All-Area Baseball: San Dimas’ Leyland earns player of the year; South Hills’ Smith coach of the year

Here it is, more prestigious than All-League, tougher to crack than All-CIF, it’s the infamous, non-political Tribune All-Area baseball team, which represents the top 23-players in the East San Gabriel Valley for the 2009 season.

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Player of the year: Josh Leyland (San Dimas, Sr.)
Coach of the year: Kevin Smith (South Hills)

First team
Pitcher: Erik Salcido, San Dimas, Sr.
Pitcher: Derek Klena, South Hills, Sr.
Catcher: Jerry McClanahan, Bishop Amat, Jr.
Infielder: Richy Pedroza, Northview, Sr.
Infielder: Jiovanni Mier, Bonita, Sr.
Infielder: Thomas Jenson, San Dimas, Sr.
Infielder: Erik Lewis, Damien, Jr.
Outfielder: Kevin Ponzo, San Dimas, Sr.
Outfielder: Jacob Smigelski, Glendora, Jr.
Outfielder: Mark Garcia, Damien, Sr.
Utility: Andrew Melchor, Nogales, Sr.

Second team
Pitcher: Nico Calderaro, Bonita, Sr.
Pitcher: Brady Zuniga, Bishop Amat, Sr.
Catcher: Jake Bailey, Charter Oak, Sr.
Infielder: Christian Ibarra, South Hills, Jr..
Infielder: Jason Plowman, Bonita, Sr.
Infielder: Ryan Arnold, Northview, Sr.
Infielder: Nick Bergara, Bishop Amat, Sr.
Outfielder: Chris Allen, Charter Oak, Sr.
Outfielder: Chester Pak, Diamond Bar, Sr.
Outfielder: Jon Hernandez, West Covina, Jr.
Utility: Christian Huerta, Sierra Vista, Jr

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San Dimas’ Leyland earns player of the year honors
By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
SAN DIMAS – San Dimas High School catcher Josh Leyland was not just the best player Saints coach Mike Regan has been around.

He also was the hardest working and the most humble, forcing Regan to chuckle when describing him.

“I know it sounds like I’m getting carried away, but I have so much respect for a guy who works as hard as he does and who carries himself like he does,” Regan said. “I’m probably going to miss him more than anyone I ever coached, too.”

Leyland couldn’t have scripted his senior season any better.

The power-hitting catcher batted .506 with an area-leading 11 home runs and 38 RBIs.

He shared Valle Vista League MVP honors with Northview’s Richy Pedroza, and was named the CIF-Southern Section Division IV most valuable player after helping the Saints win their first divisional title since 1985 with a 4-2 victory over Torrance in the championship game at Angel Stadium.

After signing a national letter of intent to play at Washington State, Leyland’s dream season continued when he was drafted in the 16th round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft by the Oakland A’s, leaving Leyland in awe of how the final chapter of his high school career unfolded.

For his efforts, Leyland has been selected the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s Player of the Year for the 2009 season.

“I never envisioned all this happening to me,” Leyland said. “I promised myself I was going to work hard in the summer and off-season to have a chance to have a great senior year and get drafted.

“Then we started winning and I wasn’t consumed by the personal things at all. I had the greatest bunch of guys around me, and it was a dream to finish the year with a championship at San Dimas. It wasn’t one guy; our team had one heartbeat and we all played a part in keeping it beating.”

How far has Leyland come?

Just a year earlier he was in the shadows of his older brother, Jordan, who is now at UC Irvine.

Josh Leyland batted a modest .370 his junior year and had just two home runs and 11 RBIs.

“He worked unbelievably hard to have the season he had,” Regan said. “I take zero credit. He worked with his family in his back yard in the batting cage and set out to prove to everybody that he was one of the best players in the Valley and ended up having a phenomenal year.

“It got to the point where teams stopped pitching to him. I really didn’t have to say anything to him all year about his hitting because he came up to the plate with a plan and executed that plan to perfection.”

The most flattering comment may have come from Northview coach Darren Murphy after the Vikings intentionally walked Leyland four times to squeeze out a 7-6 victory in March.

