1. South Hills, 2. Bishop Amat, 3. Glendora, 4. Damien, 5. Northview, 6. Diamond Bar, 7. Sierra Vista, 8. San Dimas, 9. Bonita, 10. Charter Oak.
Above: From left, South Hills’ catcher Cody Doyle and pitcher Christian Ibarra and San Dimas’ short stop Shawn Kennedy and pitcher Matt Lee pose with last years CIF championship rings.
By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
In the past three years, the San Gabriel Valley has produced multiple CIF-Southern Section high school baseball champions while others knocked on the door.
Charter Oak won the Division IV title in 2007, with Northview capturing the Division IV crown in 2008 after losing in the semifinals the year before. Bishop Amat won back-to-back Division V championships in 2007 and ’08 and reached the Division IV finals last year. It lost to eventual champion San Dimas, which defeated Torrance 4-2 to give the Saints their first championship since 1985.
After losing a heartbreaker in the 2008 Division III finals, South Hills returned to glory by capturing the school’s fifth title and first under coach Kevin Smith with an 8-2 victory over Beckman in the 2009 Division III championship game.
That’s six area champions in three years, and the area shows no signs of slowing down with the 2010 baseball season starting on Friday, which brings us to our annual Top 10 preview.
1. South Hills (24-8)
The Huskies lost Division III player (pitcher) of the year Derek Klena to graduation, but they return CalHiSports state freshman of the year Ty France, who already has given a verbal commitment to San Diego State after batting .376 with three homers and 29 RBIs his freshman year. The sophomore will platoon between third and first and has the pedigree to go down as one of the Huskies’ all-time greats.
“The sky’s the limit with him,” Smith
said of France. “If he continues to work and get better, he can set the world on fire. He’s got as much physical talent as anyone I’ve had here, and I’ve had some good ones. The question is, how good does he want to be?”
CalHiSports also has ranked the Huskies No. 17 in its preseason state poll for other obvious reasons, such as the return of San Antonio League first-team infielder Christian Ibarra, outfielder/pitcher Dakota Behr and catcher Cody Doyle.
Behr was 6-1 with a 2.07 ERA while Ibarra batted .356 with 18 RBIs and Doyle batted .384 with three homers and 18 RBIs.
In addition to returning all-San Antonio League second baseman Richie Rollice, the Huskies also welcome back sophomore CJ Saylor, who will pitch, catch and play outfield after also verbally committing to San Diego State along with France.
Then there’s UCLA commit Jacob Shirley, another infielder who hasn’t played since transferring from West Covina his sophomore season. He’s regarded, though, as one of the Valley’s best all-around players.
“I’m excited,” Smith said. “If our attitude is right and we stay injury-free, it looks good on paper. We still don’t know exactly how our pitching is going to shape up, but we like the arms we have.”
2. Bishop Amat (26-6)
With five starters verbally committed to major universities and another close to making his decision, the Lancers are huge favorites to win the Division 4 title, which would be their third championship in four years under coach Andy Nieto.
The Lancers return Tribune catcher of the year Jerry McClanahan, a UC Irvine commit who batted .448 with 38 RBIs, as well as sophomore shortstop Rio Ruiz (USC commit), who batted .348 with 30 RBIs as a freshman and will expand his duties into a closing role this season.
Returning senior pitcher Paul Paez (University of San Diego signee) is back after going 10-3 with 2.17 ERA, and junior outfielder Jordan McCraney (USC commit) and first baseman Adrian Franco (San Diego State commit) give Nieto a load of talent to work with.
There’s also junior outfielder Jay Anderson, who batted .432 and has yet to announce his college intentions, and pitcher Brandon McNitt, who gives the Lancers two quality starting pitchers to go with an experienced staff that includes lefty Daniel Zamora.
“If we’re committed, this could be a special year,” Nieto said. “That means playing for your school, not UC Irvine, San Diego State, USC or anywhere else – all that comes later. It’s my job to prepare these guys to win a championship ring, and if they’re committed to do that, you have to like what we have on paper.”
The Lancers are playing a monster schedule that includes Palm Desert, Mater Dei and Chatsworth, and not only will join South Hills in the prestigious National Classic but will face the Huskies in the most anticipated nonleague game of the season on April 28.
“I would challenge anyone to say they’re playing a tougher nonleague schedule that us, plus we will get all we can handle from St. Paul in the Del Rey (League),” Nieto said. “It would be disappointing if we weren’t playing for a championship later in the year. Hopefully the bitter taste of losing to San Dimas (in last year’s semifinal) will rub us the right way.”
3. Glendora (19-8)
The Tartans finished second in the competitive Sierra League and advanced to the Division II second round, and more than anyone return established pitching to make a run at the Sierra League title in what will be a tough league from top to bottom.
Senior pitchers Adam Plutko (6-3, 2.64 ERA), Michael Gonzales (5-4, 3.05 ERA), Jacob Cage (3-1, 3.74) and Jacob Smigelski (4-0, 2.95 ERA) form a solid rotation around a team that batted .337 last year, with Smigelski batting a team-high .452 with 21 RBIs.
Catcher Joseph Winterburn batted .309 with 21 RBIs, and first baseman Kyle Layton hit .412. With others back, such as Matthew Nava and Joseph Windward, this has the potential to be one of the best Tartans team in recent years.
