the Apaches. Friday, February 27, 2009. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)
Note: Not sure how many complaints, if at all, our Keith Lair received for his softball preseason top 10 poll. I’m preparing for a few complaints but before my inbox is flooded with e-mails, let me explain the process that went into selecting the 2009 preseason top 10 rankings. Like with every preseason poll (football, basketball, soccer) I consulted numerous area coaches and specifically asked what team was the area’s No. 1 team. As you all know, I’m new to the area as the Star-News preps editor and I was not going to pick the No. 1 team simply based on what team returned who. I wanted the coaches to have their say, and they did. The consensus pick was Arcadia. Alhambra, Monrovia and Maranatha each boast a strong returning group. The Moors and Wildcats advanced to the second round of the playoffs and the Minutemen advanced to the divisional finals. That all went into consideration. Sure, the Apaches finished second behind Crescenta Valley in the Pacific League, and Monrovia barely finished ahead of its pack in the Rio Hondo League. Alhambra and Maranatha both finished well ahead of its pack in their respective leagues. In short, the top 10 was put together after consulting area coaches. Of course, this is just a preseason poll so this can all change when the season shapes out. So relax, lets have a good season and see how things unfold.
The high-pitch “ping” sound is coming to a high school baseball field near you. Yes, it’s that time of season when freshly-cut grass is littered with sunflower seeds. And you won’t have to travel far to hear or see either two. The Arcadia Elks Tournament begins Friday and will feature plenty of area teams that will battle for San Gabriel Valley bragging rights. Alhambra, Monrovia and Temple City high schools host the annual event. The tournament will feature many of the Star-News’ preseason top 10 teams, including pitcher-loaded Arcadia.
Here’s the preseason top 10:
The Apaches finished 15-11 overall last season and second behind rival Crescenta Valley in the Pacific League.
Arcadia returns nine starters and is led by senior Bryce Rutherford, who amassed 100 strikeouts last season.
The Pacific League co-player of the year is out to prove himself this season.
Rutherford will have a good supporting cast, with junior Garrett Tuck as the Apaches’ No. 2 pitcher and starting shortstop and senior Tim Smoley playing first.
“We’re hoping Garrett solidifies our pitching staff,” Arcadia coach Nick Lemas said. “He’s in the middle of our defense and has looked really solid and made great improvements over the last year.”
A.J. Smouse will see some time on the mound, too. Offensively, the Apaches will ride Smoley.
Smoley is the career doubles leader at Arcadia and will probably lead the school in quite a few offensive categories by season’s end. Smoley batted .400 last year.
“I’ve been looking forward to this season ever since the end of last year,” Lemas said.
STAR-NEWS PRESEASON TOP 10
5. St. Francis
6. Temple City
8. San Marino
9. South Pasadena
10. La Canada
CLICK THREAD FOR THE REST OF THE PREVIEW
It’s a cliche that rings true when it comes to the Moors, who never seem to rebuild but always reload.
Such is the case this season for Alhambra coach Steve Gewecke, who enters his 14th season with the program and 13th as coach.
The Moors lost three players, but they were high-caliber – Josh Devore, a three-year starter and All-Almont Leaguer; Noe Ramirez, Mr. All-Everything last year who made his first start for Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday; and Rob Olivares.
That group led the Moors to a record-setting season on several fronts, including wins (23-5) and consecutive wins (17). Alhambra finished 13-2 in the Almont League and clinched its fourth consecutive league title, also a school record.
The Moors lost to Paloma Valley in the second round of the CIF-SS Division III playoffs last year but return six starters.
“It’s our deepest team in terms of overall talent,” Gewecke said. “There’s going to be some pretty good players on the bench, and that’s usually not been the case.”
Chris Rosario, a senior, batted .405 last year and Aeric Allen returns at shortstop.
“He’s really good,” Gewecke said. “He makes all the plays, and he’s a clutch player just like in basketball.”
The Wildcats return eight players, including senior left-hander Richard Kilbury.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder will lead the group of pitchers expected to help Monrovia vie for another Rio Hondo League title. Garret Simpson will be the No. 2 pitcher. Clint Fraijo, a junior, returns after leading the Wildcats to a 19-8 record last season and a second-round playoff appearance.
Monrovia has moved to Division V this season after spending the past four years in Division IV. The Wildcats made two finals appearances in those four seasons, winning the title in 2006 and losing to Bishop Amat in 2007.
Monrovia has won league eight of the past 11 years, including three consecutive. Two seasons ago, the Wildcats won the league title with a 14-1 record. It wasn’t so easy last year, when they finished 11-4, because every team was much improved. There could still be parity this season.
“Our league got a lot tougher last year,” Monrovia co-head coach Dave Moore said. “Last year, San Marino improved, La Ca ada can always play, Temple City and South Pasadena played tough. It was a battle.”
Kilbury missed three starts last season because of a back strain, which ultimately may have led to a tight race near the end. He’s healthy now and ready to play.
The Minutemen have a lot of depth in the pitching rotation and their nonleague schedule is loaded with top teams that will help prepare them for another possible championship game.
Maranatha reached the Division VI championship game last season, where it lost to San Jacinto in extra innings. The Minutemen have moved up a division and are hoping their playoff experience will pay off now that they will compete in Division V.
Maranatha is led by junior standout Dylan Covey on the mound, as well as senior Cory Pophan, a second-team All-CIF player who brings a lot of leadership.