“I’m sure a lot of people thought they were watching a Giants game five years ago,” Murphy said at the time. “But that’s out of respect for (Leyland). He’s the Barry Bonds of the area.”

Leyland has a big decision to make next.

Will he honor his commitment to Washington State, or sign with the Oakland A’s by the Aug. 15 deadline and begin pursuit of his dream of playing in the major leagues.

“I’m not sure,” Leyland said. “I’m talking to my family and realize that Washington State is a great program and offers me a chance to play baseball and get my education at the same time.

“But do I want to live my dream now or go to college for a few more years? My dream this year was to get drafted and go play ball the rest of my life. But it’s not an easy decision. It’s a great decision to have, but it won’t be easy.”

Whatever he decides, Regan has no doubt he will reach his goals.

“He is going to do great,” Regan said. “I had other kids who I didn’t think could handle playing professional baseball, but Josh is a hard worker. He will not get beat out because someone out-worked him. He will grind it out and give himself the best chance. That I have no doubt about.”
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2161

By Steve Ramirez
– It’s one of the cardinal rules of the coaching profession: Never replace a legend. Replace the guy who replaces the legend.

South Hills High School’s Kevin Smith is the exception.

Smith took the reins of one of the area’s most tradition-rich programs, succeeding area legend Jim Bastion, and the results have been quite rewarding.

Smith has guided the Huskies to 10 league titles in his 11 seasons at the West Covina school, topping it off the past two years by advancing to the CIF-Southern Section Division III finals last year and winning the division this past season.

For his efforts, Smith is the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s baseball Coach of the Year.

“It’s always going to be that way here (at South Hills), and I knew that when I took the job in 1998,” Smith said.

“Jim did a wonderful job here. He created the foundation, and it was hard, really difficult, to (carry on).

“Here, it’s not good enough to just win league or even go deep in the playoffs. You have to win. Over (my) 11 years here, we’ve done that. We tried to continue the tradition.

“Yes, there’s pressure, but just like everything else, it’s pressure you put on yourself, because whoever coaches at South Hills is going to have good baseball talent.”

But Smith, who is 373-154 in coaching stints at Sierra Vista, Baldwin Park and South Hills, and 228-67 with the Huskies, has molded that talent into champions.

was more noticeable this season. South Hills, after finishing second to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in Division III last season, returned just four seniors this season and added two promising freshman.

The team struggled from the gate, losing its first three, but rebounded to share the San Antonio League title with rival Nogales.

“This team surprised me, the way they came together,” Smith said. “We had just four seniors, then to start like we did. But the kids never gave up. We got better and continued to improve.”

The big test was in the playoffs, where South Hills suddenly caught fire, surviving scares against Quartz Hill (4-3), Hemet (7-5) and No. 2 seed Bonita (4-3) before hammering Corona del Mar and No. 1 Beckman to win South Hills’ fifth CIF-SS divisional title, in an impressive 8-2 victory over Beckman in the Division III title game at Angel Stadium on June 6.

“I thought the big difference between this year and last year was this year we went through the front door,” Smith said.

“We had to win two 4-3 games to get to the semifinals. It was more difficult, but it never phased our kids, who just said, `Who’s next?’ ”

Another ingredient for South Hills’ run, which was keyed by senior Derek Klena, juniors Christian Ibarra, Dakota Behr and Cody Doyle, and freshmen Tyler France and CJ Saylor, was the addition of former Mt. San Antonio College coach Art Mazmanian.

The coaching legend made an immediate impact.

“I think God intervened,” Smith said. “He is close friends with one of our coaches, and they were talking and he handed over the cell phone and I talked to him. We had lunch, and I made the suggestion he come out and look at us.

“He was just a huge shot in the arm for us. The kids looked up to him, and he kept us on our toes. He brought something more to the table. It was a blessing, and I hope he stays with us.”

Another aspect of South Hills’ run to the Division III championship was that the Huskies, with such a young squad, will be in prime position to make it back-to-back titles next season.

But Smith would first like to savor the moment of this year’s crown a little more.

“We’re still kind of on Cloud 9,” Smith said.

“I’m just so proud of these kids and the way they responded this year. We didn’t play well early, but its not how you start, but how you finish.”

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2296

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