“The depth of pitching and defense we have we feel pretty good about,” Glendora coach Dan Henley said. “We have to improve our offensive output, but we were good on the hill last year and should be better this year.”
4. Damien (21-9)
After finishing third in the Sierra League, the Spartans won a Division III wild card and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing 6-2 to Crespi under first-year coach Al Leyva.
The Spartans return a decorated group led by second baseman Eric Lewis, who batted .529 with 19 RBIs, and shortstop Eric Young, who batted .356.
The firepower doesn’t stop there. With catcher/third baseman George Ortega (.321, 20 RBIs) and catcher Nick Bast (.259) back from a team that batted .351, the Spartans are in good shape offensively. They return only one established pitcher, though, in senior James Guillen, who was 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA.
“We had a special group last year and this group can be special, too,” Leyva said. “We have a lot of arms we can throw, but how they do on the varsity level is the big question.”
5. Northview (21-5)
The Vikings’ second-round loss in the Division IV playoffs last year came as a surprise and ended a great three- year run that included in a championship in 2008.
The Vikings lose several talented players from last year’s team but are still the Valle Vista League favorites in returning third-year starting pitcher Eddie Pedroza, who was 8-2 with a 2.75 ERA last year and is 15-2 since his sophomore season. There’s also junior pitcher Xavier Martinez, giving the Vikings a formidable one-two punch.
The Vikings also return Loyola Marymount-bound catcher Arman Valenzuela (who batted .324 with 20 RBIs) to go with a lot of new faces, including left fielder Bryan Urbina, but much of what to expect is a wait-and-see.
“What I found out over the summer and winter is that we have a lot of talent coming up, these kids just haven’t gotten their opportunity yet,” coach Darren Murphy said. “We’re (the Valle Vista League) all in the same boat. There are a lot of kids who will be making names for themselves, but as far as we’re concerned, I think we can surprise a few teams.”
6. Diamond Bar (12-13)
On paper, the Brahmas figure to have a shot at the Sierra League title, with several returning players who helped them compile a .329 team batting average.
Junior first baseman/pitcher Kenny Mathews is one of the area’s best all-around players after batting .378 with 29 RBIs, and also returning is pitcher/outfielder Chester Pak, who hit .456 with 22 RBIs and six homers.
Senior outfielder Jeff Crowe batted .351, catcher Tiger Chang hit .312 and third baseman Jonathan Munoz batted .462 to give the Brahmas plenty of muscle.
The question is pitching, but with Pak, Mathews and Munoz all in the rotation if they can improve on last year’s 4.70 team ERA, they have a chance to be special.
7. Sierra Vista (19-7)
When coach Brett Stevens said the Dons have the potential to be one of the top two or three teams he’s had in 23 years of coaching at Sierra Vista, that’s saying plenty.
The Dons return one of the area’s best pitchers in senior Christian Huerta, who was 8-2 with a 1.96 ERA, which included six complete games and two no-hitters as a junior.
With first-team pitcher David Serrano also back after going 5-3, the ingredients already are in place for another Montview League title run.
“Christian is still working hard,” Stevens said. “You always worry about senior burnout after having a great junior year like his, but he has put in the work and is looking good. The question is, can we play enough defense to really make the year special?”
Center fielder Luis Torres (.338), shortstop Elias Novelo (.314) and catcher Hector Salcedo (.405) all give the Dons the firepower they need.
8. San Dimas (24-5)
The Saints return only one full-time starter from last year’s Division IV championship team. They lost player of the year Josh Leyland as well as major contributors Kevin Ponzo and Thomas Jenson.
The Saints do return shortstop/ pitcher Sean Kennedy, who will bat leadoff after hitting .321, and pitcher/ outfielder Matt Lee, who hit 354.
If Lee and Kennedy hold their own on the mound, the Saints have a shot at a Valle Vista league crown. A lot will depend on other pitchers such as Derek Penilla and catcher George Holland, who takes over for Leyland, but Saints coach Mike Regan likes what he has.
“We’re a bunch of unproven guys,” Regan said. “We have about four guys who can pitch long innings, which is always a good start, but like I’m telling everyone, last year was last year; you have to prove yourselves and make your own identity this season.”
9. Bonita (21-6)
The Bearcats graduated nine players from last year’s Division IV quarterfinalists who lost a heartbreaker to eventual champion South Hills, including shortstop Jiovanni Mier, who was drafted in the first round of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
The Bearcats’ lower levels have shined, however, and with three-year returner Brian Tuttle, a shortstop and pitcher who batted .367, along with first baseman Evan Highley (.323), they should do just fine.
Coach John Knott is relying on newcomers such as shortstop Justin Garza. And with 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher Adam McCreery returning from an injury that limited him to just one appearance last season, Knott’s hoping some new standouts can emerge.
Others to watch for are sophomore Justin Garza (shortstop/pitcher) and senior pitcher Josh Ypez.
10. Charter Oak (21-10)
The Chargers are much like the Bearcats – in a wait-and-see mode, with eight new position players in the starting lineup.
They do return senior Joe Reynoso, who had a brain tumor removed in September but has battled his way back, along with sophomore starting pitchers Travis Santiago and Oscar Montenegro.
Impact players to keep an eye on are right fielder D.J. Wallace, shortstop Miles Meredeth and second baseman Matt Santiago.