“(Pophan’s) steady on the mound and gets ahead of hitters,” Minutemen coach Brian DeHaan said. “I think he should have a very good year. He’s a kid who’s being looked at to play college baseball. There’s something to be said about that.”
DeHaan said Covey is throwing consistently at 92 mph, tops at 96, and his offspeed pitches usually dip to 78.
“Dylan is obviously a great talent,” DeHaan said. “When he’s going he’s very, very difficult to face. There’s many times he can throw a fastball by a guy on a 0-2 count, and he’s learning to pitch in those situations. He’s grown tremendously.”
Danny Beckwith, a junior, throws a sharp breaking ball and can also get ahead of hitters. Mark Jevy started a majority of games as a freshman and Jake Rodero, who transferred from La Salle, is expected to contribute.
Jordan Callaway hit more than .400 last year and earned All-CIF honors.
“We have a mixture of both (pitching and batting) when you look at Cory and Dylan at the plate,” DeHaan said. “We had a high on-base percentage last year. One through nine, we have a very solid offensive team.”
5. St. Francis
The Golden Knights finished 2-10 in the tough Mission League last season, but St. Francis coach Brian Esquivel said it’s not a true indicator of how good they really are.
“I don’t think we get the respect we deserve,” Esquivel said. “I think people read into our 2-10 record, but we lost five or six two-run ball games, we won the Arcadia Elks Tournament.
“It goes to show I would put us up against anyone in the area.”
One or two teams from the Mission League have reached the divisional championship game the past six years.
Loyola finished third in league last season, earned an at-large playoff berth and had to play a wild-card game en route to the divisional championship.
“Our goal this year is to get to the playoffs, because once you get there anything is possible,” Esquivel said.
St. Francis will rely on junior ace A.J. Berglund, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound beast who has already verbally committed to UC Santa Barbara. The Golden Knights return six starters from last year’s team, including Ethan Bramschreiber, a 6-4, 220-pounder who, along with Berglund, will get the bulk of the innings.
So was last season just a fluke?
“I hope so,” Esquivel said. “I like to think we’ll be right back on the top of the Mission League.”
6. Temple City
The Rams finished 19-8 overall and 11-5 in the Rio Hondo League in 2008, good enough for second behind Monrovia.
Temple City advanced to the second round of the playoffs before losing to Carpinteria, 2-1.
The Rams open the season at home Friday against St. Francis in the Elks Tournament.
The Eagles graduated 11 players last year and bring back two this season. Among the returnees is Calvin Chambers, who led the Mission Valley League in ERA last season.
Gabrielino is the defending back-to-back Mission Valley League champion and Eagles coach Joe Laski expects another good run despite the team’s youth.
“These guys have all played together, and though a lot of them don’t have varsity experience, they’ve played together and have known each other forever,” Laski said. “I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. We have a real hard working group of kids and I don’t see things being much too different from last season.”
The Eagles finished 18-8 overall and 13-2 in league. They were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by San Marino.
Senior Jon Rodgers will compete for the starting job at first base, but two freshmen are expected to play immediately.
Angel Acosta is the No. 2 pitcher and will start at shortstop when not on the mound, and Brenden Campbell will start at second.
“These are the only freshmen I’ve had play varsity,” Laski said. “They’re mentally ready. Both of these guys really are. They’re grounded and experienced. I don’t see them being overwhelmed.”
8. San Marino
After losing his ace and team MVP, Titans coach Mack Paciorek is hoping someone in his deep rotation will emerge as this year’s ace.
San Marino returns seven starters and a good number of seniors, including pitchers Andrew Sloan, Trevor Dority and Kevin Gute. Junior left-hander Chris Warren is also part of the rotation.
“They’re going to compete for that big spot,” Paciorek said, “and I think it can be any one of the four.”
The offensive production figures to come from senior shortstop Steven Wright, who batted .412 last season, and left fielder Dylan Bensinger, who batted .410. Center fielder Chandler Caldwell is also expected to contribute heavily.
The Titans exceeded expectations last season by finishing 17-7-1, third in the Rio Hondo League at 9-6 and advancing to the Division V quarterfinals before losing to Bishop Amat.
“We definitely will try to build off our success last year,” Paciorek said. “The big key is seeing who will step in and fill the void left by Nick.”
9. South Pasadena
Tigers coach Rob Hertle was excited about the level of competition in league last season.
And though it only returns three starters from last year’s team, South Pasadena is hoping to be in the mix again.
“We have more depth than we did last year,” Hertle said. “I feel pretty good going into the season. Every team feels they have a shot at winning the league title.”
Shane Ravenelle, Steven Colliau and Tyler Ryan are the returning starters.
Aside from that, the Tigers look relatively young with seven sophomores, one junior and four seniors.
“But we really have a lot of talent on this team,” Hertle said. “I think we have a good chance to make a run at a Rio Hondo League championship.”
10. La Canada
The Spartans return eight starters and are led by Stanford-bound standout Eric Smith.
Smith led the league in hitting (.586) and was 17th in CIF. Jeff Oechsel is the No. 1 pitcher, and Smith will pitch behind him.
The returnees include Max Russell at first base, Charlie Banes at third, Mike Lee at second, and Bryan Collins in left field.
“We’re very strong,” Spartans coach Dennis Ballard said. “Pretty decent pitching, and Eric Smith is bigger and stronger than last year.”
La Canada finished 7-8 in league last season.
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